Wed, 3 Oct 12 at 15:27 | No Comments Yet
For readers of a certain age, few superheroes match the exuberant heroics of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants. Disdained by grade-school teachers and librarians everywhere, not to mention parents who’ve had to read the books over and over to their pre-literate offspring, The Adventures of Captain Underpants and its sequels are a riot of absurd action, gross-out humor and underwear jokes.
But! — there might be real, actual science lurking in the comic-book silliness. If an MIT PhD can write a book about the physics of Star Trek, surely Captain Underpants deserves no less.
And as it turns out, truth just might be stranger, or at least more unexpected, than fiction. Here are four key Captain Underpants technologies that might appear utterly ridiculous, but which federally funded research scientists are fast closing in on.
Planetoid-Destroying Laser Cannon
Dr. Diaper placed the stolen crystal into a large machine called the Laser-Matic 2000. The machine started to light up and make loud noises …
“In exactly twenty minutes, this laser beam will blow up the moon and send huge chunks of it crashing down upon every major city in the world!” laughed Dr. Diaper.
Absurd, right? Not so fast! “Engineers at Strathclyde University in Glasgow believe they have found an answer to the danger posed by asteroids. In a paper presented to the Planetary Society last month, they argue that … solar-powered lasers … could vaporise [an asteroid] much more easily than a large unwieldy spacecraft, carrying atomic bombs, could do.”
The Glaswegians are proposing a space-based laser system, not one fired from the ground, but, hey, close enough!
Autonomous Fighting Robots
Immediately, the robots detected the boys and began marching toward them. “Destroy the intruders!” said the robots. “Destroy the intruders!”
This one is easy. Armed robots of all kinds are emerging. America’s wars are increasingly fought with drones, and substituting computers for remote human pilots is almost achievable: “The future of the American way of war … a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial ‘Terminators’.”
No need to imagine it; Dav Pilkey already has.
In book four, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, the Professor invents the Shrinky-Pig 2000 and uses it to shrink, among other things, Harold and George’s elementary school. Impossible … not! A hacker collective called Geek Groups has built an impulse generator that can shrink a quarter to the size of a dime:
The grey chamber to the left is a reinforced containment device. It’s a safety feature to keep people in the same room safe from flying particles which may result from the forces this thing can put out. You see, it uses a mountain of magnetic energy to compress the edges of a coin in on itself …”
Okay, its only capability at the moment is shrinking solid pieces of metal. But that’s still darned impressive.
Mr. Krupp’s eyes followed the ring back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth … After a few minutes Mr. Krupp’s eyes were closed tight, and he began to snore.
“You are under our spell,” said George. “When I snap my fingers, you will obey our every command!”
“Iwwilllloobeyyy,” mumbled Mr. Krupp …
“Cool,” said George. He walked up to Mr. Krupp. “You are — a chicken!”
Ironically, this simple device, a mainstay of comic-book classified advertising even when I was a kid, is perhaps the furthest from realization. Researchers in the CIA’s Project MK-Ultra program tried for decades to achieve effective mind control, without success. Hypnosis is genuine phenomenon, but subjects cannot be coerced into actions they wouldn’t take when fully conscious — still less into stripping to their undies, shouting “Tra-la-LAAA!” and leaping through a window to confront evil-doers.
Other Captain Underpants inventions could be mentioned: giant, armed, talking toilets; a time machine inside a purple portable potty; and … well, you get the idea. We’ll save those for a later post.