Canadian YouTubers engineer hyper-realistic plasma lightsaber that can cut through steel
The lightsaber has a retractable 'solid looking beam of white hot fire' that reaches 2,200 C
This story was originally published Oct. 14, 2020.
James Hobson's lightsaber is not a toy.
The YouTuber and his team at Hacksmith Industries in Kitchener, Ont., have created a hyper-realistic, retractable plasma lightsaber that reaches a scorching heat of 2,200 C.
"That's above the melting point of most metals," Hobson told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's pretty dangerous."
Hobson and his team unveiled the prototype on their YouTube channel Hacksmith last week. They plan to release a second video Thursday in which they'll use the lightsaber to cut through metal siding, a Stormtrooper mannequin and a steel plate "similar to a bank vault door."
The lightsaber looks stunningly similar to the ones made famous in the Star Wars universe. And just like the iconic Jedi sword, the blade is a plasma beam that can retract and extend at the touch of a button.
That beam is generated with liquid propane gas and oxygen gas "mixed in a really fancy laminar flow gas nozzle" — a technology used to control the flow of water in jumping fountains.
"The beam is very straight and narrow, whereas if you were to just light propane on fire, you're going to get a flamethrower effect, like you'd see inside of a barbecue," Hobson said.
"But because we're using this very fancy laminar flow nozzle, we're able to get the solid-looking beam of white-hot fire, basically."
By adding different salts to the plasma, Hobson can change the beam's colour. For example, boric acid will make a green beam like Yoda's lightsaber, sodium chloride produces a bright yellow like Rey's, and strontium chloride will generate a bright red for those who prefer to walk on the dark side.
But unlike the Star Wars version, Hobson's isn't 100-per-cent mobile. It comes with an external power pack worn on the back, Ghostbusters style.
"Even with all our new equipment and capabilities here at Hacksmith Industries, we're still bound by the laws of thermodynamics," Hobson explains in the video.
"We don't exactly have D-size batteries capable of putting out more power than a nuclear power plant — which by the way, is what you'd need for a lightsaber to function like it does in the movies."
This isn't the team's first crack at a lightsaber, nor their first replica of science-fiction technology.
The whole point of the Hacksmith YouTube Channel is to replicate fictional objects using real-world technology and engineering. Previous creations include Iron Man's helmet, Captain America's shield, Batman's grappling hook and Inspector Gadget's helicopter hat.
"It's literally our bread and butter. It's what we come to work to do every day, Hobson said. "And obviously, lightsabers are one of the most famous and most popular sci-fi technologies in the world."
Hobson, who has a bachelor's degree in mechanical systems engineering, quit his previous job in 2015 to dedicate himself to Hacksmith Industries. In that time, the company has grown into a team of 14 employees, and a YouTube channel with 10.2 million subscribers.
The idea, he says, is to inspire young people to take interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"Because we've been doing it so long, we've gotten comments now, like: 'I went to engineering school because of your videos, and now I've graduated and now I'm working as an engineer.' And it's really rewarding to hear stuff like that," Hobson said.
But these are not the kind of projects you can try at home, he said — and the prototypes are not for sale.
"It's not about teaching them how to do what we're doing," Hobson said. "It's showing them what's possible through engineering. It's bringing your wildest ideas to life."
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff.