What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?

Science fiction is nothing without the incredible weapons wielded by its characters. But, what would we need to make some of them?
Christopher McFadden
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Will we ever be able to make some sci-fi weapons?

Grandfailure/iStock 

  • Science fiction has long proposed much seemingly outlandish technology.
  • While some are probably never possible to build, others have at least a grounding in reality.
  • So, are there any that we could theoretically build in the future?

Science fiction has always been a genre that pushes the boundaries of what is possible. From ray guns to lightsabers, science fiction weapons have captivated audiences for decades.

These fantastical weapons have been used to explore themes of power, technology, and the future. But which ones, if any, could actually be built?

Whether you're a fan of Star Wars or Star Trek, there's something for everyone in this examination of science fiction's most powerful armaments.

What are the most realistic sci-fi weapons?

Some science fiction weapons that have some degree of realism include:

  • Laser weapons: Lasers have been used in various military applications, such as rangefinding and target designation. In recent years, there has been significant progress in the development of solid-state lasers, which have the potential to be used as weapons.
  • Plasma weapons: Plasma is an ionized gas, and like lasers, it can be focused and directed. There is research on using plasma in weaponry, as it has high energy and high heat.
What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?
What sci-fi weapons could we make?
  • Railguns: A railgun uses electromagnetic forces to accelerate a projectile to extremely high velocities. While not yet in widespread use, railguns are currently under development for military use to launch projectiles over long distances.
  • Sonic weapons: Some non-lethal weapons that use sound waves to incapacitate or disorient a person have been developed and used in the real world.
  • Directed-energy weapons: Directed energy weapons, including lasers and microwave weapons, are designed to deliver a concentrated beam of energy to a target. While not widespread, directed-energy weapons are under development for various military applications.

It's worth noting that many of these weapons are still in the research and development stage and not yet available in the military. Also, many of the weapons in science fiction, like ray guns and death rays, are still made up and have nothing to do with real science or technology.

But that doesn't need to stop us from wondering what could be.

What would it take to build some of the most famous weapons in science fiction?

So, what would it take, if we could, to build some of the most famous science-fiction weapons? Let's take a look.

We'll try to break down the most fundamental elements of each weapon, like its power source, etc. The following is not intended to be exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. A lightsaber would be problematic

What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?
A lightsaber would be cool.

Lightsabers are probably the most iconic of fantasy weapons. Wouldn't it be great if we could build one for real? Well, that might not be as easy as you might initially think. Far from it, in fact.

Building a real-life lightsaber, as depicted in the Star Wars franchise, would be highly challenging and is impossible with current technology. Lightsabers in the Star Wars universe are depicted as powerful energy weapons that emit a concentrated beam of light that can cut through solid objects and deflect blaster bolts.

For those who've religiously watched the films and extended franchises, these abilities are taken for granted. But, in reality, it would take some considerable developments in various technological fields.

  • Power source: A lightsaber would require a powerful energy source to power the beam. In the Star Wars universe, lightsabers are powered by small, cylindrical power cells called "kyber crystals." Still, no known technology currently exists that could function similarly in real life.
  • Beam emission control: A mechanism would be needed to create and contain the lightsaber's beam. In the Star Wars universe, lightsabers use plasma, superheated gas, with a strong magnetic field to contain it. To generate a beam of plasma hot and intense enough to cut through objects would require a massive power source that exceeds the currently possible energy production.
  • Hilt and casing: A hilt and casing would be needed to hold all of the lightsaber's components together. The hilt would need to withstand the intense heat generated by the lightsaber's beam and the powerful forces exerted by the beam. Its size and design would be dictated by all the main components needed. In Star Wars canon, early lightsabers (called "protosabers") did come equipped with external power packs that perform some of the functions needed, so a real lightsaber's hilt could be made more reasonable.
  • Cooling system: A lightsaber generates an enormous amount of heat that needs to be dissipated for the weapon to function for long periods. The hilt would have to be designed with a cooling system to keep the internal components from overheating.

In summary, building a real lightsaber would require breakthroughs in understanding and controlling high-energy physics, plasma physics, and material science. Even if these breakthroughs were achieved, the resulting weapon would likely be extremely dangerous and only be used in a highly controlled environment such as a research facility.

That being said, some have attempted to make the technology real. For example, one particular YouTuber won a world record for their endeavors. However, this is not a lightsaber but more of an advanced and, admittedly, very cool plasma torch.

