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Sci-Fi

“Narratively speaking, travel is not what’s interesting … For that reason, sci-fi largely skips over it. People get in a shuttle, the shuttle takes off, then you have a cutaway or a wipe and then they’re landing,” he says. “That means you don’t have a big body of scenes in which IFE tech is imagined, where movie and television makers have actually thought about that sort of stuff.”

dynamic sand tables When Douglas Caldwell went to see X-Men with his son in 2000, he wasn’t expecting to stumble upon the solution to a work problem. In the film, a 3-D pin board is used to demonstrate the topography of a potential battle site. Accounting for the terrain and landscape of battlefields is something military engineers – like Caldwell, who works for the US Army Topographic Engineering Center, have long struggled to do. “What Caldwell saw in this X-Men movie with the pin-board interface was an array, or display, in 3-D, on any topography that was imaginable, at any scale and at any time as long as you’ve got the data for it,” explains Chris Noessel, who uncovered the anecdote in his book, Make It So. Caldwell shipped the film with an RFP to tech companies and eventually developed the Xenotran Mark II Dynamic Sand Table.

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Sci-fi has been good at inventing technologies that bypass the travel experience altogether. In Star Wars, hyperspace makes laser beams out of stars and seconds out of years for travelers on the Millennium Falcon. In Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s transporters zap Captain Kirk in a blink rather than the quadrillions of years researchers posit it would take to actually teleport a human into space. Perhaps most wincingly, in The Fifth Element, travelers heading to Fhloston Paradise are unwittingly knocked unconscious for their speed-of-light space flight. Or, in Total Recall, why travel at all when you can go on a virtual Ego Trip? But there are a few crucial examples – most importantly, Stanley Kubrick’s painstakingly researched 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). “It seems almost mundane today, but it was mind-blowing at the time,” Noessel says of the cinematic undertaking that led Kubrick to consult more than 50 organizations, including NASA, for technical advice. In the opening of Act 2, a Pan Am spacecraft called Orion III carries Dr. Heywood R. Floyd to a space resort – a Hilton, no less – for the first leg of his trip to the moon. The camera pans up the center aisle and Floyd, alone in the empty cabin, sits slouched in front of an in-seat screen playing a film, pen floating

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“Narratively speaking, travel is not what’s interesting.” Chris Noessel

above him. The scene is eerily prophetic, not just because embedded seatback screens wouldn’t be installed on airplanes for another 20 years after the film’s release, but because Floyd is asleep. “The notion that the same level of convenience and choice that people had at home would be available on a flight, in a seat, was amazing at the time,” Noessel says. “What’s fascinating, of course, is that Dr. Floyd is asleep. He’s not riveted by the experience, he’s not riveted to the seat in front of him.” Flash-forward to 2001 in the film, and the bring-your-own-device trend that’s currently transforming the IFE industry was already a sci-fi reality, as mission pilots aboard Discovery One watch a telecast from Earth on their way to Jupiter.

robot friends Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? formed the inspiration for the popular sci-fi flick Blade Runner, and may have inspired an engineer to wonder: Do elders dream of electric seals? In 1993, a robotic seal named PARO was invented by Takanori Shibata, and has since been tested in care homes as a seniors-friendly alternative to real furry friends. The therapy robot pet contains sensors that respond to sound, light and touch – and may even be able to provide extra assistance for those with dementia. A recent study found patients taking psychotropic medication for dementia were able to reduce meds after quality time with the baby harp seal robot.

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volume 6, edition 3

Airline Passenger Experience Association

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APEX Experience 6.3 June/July  

This issue, colored LEDs, YouTube and TV box sets entertain us en route to summer destinations. At the airport, beacons beckon and GPS ensur...

APEX Experience 6.3 June/July  

This issue, colored LEDs, YouTube and TV box sets entertain us en route to summer destinations. At the airport, beacons beckon and GPS ensur...

Profile for spafax