Connectors in a Futuristic World
TE Connectivity teams up with Hollywood to explore future technologies in the new film, “Alita: Battle Angel.”
When Hollywood and Silicon Valley join forces to bring future technology to the big screen, the engineering community pays attention. A great story is key, but add some fantastic machines to the mix and you don’t just have an audience, you have an enduring fandom. (See: the many “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” films.) How about some awesome special effects? Yes, please. (See: “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Inception,” and “The Matrix.”) Geeks as heroes? (See: “Apollo 13,” “Hidden Figures,” and “Iron Man.”) The chance to pick apart the technology portrayed in a science fiction universe and sort the possible from the fantastical or ridiculous? Bring it on.
TE Connectivity is taking a step closer to the world of movie magic by teaming up with Twentieth Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment to help promote “Alita: Battle Angel,” a new film directed by James Cameron. Great story? It’s based on Yukito Kishiro’s popular manga series “Gunnm,” about a cyborg trained in the martial arts. Special effects? Cameron’s the guy behind “Avatar.” Hero? That depends on how you feel about cyborgs. Either way, it’s great fun to examine the various technologies, real and imagined, that populate this fictional world, set in a futuristic city 600 years from now.
“When I saw an early trailer of “Alita: Battle Angel” almost a year ago, it really resonated with me and I felt it would resonate with TE Connectivity’s engineering audience,” said Kari Janavitz, chief marketing officer, TE Connectivity. “We appreciated how the filmmakers created a visionary world, and as a marketer in a company of 8,000 engineers, I know how much engineers enjoy turning vision into reality.”
The connector company was given access to the cast, crew, and digital creators, and worked with them to develop exclusive video content that showcases how technology from the world of Alita and technology from TE Connectivity intersect. TE employees also attended advanced screenings with local STEM students that included panel discussions with TE engineers to analyze the tech showcased in the movie, which includes electric and autonomous transportation, sensor proliferation, advanced medical technology, human-like robotics, emissions-free renewable energy, advanced artificial intelligence, and instant universal connectivity. It’s not a movie about connectors, but they are everywhere, empowering electronics systems both real and imagined. “The film does not showcase TE products, but we’ve been able to show audiences how our products could be used in various scenarios in the movie. Our engineers believe the filmmakers did a great job of rooting their vision in reality,” said Janavitz.
One current technology that makes an appearance in the film is haptic sensors (See also: “Ready Player One” ). “Haptic sensors are used to recreate the sense of touch,” said Matt Gould, TE field application engineer. “The basic function of a haptic sensor is to create or control an electric current to provide a response or action. Haptic sensors are all around us from the screens of our smart phones, automotive navigation systems, to advanced medical devices and VR simulation systems.”
The story centers on a cyborg and, technically, cyborgs live among us now in the form of people with pacemakers and advanced prosthetics — although the term cyborg is used loosely in these applications. In cinema, human-like cyborgs (see also: “Blade Runner,” “Metropolis, and “Terminator”) represent a highly advanced version of robotics, usually with ethical dilemmas built in. In the case of Alita, neural power links are used a means of transmitting energy within her cyborg body. “Alita’s neural power link system is a science fiction representation of similar technology that distributes power throughout a device,” said Gould. “For example, modern vehicles are constantly monitoring large quantities of data collected from sensors monitoring mechanical and environmental systems. This data is then interpreted by the vehicle’s computer, which is essentially the vehicle’s brain, and uses these inputs to create an action, whether that is to apply the brakes in a crash avoidance system or to change the climate control setting.”
The film’s futuristic transportation is also worth examining, especially for engineers working on e-mobility projects. “In Alita’s world, we see two main forms of transportation: a single-wheeled motorbike and an array of electric vehicles, some of which are assumed to be fully autonomous. In our current world, we are becoming increasingly familiar with the idea of electric and autonomous vehicles, so envisioning a future where such tech is the norm is a very real concept,” said Gould, who notes that one of the more important missing pieces needed to bring some of the technology we see in Alita’s world to life is the global launch and expansion of the 5G network. However, the single-wheeled motorbike in the movie is an actual product available today. “The bike uses an array of sensors and gyroscopes to keep it balanced.”
Real and imagined, the technologies represented in “Alita: Battle Angel” depend on connectors, of course. “Many connector technologies would be necessary in the world of Alita, from high-power cables and systems for the continually growing power needs of a more electric city to high-density micro connectors that allow signal and power for different cyborg sensors and movement systems,” said Gould.
“I think a lot of the technologies we see in ‘Alita’ are rooted in the world we live in today. From the forms of transportation to cyborg technology, a more electric and connected future is emerging every day. Modern advancements in medical and ergonomic devices have allowed us to become more cyborg like than ever before. With advancements like artificial limbs or mechanical exoskeletons, we are using modern technology to help change the lives of our injured and disabled while making our working environments safer. One thing is for sure, the world of the future will be awesome.”