2. Could we ever build a "chainsword" from the Warhammer 40,000 universe?

A "chainsword," in case you are unaware, is a type of melee weapon typically depicted in science fiction, specifically in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It is a sword with a chain blade powered by a small motor, allowing it to cut through even the toughest of materials easily.

They look fantastic, and to any fan of the universe, they are one of the most iconic weapons of the universe. Given they are effectively a chainsaw in sword form, you might think we could make one for real.

Well, like the lightsaber, it is not quite that simple.

Building a real-life chainsword would be extraordinarily challenging and, like the lightsaber, would require some significant advancements in technology.

  • Power source: A chainsword would require a powerful energy source to power the blade. In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, chainswords are powered by promethium, a fictional general-use fuel source similar to fossil fuels today. Unlike the real world highly radioactive element with the same name, in the Warhammer universe, it is a highly volatile incendiary gel substance of some kind. It is not made clear if this uses the real element or not. While we have combustion engines today, it is unknown if the one used in the chainsword operates similarly. It could be a micro-nuclear reactor if the real element is used, for example.
  • Blade: A mechanism would be needed to create and contain the chainsword's blade. In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the blade is made of a high-density metal alloy with teeth capable of cutting through various materials. Creating such a blade would require advances in metallurgy and material science that are currently not possible.
  • Hilt and casing: A hilt and casing would be needed to hold all of the chainsword's components together. The hilt would need to withstand the intense forces exerted by the chainsword's blade and the powerful energy field generated by the blade itself.
  • Safety and maintenance: The chainblade would generate a great deal of heat, and it would be difficult to control and dangerous if it were to break. It would also require a lot of maintenance and must be sharpened frequently.

In short, building a real chainsword from Warhammer 40,000 would require breakthroughs in several fields, such as high-energy physics, materials science, and mechanical engineering. But, since these weapons exist in time set tens of thousands of years from now, we have plenty of time to iron out the wrinkles, just not yet.

In the meantime, we'll have to make do with excellent replicas like the one above.

3. Are we even close to building the Predator's Plasmacaster?

The Plasmacaster is a long-range energy projector weapon with automatic aiming capabilities. It is sometimes referred to as the Plasma Cannon, Laser Cannon, or Shoulder Cannon. In the Predator universe, it can fire armor-penetrating plasma bolts at distant targets. When a victim is hit, the bolts launched by the weapon explode in a burst of plasma "shrapnel," inflicting severe wounds and maybe harming other foes nearby.

This weapon is a handheld or shoulder-mounted device that fires a concentrated beam of energy, cutting through solid objects and causing significant damage.

Although some have been spotted with inbuilt targeting systems, the Plasmacaster is commonly targeted using a targeting system built into the Predator's bio-helmet, allowing the weapon to track the user's head movement. To improve precision, three-pointed targeting laser sights are often set in a triangular arrangement based on the Yautja symbol of "cooperation and togetherness."

The Predator uses this weapon to hunt and kill its prey, including humans. It is a signature weapon of the Predator. It is also very cool.

But could we ever build one?

Building a real-life plasmacaster, would, again, require significant advancements in our understanding of technology.

  • Power source: A plasmacaster would require a powerful energy source to generate the beam. In the Predator universe, plasmacasters are powered by high-energy power cells, but no available technology currently exists that could function similarly in real life. Generating and containing enough energy to generate a beam of plasma hot and intense enough to cut through solid objects would require a massive power source that exceeds the currently possible energy production.
  • What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?
    The Predator has some impressive weapons at its disposal.
  • Emission: A mechanism would be needed to create and contain the plasmacaster's beam; this would require a deep understanding and control of high-energy physics, plasma physics, and material science.
  • Cooling system: The Plasmacaster would generate enormous heat and radiation that needs to be dissipated for the weapon to function for long periods. The Plasmacaster would have to be designed with a cooling system to keep the internal components from overheating.
  • Advanced targeting: Laser targeting does exist today, but the systems to autotarget and track, especially out of visual range, would require significant advancements in targeting systems. Integration with a helmet heads-up-display (HUD) also exists but is likely significantly inferior to that used by the Predator.

Safety: A weapon of this power would pose a huge risk to the user and people nearby; containing and directing the energy would be incredibly difficult and dangerous.

So, it appears we are a long way off from being able to make something even close to the capabilities of the plasmacaster. But then, it is science fiction.

