For Star Wars Day: The Companies Behind Today's Real-Life Sci-Fi Tech
Every year on May 4th, Star Wars fans show their devotion to the long-running sci-fi franchise by celebrating Star Wars Day. Though the first Star Wars film was released on May 25, 1977, the pun took root about a decade ago due to “May the Fourth” sounding similar to the popular franchise send-off, “May the Force be with you.”
While the franchise took place a “long, long time ago,” it remains a futuristic universe full of hyperspace-traveling starships, androids with sophisticated artificial intelligence, hoverbikes and other high-tech machines. Lightsabers and force fields may still only exist in fiction, but let’s take a look at some of the companies behind real-life high tech.
If you’re not an astronaut, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. (Tii:SPCE) is currently the best chance you have to visit the cosmos. The company, whose mission is to become the spaceline for Earth, is presently developing missions to train private individuals for space travel and visit the International Space Station. In March, Virgin Galactic unveiled its first SpaceShip III in its fleet, VSS Imagine, which will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico. As VSS Imagine begins testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.
In the Star Wars franchise, Darth Vader and others relied on medical technology. Even Luke Skywalker had an artificial hand attached after a lightsaber battle. One of the companies furthering innovation in medical technologies is Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Stryker Corporation (Tii:SYK), which manufactures products used in orthopedics, surgery, and neurotechnology, and offers repair and remanufacture services. Among its products are implants used in joint replacement and trauma surgeries and robotic arm surgical assistants. In January 2021, Stryker announced it would acquire OrthoSensor, Inc., whose lead product is a sensor-assisted device used during primary and revision Total Knee Arthroplasty that sends real-time data to a monitor in the operating room. Surgeons leverage that data to make important decisions about soft tissue balance and the customization of implant position.
We may not yet have navigation systems to guide us through hyperspace, but we do have a global positioning system (GPS), a vast network of satellites, ground stations, and receivers. One leader in the GPS industry is Garmin Ltd. (Tii:GRMN). The company is a leader in GPS devices and applications for the automotive, marine and aviation markets and develops wearable tech that includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, vehicle-detecting radar devices for cyclists, satellite communicators and other cool gadgets. Last month, Garmin introduced the GWX 8000 StormOptix weather radar, which features an advanced automation technology that allows the pilot to manage the weather radar more easily while in-flight.
Though off-world advanced manufacturing facilities operated by droids may currently remain the purview of the Star Wars universe, we do have 3D printing. This technology has gone from science fiction to commonplace in recent years. At the forefront is 3D Systems Corp. (Tii:DDD), which manufactures plastic and metal 3D printers, print materials and provides on-demand manufacturing services and a portfolio of end-to-end manufacturing software. With more than 1,000 patents, 150 3D printing materials, more than 500,000 production parts are manufactured on 3D Systems printers daily. If your dentist has implanted a crown for you, it was possibly printed on one of the company’s machines. 3D Systems shares are up some 177% for the trailing 12 months ended April 30, 2021.
An analysis of your genetics probably won’t reveal the presence of midi-chlorians, but you can learn a lot about personal health, as well as family genetic history, with 23andMe’s DNA tests. And, pretty soon, you’ll also be able to invest in the company’s stock. 23andMe is in the process of going public through a merger with VG Acquisition Corp. (Tii:VGAC), a SPAC founded by Richard Branson. Under the agreement, 23andMe is valued at $3.5 billion. The combined company will have a pro forma cash balance of over $900 million and will trade under the symbol ME once the deal is closed.
While Star Wars-level tech remains firmly planted in the realm of fiction, for now, many of the technologies listed here were considered fantasy just a few decades ago. Perhaps before a long, long time passes, we’ll have the opportunity to invest in companies that produce hyperdrives, tractor beams and other amazing technology on a future Star Wars Day.