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How much does a real light saber cost? British Gas reveals the energy costs behind our favourite sci-fi tech

  • Sci-fi nation: more than half of us are now signed-up sci- fi geeks
  • Invisibility cloak tops the list of the most desired sci-fi technology
  • Energy facts behind science fiction inventions revealed

4 May 2016, Planet Earth:  To celebrate Star Wars Day (May The Fourth Be With You!), British Gas has revealed the secrets behind some of the most famous science fiction technologies, and the energy cost of running them.

 An invisibility cloak tops the most-wanted list, followed by the transporter from Star Trek. The good news for wannabe Harry Potters or Master Chiefs is that an invisibility device is not only feasible, it could be powered by the same amount of energy as a 100W light bulb – meaning it would cost less to vanish (a couple of pence per hour) than to cook a microwave meal. 

 The bad news for Trekkies is that powering a transporter such as those found on the Starship Enterprise would require five hundred times all the energy produced in the world today. If you wanted Scotty to beam you up, you’d need to fork out around one quadrillion pounds sterling (£1,000,000,000,000,000) for your electricity bill.

 

Top ten Sci-fi fantasy tech

Sci-Fifantasy tech

Source

Cost to power for a day (24hrs)

Equivalent in power to…

  1. Invisibility Cloak

 

Harry Potter

37p

A light bulb (100W)

  1. Transporter

 

Star Trek

£3.72

A fan heater (1,000W)

  1. Life Remote Control

 

Click

£7.44

An oven (2,000W)

  1. Hoverbike

 

Star Wars

£558.00

 

One hundred dishwashers (150,000W)

  1. X-Ray Sunglasses

 

James Bond

2p

 

An LED light bulb (5W)

  1. Sonic Screwdriver

 

Dr. Who

2p

 

An electric screwdriver (5W)

  1. Hoverboard

 

Back to the Future

£1.86

A vacuum cleaner (500W)

  1. Jet-Packs

 

Minority Report

£223.20

One hundred microwaves (60,000W)

  1. Self-Tying Shoes

 

Back to the Future

19p

A laptop (50W)

  1. Light saber

 

Star Wars

£372.00

Ten electric showers (100,000W)

 

The report, ‘Smart Fiction: The Truth Behind Sci-Fi Tech’, shows the extent to which fantasy and science fiction has captured the nation’s imagination, with more than half (52%) of us now considering ourselves sci-fi geeks, driven by the likes of Star Wars, Game Of Thrones and the Halo video game series. 

 

British Gas worked with futurologist and sci-fi technology expert, Dr Ian Pearson, to produce the report, which can be found here

 

Sushil Umrao, Smart Energy Expert at British Gas commented: “It’s cool to know that gadgets like invisibility cloaks and light sabers may actually become possible one day.  And that they may be affordable to run! Right now, we’re installing smart meters in customer’s homes which show you exactly how much electricity you’re using, which helps you take control and keep on top of what you’re using your energy for. So when we get to use hoverboards around the home, you’ll know just how much they cost to charge.”

 

Dr Ian Pearson analysed a selection of popular sci-fi and fantasy technologies and found that many are actually much closer than a galaxy far far away. He added: “The science fiction genre is famous for its use of imaginative gadgets -- so fans will be glad to know that many of these are feasible in reality.  With some careful modifications, we could create many of our favourite items of sci-fi technology, and surprisingly they’d cost no more to run than some of our most common household appliances.”

 

Dr. Pearson’s calculations reveal that fantasy tech could be a lot more energy efficient than we think, Describing how to create the most popular piece of tech, the Invisibility Cloak (from many films, books and games, from Harry Potter to Halo) he explained:  “The easiest way to create an invisibility cloak is to use a camera on one side linked to displays on the other so that when you look at it, you effectively see out the other side. As some areas of the cloak mimic shaded areas, power consumption for a cloak of 2 sqm would be 100W, the equivalent of a light bulb.”

 

The research was conducted by British Gas to raise awareness of how people can use smart meters to monitor and be smarter with their energy use.  Smart meters replace existing standard gas and electricity meters. Customers are given a smart energy monitor that shows how much gas and electricity is being used, and its cost in pounds and pence. Meter reads are submitted automatically to British Gas, putting an end to estimated bills and customers having to submit meter readings.

 

For more information on smart meters and energy saving tips, visit: www.britishgas.co.uk/smart

 

ENDS

 

 

Notes to editors

Notes to Editors:

 

Sci-Fi Tech

How to make…

Equivalent in power to…

InvisibilityCloak

Harry Potter

The easiest way to create an invisibility cloak is to use a camera on one side linked to displays on the other so that when you look at it, you effectively see out the other side. As some areas of the cloak mimic shaded areas, power consumption for a cloak of 2 sqm would be 100W.