4. Predator smart disc is an impressive piece of kit

Sticking on the subject of the Predator, what about that crazy boomerang-like disc the alien carries in Predator 2 and some other films in the Predator universe?

It is a circular, disc-shaped device that can be thrown like a frisbee and fly through the air to slice through whatever it hits. The Predator can control the disk using some form of remote control, so that it will fly back to the predator after the throw. It is called a "smart disk" because of its ability to be remote-controlled.

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But could we ever make one?

It would be impossible to build an actual Predator disk like the one seen in the movie franchise, as it is a fictional piece of technology with capabilities beyond the current state of technology and science. But, we can make a basic shopping list of what would be needed.

  • Power source: Like the plasmacaster, it would require a powerful energy source like high-energy power cells. There is currently no similar technology, but a micro-nuclear reactor could work.
  • Robust materials: The disk can fly, has advanced weapons and stealth capabilities, and can withstand significant damage.
  • Advanced aeronautics: It would need to generate lift and propulsion to fly, as well as advanced control systems to maneuver through the air. Additionally, it would need some advanced stealth technology to evade detection. Drone technology today is the most likely avenue for this kind of technology.
  • Advanced targeting: As with the plasmacaster, advanced laser autotargeting, tracking, etc., would need to be developed. Especially to enable the disk to fly unaided (and safely) back to the wielder.
What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?
Like the plasmacaster, we probably couldn't build a smart disc.

If we were to try to create a flying disk-shaped weapon, it would require significant advances in materials science, propulsion technology, and aerodynamics. Even if all these technologies were available, the cost of creating such a device would be enormous, and the military or any other organization would have to consider the cost-effectiveness of such a project.

In short, building a real Predator disk is currently impossible with current technology and would require significant advances in various fields of science and technology.

However, creating a replica or a similar prop for a film or cosplay would likely involve combining elements from different materials and technologies. This could include a circular saw blade or similar cutting mechanism, a housing for the mechanism made from materials such as plastic or metal, and lights or other special effects to simulate the disk's ability to change direction in mid-air.

But that wouldn't be a "real" one.

5. Phasers are closer to becoming a reality but are still beyond us

According to Star Trek lore, phasers are the most prevalent and typical directed energy weapon in the arsenals of Starfleet and a few other powers. However, there is some contradiction in what exactly they are.

For example, in Star Trek: First Contact, TNG's "The Mind's Eye," VOY's "Time and Again," and "Demon," phasers are most often categorized as particle weapons that fire nadion particle beams. However, some phasers, like the Ferengi hand phaser, are classed as plasma weapons that fire forced plasma beams. Phasers can range in size from capital ship armaments to handheld pistols.

Whatever the case, while the idea of a phaser is undoubtedly intriguing, it is currently purely fictional, and no known scientific principle or technology would allow us to build such a device.

  • Power source: In real-life physics, a few forms of energy can vaporize objects, such as high-energy lasers, particle beams, and plasma beams. However, these forms of energy have limitations and would not be capable of creating the type of beam seen in science fiction phasers. Additionally, the energy required to vaporize or disintegrate solid objects is exceptionally high, and, likely, we would never develop a power source that could produce such energy levels in a small, portable device.
  • Emission: Like other weapons listed above, some form of mechanism would be needed to create and contain the plasma beam if more of a plasma-type of weapon. This is beyond human technology at present.
  • Cooling system: Such weapons would likely generate a lot of heat. This would need to be dealt with somehow.

Despite the above, the technology behind particle beams, like laser weapons, is being researched and developed. Called Directed Energy Weapons, they are promising but nowhere near the level of sophistication or power of Star Trek's phasers.

6. RoboCop's Auto 9 is an excellent weapon, but not realistic

The Auto 9 is a handgun featured in the 1987 science fiction film "Robocop."

The weapon, according to lore, is a 50-round magazine select-fire machine handgun that is highly sophisticated. It was holstered in a secret compartment in RoboCop's thigh, along with at least one magazine for reloads. Although RoboCop had been observed shooting a single bullet numerous times, the most typical fire setting was in a three-round burst mode.

Additionally, the weapon could use specialized ammo, which RoboCop could select via his aiming interface. These include:

  • An advanced armor-piercing round that had been demonstrated to pierce titanium armor and kevlar vests.
  • Flechette.
  • High explosive.
  • Non-lethal - a bullet intended to disable rather than kill a victim.
  • Seeker rounds.
  • "Standard" round.

