Connect with us

Ideas

Don’t Underestimate the Forces, Mandalorian

I’m really excited about this new Star Wars spin-off show, The Mandalorian. It’s not part of the Skywalker saga, so pretty much anything can happen. And there’s the whole mystery of the armored Mandalorian: Who is he? What’s his motivation? How does he eat with a helmet on?But I just watched the trailer for the…

Published

on

Don’t Underestimate the Forces, Mandalorian

I’m really excited about this new Star Wars spin-off show, The Mandalorian. It’s not part of the Skywalker saga, so pretty much anything can happen. And there’s the whole mystery of the armored Mandalorian: Who is he? What’s his motivation? How does he eat with a helmet on?

But I just watched the trailer for the show, and right now I’m interested in this quick view of a fight with some other character in a cave. In the scene (near the beginning, at about 0:20), the Mandalorian uses some type of glowy energy thing on the end of his rifle to hit this other guy. The result shows the bad guy (he has to be bad, right?) flying backwards across the cave.

It not only looks cool, it also offers the opportunity to do some physics. You know that’s what I like to do anyway. So let’s get to it. Yes, there will be some video analysis included.

The Nature of Forces

In my initial viewing of the fight scene, I thought that the Mandalorian actually hit the bad guy. OK, that’s probably not true. Apparently, this is an Amban phase-pulse blaster. He didn’t hit him, but just shot at very close range. Oh, that’s fine. The physics still works the same.

There are two big physics ideas we need. One is the nature of forces. A force (not the Force) is a way to describe interactions between two objects, and forces always come in pairs. So when the Mandalorian hits or shoots this guy, he exerts a force on him. But then there has to be another force back on the Mandalorian.

That’s just how it works. If you push on a wall, the wall pushes back on you. If you drop a ball, a gravitational force from the Earth pulls down on the ball, but there is also a gravitational force from the ball pulling up on the Earth.

In general, if A and B are two interacting objects, and A is pushing on B with a force FA-B, then there will also be a force from B onto A (FB-A), which is of equal magnitude but opposite in direction. As an equation it looks like this:

Illustration: Rhett Allain

(The arrows show that these are vectors. A vector is a quantity for which direction matters along with magnitude. That’s all you really need to know about vectors here.)

Bottom line: The Mandalorian pushes on the dude, the dude pushes back. That’s how all forces work.

Gaining Momentum

The other big idea we need is the momentum principle. Momentum is the product of an object’s velocity and its mass, and it’s usually represented (for no evident reason) by the letter p:

Illustration: Rhett Allain

So the bigger something is or the faster it’s going, the more momentum it has. Now, the momentum principle says that when a net force acts on an object, it changes the object’s momentum. We can write that as an equation:

Illustration: Rhett Allain

Oh, the Greek letter Δ (delta) is often used to indicate “a change in.” So you can read this as saying the net force equals the change in momentum per unit of time (e.g,. per second). It’s not just the change in momentum that matters, but how fast it changes. Bonus: Using Greek letters makes you look cool.

The Forces Are All Around You

Now, let’s return to the fight and put these two ideas together. Here’s a force diagram for the Mandalorian’s short-range shot.

Illustration: Rhett Allain

Yes, there are a bunch of forces there—but it’s not too bad. Let’s break it down.

First the attacker (I’ll call him Bob from now on): There are two forces acting on him, indicated by the two arrows. One is the gravitational force, mg. The other is the force of the Mandalorian’s blow, FM-B. This changes Bob’s momentum such that he is moving back from the impact.

For the Mandalorian, there are four forces shown in the diagram:

  • The force that Bob exerts on the Mandalorian, FB-M, which is the other side of the force-pair from the blow.

  • The downward-pushing gravitational force, mg. This depends on his mass, m, and the local gravitational field of the planet, g.

  • The upward-pushing normal force from the ground, FN. This is the paired force that goes with gravity—it keeps us from falling into the center of the planet we’re standing on. Which matters because of …

  • The sideways-pushing frictional force from the ground, Ff. This depends on the materials that are in contact (his shoes and the dirt) and the magnitude of FN. Yes, the harder the ground pushes up, the greater the frictional force.

