The CGI-heavy cinematic world of Battle Angel, is the full version of cyberpunk toys. Alita Alita is futuristic, it's deliberately grounded in the real-world technology of today, produced by James Cameron's vision.
(Mildest of spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel You may read Sam Machkovech's largely spoiler-free review here.)
Set of 600 years in the future, the cyberpunk world of Alita: Battle Angel is a dystopian society where people in Iron City scavenges for anything useful-especially technology-in the Scrapyard, which holds everything dumped from the floating city of Zalem, where the "elite" reside. There's a series of tubes where products are sent from the Iron City to Zalem (in exchange for the latter's refuse), but otherwise the two worlds never really mix. The Scrapyard is a child doctor finds cyborg Alita's head, holding her carefully preserved human brain. He knows immediately he's looking at highly advanced technology from three centuries earlier, lost in time, and rehabilitates.
We'll leave aside the problematic (from a physics standpoint alone) floating city of Zalem ̵
In this scavenging economy, people find old technology in the Scrapyard and repurpose it. Sensors are pretty much ubiquitous in 21st-century life, found in appliances, televisions, cars, airplanes, medical devices, and so on. According to Matt Gould, a Field Application Engineer in the aerospace unit of TE Connectivity, which specializes in sensor technology, is considered to be Alita .
"A lot of the mechanical features that you see on the cyborgs are grounded in reality." You've got gears and actuators, "said Gould.
The physics alone likely precludes a floating city like Zalem. Indulge your willing suspension of disbelief.
20th Century Fox
Single-wheeled and electric bikes already exist, for instance; the movie's design for you just changed to look cooler and more futuristic. Per Gould, contactless connections, was able to distribute the battery power efficiently in a gas-powered internal combustion engine, along with a gyroscopic balancing system. Alita's Berserker cyborg body-technology rare even in her futuristic world-is tough enough to withstand impact but so super-flexible to enable her to move freely. We already have "smart armor" made with unusual materials that are flexible, yet hardened to protect the wearer. Alita's Berserker body.
She would need to feel touched (Hugo's, face) and nano servo motors to give her full range of motion. Alita's cyborg "heart" to her cyborg body, along with high speed databank to connect her brain to her body. The heart itself is a miniature reactor (think Tony Stark's miniaturized arc reactor that powers his Iron Man Suit), purportedly capable of powering Iron City for years. That, alas, is still far in the future, although there are several competing large-scale designs in development for fusion energy around the world.
As for the brutal game of Motorball – a hybrid of roller derby and Death Race 2000 -Gould argues that those rocket skates could be propelled by microturbines, augmented with tiny MEMS-based gyroscopes and speed sensors to track velocities and changes in direction. There could also be gyro sensors and magnetics to motorize the ball itself, making it move erratically and increase the challenge to the players.
This is a world filled with human / cyborg hybrids. Because life is so hard down below, many residents augment their bodies, sometimes simply with neurally controlled prosthetic limbs. Those who become Hunter Warriors (basically cyborg bounty hunters) and / or those who compete in the fictional sport of Motorball go much further. They replace various parts of the body with prosthetics that include any number of creative weapons or useful devices to give them an edge. Augmentation are already in place, thanks to cutting-edge research in robotics, prosthetics, exoskeletons, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), and so forth.
The robotics revolution wants to be the inverse of the computer revolution.
Aaron Ames, a mechanical engineer at Caltech who specializes in robotics, thinks the robotics revolution wants to be the inverse of the computer revolution. "Computers started out as monolithic things that fill rooms, then they were on your desktop," he said. [A smart phone] Already has all the processing you need in many respects, and it wants to grow from there into more elaborate applications.
The revolutionary could start with exoskeletons, which Ames considers the most likely means by which robotic augmentation wants to find its way into the public sphere. His lab is developing on exoskeleton to enable paraplegics, for instance, to walk, along with providing robotic assistance for other motor impairments. The soft, mushy human body (the realm of so-called "soft robotics") is one of the largest mechanical challenges. The mechanics need to be synergized with carefully tailored algorithms.
That's much more difficult than it sounds, because the simple act of walking is incredibly complicated from a mathematical standpoint , "It's hard to explain the public how hard it is because we take it for granted," said Ames. "But walking is one of the most difficult things a robot can do." Restoring our balance. It's basically controlled falling: with every step we take. It's a periodic motion, just like plants orbiting the sun, and we understand those motions very well.
Translating that complexity into something that can interfere with robotic assistive devices like an exoskeleton is a daunting task. Prof. Ames builds robots in his lab that "learns" the appropriate stride for the greatest stability and lowest energy expenditure in real time, thanks to carefully designed optimization algorithms. One of them, dubbed Cassie.
But the movements are slow and inefficient compared to human movement. Ames never mind the formulas for running, jumping, dunking a basketball, or
Ames's group is thus developing a robotic powered prosthetic leg. The leg sports a flexible ankle that can move in two directions for a more natural, fluid gas. His Caltech colleague, Richard Anderson, is one of the first scientists to create neurally controlled prosthetics via implanted brain-computer interfaces.
"If you overshoot a little in your movements, you're not going to fall over," he said.
There is thus an inherent challenge in the BCIs as the implants require brain surgery with all the associated risks, including infection, coma, bleeding inside the brain, seizures, and infection. The devices degrade over time. Should a device malfunction, more surgery would be needed to repair or remove it. The risk is worth it for paraplegics, but safety concerns will probably be divorced from BCI in their brain-at least in the near-term future.
"It's a beautiful dream, but
Alita herself, of course, is almost entirely cyborg. Only her brain is human, connected to her mechanical and electrical body. We are nowhere nearing that level of neural control, according to Ames, or uploading to individual's consciousness. "It's a beautiful dream, but I think we're making the mistake of expecting computers," he said. Artificial neural networks may mimic the brain's many layers and weighted signals passing through the network of nodes. But the human body is so much more complicated. He draws analogy with the invention of airplanes. Airplanes do not precisely mimic nature with flapping wings;
Another caltech scientist, Joel Burdick, is researching the use of spinal cord stimulation as a form of neural control. He's found that he is applying a voltage to the spinal cords of paraplegics.
"Our brain only gets on the job when we're walking," said Ames.
Alita: Battle Angel is struggling in the domestic box this weekend for a variety of reasons. That's a shame, because in addition to being a genuinely entertaining, action-packed adaptation of the original manga, it offers a reasonable vision of what cyber-technology in the future might look like.
"When I'm watching a sci -fi movie, I'm saying, OK, it's unreality, but how could it be made realistic? said Ames. "That's what science fiction is about: asking what's possible."