The Fallout series is, at its heart, a work of delightfully morbid science fiction. Nuclear wars, plasma rifles, replacing the ant meat in someone’s pocket with a hand grenade…ah, the memories. And like all great science fiction, much in the series is based on real science. Now, thanks to a few intrepid inventors, science might be able to give back to Fallout.
Submitting to the Space Apps Challenge, a two-day “hackathon” hosted by NASA and other international space agencies, designers Colin Loretz, Ben Hammel, Andrew Warren, Christopher Baker and Ashley Hennefer created a semi-functional diagnostic tool based on Fallout’s famous Pip-Boy 3000. See it in all its nerdy glory:
You can see a short video about the project below:
In an email exchange, I asked Ashley a few questions about the project:
Nerdist: Who is in your team and how did you all get involved in the project?
Ashley Hennefer: Our team consists of Colin Loretz, Ben Hammel, Andrew Warren, Christopher Baker and myself. We are all avid makers in Northern Nevada, and the Space Apps challenge was a good opportunity for us to collaborate on a project. Most of us have participated in hackathons before, and our team is comprised of professional engineers, designers and developers.
N: What would a fully realized device like this do?
AH: A fully realized device would basically be a one-stop-shop for the most important data a space explorer would need to access. We have plans to integrate a full communication system so that the explorer could share information and status updates with the headquarters. So in our minds, a space-oriented Pip-Boy would track vitals and activity, provide a map of the planet, offer comm/radio with headquarters, and be able to detect any environmental dangers that would infringe on the explorer’s health or navigation.
N: Don’t astronauts already receive medical testing? How would this improve the process?
AH: Our intent was to make a functioning Pip-Boy that was space-themed, given the Space Apps challenge, but we weren’t intending on this replacing gear that astronauts rely on. It would certainly be awesome to have a device inspired by the Pip-Boy used in space, but we wanted to include the information that we thought would be most important to a space explorer. The data we included in our build is what we imagine a space explorer needing the most while out in the field.
N: Why a Pip-Boy? Are you all huge Fallout fans?
AH: Our team member, Colin, was the first to bring up the Pip-Boy as a project because it seemed doable given our time and resources. We liked the challenge of bringing a piece of science fiction to life, and have plans to recreate other items from other sci-fi stories. But actually, I believe I am the only one on our team who has played Fallout and I’m a big Fallout fan (and of Bethesda games in general). I think the rest of our team is more motivated to play Fallout now. The guys were knowledgeable about the game and the device, though, since I think the Pip-Boy is pretty iconic.
Maybe the most basic question is, why would astronauts need such a device? Why would a Pip-Boy be helpful? Well, space is a dangerous place. And the longer you stay up there, the worse it gets. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station lose bone mass at the rate of 1% per month. Their heads swell. Their hearts become more spherical and their immune systems get all out of whack. With bodies evolved to deal with constant gravity, being in space messes us up, scientifically speaking.
Once we start traveling to other planets or even other stars, a Pip-Boy-like device would be even more important. No longer shielded by Earth’s expansive magnetosphere, astronauts traveling to Mars would be subjected to dangerous levels of radiation (or RADS, to you Fallout enthusiasts). When they landed, reduced gravity, simultaneously scorching and freezing temperatures, and an unbreathable atmosphere would wreak havoc on unprepared human bodies.
If future astronauts could simply glace at a device on their wrist, constantly communicating their vitals and the environmental conditions, it really could aid efficient space exploration. That is, if the aliens don’t get them first.