Friction can get complicated, but we can make a simple model that works well in most cases. This says the maximum magnitude of the frictional force, Ff-max, can be found with the following equation:

Illustration: Rhett Allain

Here, 𝛍 (mu) is the coefficient of friction. This is a value, usually between 0 and 1, determined by the specific materials involved. Low values are slippery, high values are sticky. There are cool tables where you can look up different combinations of materials. Steel sled runners on ice? 0.05. Rubber tires on dry asphalt? Up to 0.9.

Here’s the deal: If the Mandalorian stays in place while delivering this haymaker, the net force acting on him must be zero. It has to be zero, since his momentum is unchanged. In the horizontal direction, this means the frictional force must be equal in magnitude to the opposing force from the hit, so as to offset it.

A Friction Prediction

Is that OK? Well … it’s pretty implausible, which is probably why it doesn’t feel right when you watch it. Remember, the force of the shot is so great it blasts the other guy through the air. But let’s actually get down to numbers.

First we’ll estimate the force that the Mandalorian lays on Bob (FM-B). According to the momentum principle, we can get that by looking at the change in Bob’s momentum and the time interval during which it changes.

To get that data I used a tool called Tracker. It lets you mark the position of an object in each frame of a video to track its position, and you can get the time from the frame rate (here 60 frames per second). That gives us a plot of Bob’s movement after he is hit: distance traveled (vertical axis) vs. time (horizontal axis):

Illustration: Rhett Allain

The slope of the fitted line is Bob’s velocity (coefficient A)—3.89 meters per second. Then, to get his momentum, we just need to estimate his mass. He looks burly, so let’s say 100 kg (220 lbs). Multiplying velocity and mass, we get a momentum of 389 kg ⨉ m/s. And since he started at rest, that’s also the change in momentum.

But what about the time of impact? Looking at the frames when the weapon’s blue blast is in contact with Bob, I get an interval of 0.167 seconds. This is just a rough estimate, since it’s difficult to tell when contact starts and ends.

Dividing the change in momentum by the time interval, we get the impact force:

Illustration: Rhett Allain

That’s a force of 2,329 newtons (equivalent to 523.6 pounds). Then we know the frictional force must also be 2,329 N, so we can use the friction equation above to compute the implicit coefficient of friction. We just need one more parameter: the upward-pushing normal force of the ground, FN.

Since there are only two forces in the vertical direction (the Mandalorian’s weight pulling down and the ground pushing up), these two must also be equal. Let’s say the Mandalorian is also 100 kg, and we’ll assume gravity is the same as on Earth. (Frankly, it looks suspiciously similar in the video). The gravitational field on Earth is 9.8 N/kg. Plugging the numbers in, we get an implied coefficient of friction:

Illustration: Rhett Allain

Oh. That’s not great. To deliver that blast while remaining stationary, it seems the Mandalorian would need a friction coefficient of 2.4 between his shoes and the ground. Problem is, that number is way off the chart. Not to mention the fact that he’s standing on slippery sand and gravel.

I can only think of two possible explanations. Either the Amban phase-pulse blaster pulls energy and momentum from another dimension so that it only appears to violate the fundamental nature of forces, or the Mandalorian has some really grippy shoes. Even Air Jordans wouldn’t come close.

But wait! Is there time for a pickup shot before the episode airs? There may be ways to fix this scene. Just spitballing here:

  • Instead of big Bob, what if the attacker is a pint-size Jawa? If he has a very low mass, we could knock him back with less force, and there would be less recoil on the Mandalorian. Of course, that wouldn’t seem very heroic …

  • What if the Mandalorian delivers the force in an upward direction, instead of straight forward? Then the interaction force would push back and downward on the Mandalorian. That, in turn, would increase the magnitude of the normal force pushing upward, thus increasing the forward-pointing frictional force to keep him from sliding backward. (This, in fact, is how all superpowered people should punch.)

Oh, there’s one other way to eliminate the problem: Declare it a feature, not a bug. After all, this is why we have fantasy and science fiction shows—to bend the rules, escape from reality, and enjoy a great yarn. But that needn’t stop us from having a little fun with physics.


More Great WIRED Stories

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Ideas

17 Outdoors Gift Ideas for Camping, Hiking, and More

Winter chill can mean many things to many people. To a camper in Southern California, it can mean overnight lows in the 50s. To a climber in Maine, it can mean charging through snow drifts all day like a locomotive.Our gear gift guide accounts for all of the winter conditions the outdoors-loving person in your…

Published

on

17 Outdoors Gift Ideas for Camping, Hiking, and More

Winter chill can mean many things to many people. To a camper in Southern California, it can mean overnight lows in the 50s. To a climber in Maine, it can mean charging through snow drifts all day like a locomotive.

Our gear gift guide accounts for all of the winter conditions the outdoors-loving person in your life could encounter. With some of these cold-weather keepers, they can go out and enjoy the breathtaking snowy scenery and gobble up the uncrowded trails. Some of our picks can even be used year-round.

Check out more of our buying guides. We have a growing number of outdoor gear guides, including the best action adventure cameras, our favorite fitness trackers and watches, and our latest guide to electric bikes.

When you buy something using the links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Here’s how it works. You can also support our reporting and reviewing by purchasing a 1-year print + digital WIRED subscription for $5 (Discounted).

Continue Reading

Ideas

Scott Adams Has Some Ideas for a Calmer Internet

Skip Article Header. Skip to: Start of Article. A new book from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert who came under fire for supporting Donald Trump in 2016, lays out some proposals for online civility. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/APAfter expressing support for Donald Trump in 2016, Dilbert creator Scott Adams estimates that he lost about 30…

Published

on

Scott Adams Has Some Ideas for a Calmer Internet

Skip Article Header. Skip to: Start of Article.

Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert
A new book from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert who came under fire for supporting Donald Trump in 2016, lays out some proposals for online civility. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

After expressing support for Donald Trump in 2016, Dilbert creator Scott Adams estimates that he lost about 30 percent of his income and 75 percent of his friends. He says that that level of political polarization has created a climate of genuine fear.

“People will come up, and they’ll usually whisper—or they’ll lower their voice, because they don’t want to be heard—and they’ll say, ‘I really like what you’re doing on your Periscope, and the stuff you’re saying about Trump,’” Adams says in Episode 389 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “They’re actually afraid to say it out loud. They literally whisper it to me in public places.”

Adams blames the current climate on social media and a clickbait business model that rewards sensationalism over fact-based reporting. Since the technology is here to stay, he says we’re going to need new societal norms to help foster a calmer, more constructive political discourse.

“When society changes, every now and then you need a new rule of manners,” he says. “So for example, when cell phones were invented, you needed a new set of rules about where can you use them and can you do it in a restaurant, etc. And social media has gotten so hot, I thought maybe we need a few new rules.”

He lays out two such rules in his new book, Loserthink. His first proposal, which he calls the “48-hour rule,” states that everyone should be given a grace period of a couple of days to retract any controversial statement they’ve made, no questions asked. “We live in a better world if we accept people’s clarifications and we accept their apologies, no matter whether we think—internally—it’s insincere,” he says.

His other idea is the “20-year rule,” which states that everyone should be automatically forgiven for any mistakes they made more than two decades ago—with the exception of certain serious crimes. It used to be the case that people’s thoughtless remarks and embarrassing gaffes would naturally fade into obscurity, but social media has created a situation where it’s easy to endlessly dredge up a person’s worst moments.

“We’re not the same people that we were 20 years ago,” Adams says. “We’ve learned a bunch, our context has changed. If you’re doing all the right stuff, you’re getting smarter and kinder and wiser as you’re getting older. So being blamed for something you did 20 years ago is effectively being blamed for something a stranger did, because you’re just not that person anymore.”

Listen to the complete interview with Scott Adams in Episode 389 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Scott Adams on Babylon 5:

“It was my favorite show at the time, and I said something good about it for an article I wrote in TV Guide, and their publicist contacted me and said, ‘How would you like to play a bit part in the show?’ Just sort of a thank you, and to bring more publicity to it. And I said, ‘Sure, can I bring my girlfriend at the time? Can she be in it too?’ And they said, ‘Sure, we’ll make her a Minbari.’ So I played a human character who was looking for my lost dog, and maybe I’m crazy and maybe I’m not, and my girlfriend at the time played a Minbari alien who was my assistant. … I don’t have any acting skill. I think my entire range of emotions that I can produce on my face are maybe three things, that’s about it. No nuance at all.”

Scott Adams on his novel God’s Debris:

God’s Debris is essentially a conversation between a deliveryman and a character that I invented who is the smartest person in the world, and so the smartest person in the world is describing to the deliveryman all the secrets of the universe, if you will. I’m a trained hypnotist, and I was always curious about writing a book where I would use the hypnosis skills embedded with the writing to give the reader a better experience. … And for some readers, and of course with hypnosis people don’t have the same reaction, the same experience—but for a number of readers, maybe a quarter of them, which would be really good, they have an experience that’s unlike reading a book. It’s a physical, mind-blowing kind of experience.”