A light bulb (100W)

Transporter

Star Trek

Star Trek Transporter converts people into energy, sends the energy somewhere, and converts it by unspecified means back into the person, all in 5 or 6 seconds. Einstein gave us the equation and the result is 1.4 x 10^18W for an average man, equal to 500 times global energy production today. However, there is a better way, by sending your mind and hiring an android or machine at the other end. This way, the energy used would be equal to 1,000W taking about 6 seconds to send over a laser beam.

A fan heater (1,000W)

Life Remote Control

Click

Scientific research suggests you can switch off someone’s consciousness by stimulating the claustrum area of their brain with a small electric current. This means getting them to wear a hat with cunningly concealed trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pads. Then you can use your remote control to switch it on, and them off. They will be frozen unconscious while you use the other buttons to stimulate the motor areas of their brain to make them move. Ignoring legality and technical difficulty, the device could be very environmentally friendly and use as little as 2,000W, even less in the far future once we have superconductivity at room temperature.

 

An oven (2,000W)

Hoverbike

Star Wars

A Star Wars style hoverbike is likely to use antigravity, but you could do it with hovercraft fans to lift and propel it. About 25,000W would suffice to do the lifting, but at broadly motorbike shape, air resistance dominates power consumption at high speed. A 1000cc motorbike that can do 185mph uses around 200hp, i.e 150,000W and road resistance probably accounts for 25,000W of that. High tech aliens ought to be able to up efficiency a little to get 200mph out of their 150,000W engines. So a hoverbike needs 150,000W, or 200hp, similar to one hundred dishwashers.

 

One hundred dishwashers (150,000W)

X-Ray Sunglasses

James Bond

Airport scanners can do a similar job using millimetre wave or terahertz radio, but the 2,000W power requirements for such machines would not fit in glasses. Police or military can see through curtains or walls using cameras or ‘ray guns’ that use millimetre waves too, about the size of an electric drill and only require about 5W to work. This is similar to many LED light bulbs and achievable in a pair of glasses using a concealed battery positioned elsewhere on the person, so assuming sufficient screening and directionality for the beam, a skilled Q should be able to make a pair. Unlike Superman’s x-ray vision, it wouldn’t give full colour pictures, just an outline.

 

An LED light bulb (5W)

Sonic Screwdriver

Dr. Who

Sonic toothbrushes produce significant forces, and that vibration could be harnessed to move lock pins in the right way, assuming Galifreean technology is smart enough, especially if there is contact. On that basis, an electric toothbrush should be about the same power as a sonic screwdriver, at 3W. An ultrasound beam could also move small objects into place, such as pins in a lock. Ultrasound is now being used to create touchable surfaces in the air using interference, so in principle, that could evolve in the right direction.

 

If the screwdriver is also meant to undo screws rather than just the lock, then it ought to need at least electric screwdriver power levels, typically up to 5W.

 

An electric screwdriver (5W)

Hoverboard

Back to the Future

Hoverboards already exist that can fly over a metal surfaces, using magnetic levitation. Estimates for power consumption for existing maglev hoverboards are around 300W. However, Marty McFly didn’t always have a metal surface to fly over though, so instead needs to generate an antigravity field or a strong enough field to use a plasma confined within a magnetic skirt. Since we can’t do either of these yet, we have to fall back on engineering intuition, which suggests that assuming low energy losses and graphene circuits to get maximum magnetic field and ionisation per watt, it should still be feasible at about the same levels of 500W.

 

A vacuum cleaner (500W)

Jet-Packs

Minority Report

Jet packs exist that can do 100mph (45m/s) for over 10 minutes. Assuming 100kg total weight, to go 45m/s through air near the ground needs around 60,000W of power output, which is the same as one hundred microwaves.

 

One hundred microwaves (60,000W)

Self-Tying Shoes

Back to the Future

These already exist by pulling the laces using motors and pulleys, and are claimed to last two weeks on a single battery charge. Assuming each battery gives 40 uses, and that trainers could only fit the equivalent of an AA battery without affecting design or weight, then continuously tying the shoes might peak at 50W.

 

A laptop (50W)

Light saber

Star Wars

Ian Pearson’s design for a Star Wars style lightsaber relies on self-organising flakes of graphene, coated with carbon nanotube electron pipes to create the ‘tube’ and get the gentle glow. These organise into a tube, and some of the flakes act as a reflector for a high power laser beam that does the cutting. It isn’t necessary to vaporise a huge chunk of arm, cutting it off ought to be quite sufficient for any Jedi, so a thin laser beam suffices for the actual cutting, even if the saber itself is 2cm wide.

 

Current industrial laser cutters work at 500W up to around 6000W, but a lightsaber cuts through anything quickly, so would need to be at least 100,000W to maintain the style becoming of a Jedi.

 

Ten electric showers (100,000W)



 Based on global electricity production of 22 TWh in 2012 (International Energy Agency)

 

British Gas is Britain’s leading energy supplier, and serves around 11 million homes in Britain – nearly half the country’s homes – as well as providing energy to around half a million British businesses. British Gas provides value for money, dedicated customer service, innovative energy solutions and the highest quality Homes Services expertise in the country. Find out more at www.britishgas.co.uk.


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