Building a real-life version of the Auto 9 would require significant technological advancement in firearms, likely far beyond our capabilities today.

Advanced materials: The weapon would need to be made of durable materials such as metal and polymer. It would likely need to be assembled using CNC (computer numerical control) machining, 3D printing, and other advanced manufacturing techniques.

Advanced ammunition: Some ammunition types, like "seeker," would be highly challenging. However, allegedly, DARPA has developed something similar.

While the Auto 9 is a fictional weapon created for the movie and does not actually exist, the prop was designed to look like a heavily modified Beretta 93R with a longer barrel, large magazine, and an integrated suppressor. This was used as a plot device to showcase the advanced technology and firepower of the antagonist and the challenges the protagonist had to face.

While technological advances have allowed for the creation of highly advanced robots and weapons, the Auto 9 depicted in the film has capabilities and features that are currently not possible with current technology.

7. The M41A "Pulse Rifle" is possible, right?

The M41A pulse rifle from the "Alien" franchise is possibly one of the most famous fantasy weapons. It is described as a fully-automatic, air-cooled, box magazine-fed, gas-operated pulse-action weapon that fires 10mm caseless armor-piercing rounds.

According to lore, it also has a smart gun (another iconic weapon from the series) targeting system and an underslung grenade launcher. However, as it is a fictional weapon, it is impossible to explain how it would work in reality.

For this reason, it would likely be challenging, if not impossible, to build a functioning M41A pulse rifle as portrayed in the films. That being said, a few things would need to be developed.

Caseless ammunition: The first thing is the ammunition. The gun's 10mm caseless armor-piercing round ammunition does not exist in the real world, so it would need to be developed. It is also unclear how the 99-round magazine could fit that much ammunition, given its size.

Advanced targeting: Additionally, the M41A is also described as having a smart-gun targeting system and an underslung grenade launcher, which would require significant technological advancements that do not currently exist. The latter, of course, does exist in some form today.

Advanced materials: To make a functioning Pulse Rifle, would require designing and engineering the weapon and developing suitable materials and technologies to power and control its functions.

Some converted conventional guns (like the video above), airsoft, and nerf replicas of the M41A pulse rifle are available in the market, which you can buy and use. But these replicas don't fire real bullets; they fire plastic pellets or foam darts. But, we can but dream.

8. Proton Packs are probably impossible (if ever needed)

Ignoring that there is no evidence for the existence of ghosts, another iconic science fiction weapon is the Proton Pack from Ghostbusters. They utilize particle beams that can trap and contain paranormal entities and are powered by nuclear energy.

While using particle beams to capture and contain objects is not implausible, the specific techniques and methods used in the Proton Packs, depicted in the Ghostbusters franchise, are purely fictional and do not currently exist in real life. Additionally, the use of nuclear energy for powering the Proton Packs is not practical or safe.

You probably won't be surprised to discover that making proton packs is not currently possible. The technology to generate and control streams of protons does not currently exist, and it would likely be impossible to create a device that can neutralize "ectoplasmic energy" since this doesn't exist either.

Of course, that doesn't have to stop us from building replicas.

9. Those mini-nukes from Starship Troopers might not be improbable

In the 1997 film Starship Troopers (based on the 1959 Robert Heinlein book of the same name), mini-nukes are a type of nuclear weapon that Earth's military forces use to fight against a race of giant alien insects known as the "Bugs." These miniature nuclear warheads are shown to be powerful enough to destroy entire cities and would be potent weapons for any infantry unit.

They would need some of the following if we were to develop them.

Miniaturization of nuclear warheads: Most nuclear warheads today are pretty large devices. But mini-yield warheads are probably possible, given current technology. For example, the smallest nuclear bomb ever made was the W54, developed in the 1950s. Another system, the M28/M29 "Davy Crocket" weapon system, is close to the mini-nukes in Starship Troopers.

Theoretically, building a rocket launcher to launch a nuclear warhead would be possible. Nuclear weapons are widely considered a last resort due to their devastating impact on military targets and civilian populations.

Of course, unless humanity did have to deal with marauding hives of giant insects, they probably would be restricted by law. After all, the use of nuclear weapons is also widely regarded as a threat to global stability and security, and their development and deployment are closely monitored by international organizations such as the United Nations.

It is worth mentioning that nuclear warheads are not the only kind of warheads that could be mounted on rockets; for example, conventional warheads or even nuclear-tipped interceptors are sometimes carried by rockets and missiles.