Scott Adams on creating Dilbert:

“When they offered me a contract, I was talking to the editor, and I said, ‘You know, I’d be happy to get an actual artist to partner with me to do the drawing,’ and she said, ‘No, there’s no reason to do that, your drawing is fine.’ And I said, ‘Really? It’s fine?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, just the way it is. It’s fine.’ And that simple statement that I could do it made the quality of my art improve about 500 percent in two weeks, after being pretty much the way it was my whole life up to that point. But the simple fact that somebody who was credible—and exactly the right person in the world—would tell me that I was good enough, that actually made me good enough. It was a ridiculously quick transformation.”

Scott Adams on the media:

“When [media outlets] do these big feature pieces, and they send somebody to your house and they say, ‘Can you allocate the whole day? Can we hang around with you all day to get interesting context for the story?’ my experience has been—and this is just pattern recognition—that those are always hit pieces. … They’re not trying to find out what my opinion is, they’re gathering ammo, and that’s what all the ‘context’ stuff is. Because you could take anybody’s normal life, and by the way you word it it would make them sound like a freak. I mean, almost anything I do can be worded in a way that makes it sound like I’m the oddest person in the world, but if you heard me describe it, you’d say, ‘Oh OK. That’s nonstandard, but it makes perfect sense.’”


More Great WIRED Stories

Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.

Continue Reading

Ideas

Sleepwalkers Podcast: Rethinking Our Relationship With AI

Artificial intelligence now shapes our lives in profound ways, curating social media posts that drive us apart, determining who gets a loan or probation, and even helping choose our romantic partners.This week, WIRED is launching Sleepwalkers, based on a series of podcasts that examine the AI revolution.The first episode, available here, examines how AI manipulates…

Published

on

Sleepwalkers Podcast: Rethinking Our Relationship With AI

Artificial intelligence now shapes our lives in profound ways, curating social media posts that drive us apart, determining who gets a loan or probation, and even helping choose our romantic partners.

This week, WIRED is launching Sleepwalkers, based on a series of podcasts that examine the AI revolution.

The first episode, available here, examines how AI manipulates and exploits us. It asks what kind of a future are we letting the technology build and offers some ideas for what to do about it. Host Oz Woloshyn discusses the sway that AI has over us with several experts trying to understand technology’s influence and to unravel where we may be headed.

Tristan Harris, who once worked on technological persuasion at Google, now runs a think tank called the Center for Humane Technology, where he worries about AI’s power to seduce and manipulate us.

“We’ve basically got 2 billion humans completely jacked into an environment where every single thing on your phone wants your attention,” Harris says. “Their incentive is to calculate ‘what is the perfect, most seductive thing can I show you next?’”

Modern advertising also shows the reach that AI now has. Gillian Brockell, a writer at The Washington Post, discovered in tragic circumstance how advertising algorithms now track our personal lives. Her Facebook ads quickly seemed to understand that she was pregnant, and they served as a cruel and relentless reminder when she lost her child. She learned that resisting this AI-powered tracking and production promotion is much easier said than done.

Are we doomed, though? Perhaps not. Woloshyn also considers ways we might wrestle back some control from the machines.

At Jigsaw, for instance, an Alphabet subsidiary, Yasmin Green is trying to understand how search algorithms contribute to extremist recruitment and how they might be hijacked to steer people in a more peaceful direction.

And at Match.com, not everyone believes you should put your faith in Cupid’s algorithmic arrow. The anthropologist Helen Fisher, who serves as chief scientific adviser, considers both the positive and negative effect AI has on modern love, and she suggests that we spend more time getting to know people than swiping right or left.

Ultimately, AI’s capacity to control and influence us raises some deep questions. How do we agree which values AI should reflect? How do we resist products so finely tuned to our strongest desires? And how do we ensure that profit isn’t the only motive served?

One thing seems clear. As the ex-Googler Harris says, it may be time to rethink our relationship with such powerful technology. “We have to recognize that this is having real-world consequences,” he says.


More Great WIRED Stories

Continue Reading

Recent Posts

Title

Categories

Trending