10. Could we ever make thermal detonators?

While a minor reference in "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi," thermal detonators are a big part of the expanded universe and Star Wars computer games. According to lore, these are palm-sized, spherical thermal detonators utilized as incredibly lethal explosive weapons. They are remarkably powerful for their small size and can only be shut off by the person who turned them on.

Because of this, they are very safe and stable weapons, because they would only detonate when activated. Although, they might also be set to detonate after a predetermined period.

So potent are they that in the wider Star Wars universe, their use is strictly controlled, and in many star systems, possessing one would result in the death penalty.

But could we ever build one? Well, let's see what we'd need.

Advanced explosives: The potent yet stable explosives within them would need to be developed. A two-meter-deep hole could be blown in pure "permacite" by the highly unstable and fictional chemical compound "baradium," which was a component of most thermal detonators. A means to safely contain it would also be required (just like modern explosive weapons).

What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?
Thermal detonators are also probably impossible.

Advanced detonator: The thermal detonator is pictured as a spherical-shaped grenade with a slide activator or switch. While this can be replicated today, any electronic controls inside the detonator must be mastered to ensure the grenade is as safe as portrayed in the franchise.

While a rough approximation could be made, it is impossible to build a functional thermal detonator as portrayed in the Star Wars franchise. The technology and materials used in the films and other media are not based on real-world science and are incapable of producing a functional explosive device.

11. Exosuits from the "Edge of Tomorrow" would be cool

Now to a modern science fiction universe. The exosuits seen in the movie "Edge of Tomorrow" are highly advanced and possess capabilities that are far more than even the most advanced suits that exist today.

They are shown to have advanced weapons systems, the ability to fly, and the ability to enhance the wearer's physical abilities beyond human limits. Creating such exosuits, in reality, would require significant advances in several fields, including materials science, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

For example, they'd need the following:

  • Advanced materials: Lightweight and solid materials would be needed to create a suit that enhances physical strength.
  • Advanced actuators: Additionally, advanced actuators and control systems would be needed to allow the wearer to move and naturally control the suit.
  • Advanced propulsion: Sophisticated propulsion and aerodynamics would be necessary to create a suit that can fly.
  • Advanced weapons control: Highly advanced weapons systems require highly advanced sensor systems, targeting algorithms, and power sources.

Overall, building a functional exosuit as seen in "Edge of Tomorrow," requires a tremendous amount of resources, research, development, and technical expertise; it is likely a long-term and collaborative effort between scientists, engineers, and researchers from various fields.

While we do have some highly advanced robotic exosuits today, most are not designed for combat and, as far as we know, are nowhere near as capable as those depicted in the film.

12. Who wouldn't want a real ED-209?

Back to RoboCop again and then the infamous ED-209 combat robot. In the RoboCop film series, a fictional, heavily armed robot known as ED-209 (pronounced "Ed Two Oh Nine") is one of the film's stars.

Due to its stupidity and propensity for awkward malfunctions, it serves as a counterpoint to RoboCop and a source of comic relief. But it does look badass.

So, could we even come close to making one for real?

Building a functional ED-209 robot would likely require a significant amount of resources, including a team of engineers and designers with expertise in robotics, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. It would also need some of the following:

  • Advanced locomotion and controls: The robot would need to be able to move and navigate autonomously and require a wide range of sensors for perception, as well as the ability to process and make decisions based on the data it receives from those sensors.
  • Advanced materials: Additionally, the robot would need to be built with durable materials to withstand the rigors of movement and operation.
  • Advanced AI: Some advanced features like AI, advanced machine learning techniques, and deep neural networks should also be included as a part of the architecture to mimic the character of ED-209.
  • Advanced power source: Additionally, depending on the specific design, the robot may require a power source and a cooling system to keep its components from overheating.
What would it take to make some of the most famous sci-fi weapons?
ED-209 is one fantastic robot.

While we have some advanced robots today, like those being developed by Boston Dynamics, the size and scale of ED-209 are probably beyond us. However, given the rapid advancements in robotics, it might not be that long before something similar is created.

And that is your lot for today.

We've covered many famous weapons and weapons systems from various sci-fi franchises above. Of course, being complete fantasy, we shouldn't be too surprised to hear we can't make most of them if any.

But science fiction is nothing if not a catalyst for future scientific investigation. Who knows what the future may have in store?