If it can be thought up, it can be created seems to be the general trail of thought. Scientists seem to have taken this as a personal challenge, so here are 15 items stolen, sorry, inspired by science fiction gizmos and gadgets, from Start Trek to Isaac Asimov.
1. Cell phones
“Beam me up Scotty!” Martin Cooper probably didn’t use this well known Star Trek phrase when he made the first ever phone call from a cell phone on April 3rd, 1973. The recipient? His rival from Bell Labs; Joe Engel.This now essential bit of gadgetry was, by Cooper’s own admission, inspired by, and originally designed upon, Captain Kirk’s hand-held communicator. Whilst we still have a long way to go before our communicators reach the same level as those on the Enterprise, we’ve come a long way.
Marvel Comics and Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, can be credited with the inspiration for this one. Engineer Rex Jameson has developed the XOS Exoskeleton, which gives the wearer superhuman strength and assumedly some form of bullet-proofness. The suit has sensors built into it, to transmit information to a computer and coordinate its moves, meaning the wearer experiences no lag and no fatigue. The suit comes in, size-wise, somewhere between Iron Man and Ripley’s robot from Alien. With a $10million budget, let’s hope they can trim them down a bit!
Travelling through time and space to meet other races becomes a lot less fun when you can’t tell the difference between “Friend” and “Dinner”. Not only are translators a great plot-device, they also have an incredibly useful application! Step in Google Goggles and Microsoft’s Translating! Telephone. The phone app from the web giant lets you take pictures of text that are in a strange new (probably just foreign) language that you don’t understand, and turns them into a language of your choice. The Translating! Telephone goes one step further, allowing you to translate spoken words from the speech recognition database which then gives the result through text-to-speech software, all in real time, earning the extra “!” it gives itself.
4. Flat Touch screen Computers
Remember when touch screen meant jabbing your finger into a solid screen, repeatedly, and getting no response? Well, unless you’ve been living in a cave recently, you’ll have noticed that technology has moved a little past that, to something people would actually want to buy. The latest in touch screen technology is the Star Trek PAAD (Personal Access Display Device). No, wait! Sorry, it’s the iPad, but you can see where the mistake was made. Both the PADD and the iPad are used for similar things, namely accessing data, playing audio and visual clips, and anything your computer can do. With minimal buttons.
Ever been out at night, and wanted to know what that was, over there, in the dark? No? Well, Luke Skywalker has and that’s good enough for me! In Episode IV, he uses his to search for R2-D2 at night, and whilst their counterparts in a galaxy very close to home may not have the same distance capabilities, they can certainly help you to see in the dark, albeit with a strange green hue.
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451in 1953. In his world, parlour rooms are filled with giant television screens. Whilst a mandatory 52” plasma screen TV may be appealing to some, Bradbury’s vision was not that of the modern day home theatre that many enjoy today, but of a dystopian future, in which literature is banned and television has killed all interest in reading. But hey, who needs to read when your government is forcing you to have a mammoth television and surround sound? Remember – it’s the law.
The idea of having a communicator on your wrist is a common one from sci-fi. Hell, even 1940’s Dick Tracy had one! However LG have looked at this idea, and deemed it far too simple. The LG 3G Watch Phone not only lets you hold a telephone conversation with someone, you can also play music, take photos, use it as a diary and a scheduler, read back your new text message and make video calls. It even has a full touch screen, a built in camera, a built in speaker, a voice recognition system, and a Bluetooth interface! You can even use it to tell the time.
Instead of lifting up the sofa to hoover under it like Rosie from The Jestsons, Roomba the house cleaning robot will go under it, get into all the corners then quietly slink away to recharge itself. Whilst lacking the presence and attitude of its large-hipped counterpart, it has some advantages. It’s real. And, ummm, well – that’s about it.
Video phones have been showing up in fictional movies and TV shows for years, such as Blade Runner, Futurama and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thanks to massive leaps in the last few years, these have now become a reality. Most, if not all, modern day hand-held phones have at the very least a camera attached, if not the capability to make and receive video calls. Perhaps the best, or most reliable, form of video calling is Skype. It’s free, easy and all it requires is a webcam. The sort many computers come equipped with. If not, I suggest you invest in one, they come in handy for … other things.
Holograms have been used in sci-fi for decades. Princess Leia sends a hologram to Obi Wan Kenobi, Vader uses it to talk to the Emperor, and Avatar even has a floating virtual planet map! Whilst communication is still not quite there yet, how about a virtual door handle? You simply reach into the hologram with your fingers and hey presto! the door opens. The idea behind this is to help with hygiene, as nobody touches the handle, and reduces mechanical failure. HoloTouch is even developing other hologram sensors for use in medical equipment, computers, and maybe even your smartphone.
11. Heads-Up Displays
The Heads-Up Display, or HUD, is most commonly found in computer games, giving data such as ammo-capacity, health and where you need to go next for your mission. Whilst most people don’t need a health bar or an ammo counter, the Yelp app adds HUD-style overlays to whatever your phone’s camera’s viewing, letting you know of restaurants or bars nearby. Not as helpful when zapping bad guys, but indispensable when you’re hungry.
Star Trek was created by a peace loving hippie, you know, the kind Eric Cartman hates. Due to his peace loving, non-lethal ways, the Star Trek phasers all had a “stun” option. The Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHASR) rifle wont knock you out, but it will temporarily blind you, giving pretty much the same effect. The UN has banned laser weapons capable of blinding someone in 1995, under a convention called the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. However, due to the wording, it does not prohibit lasers that temporarily blind a foe. Captain Kirk would be proud.
Silicon Valley is more famous for producing porn than futuristic robots, but the El Camino Hospital is doing just that. If you’re ever unfortunate enough to have to pay a visit there, prepare for an R2-D2 type robot to deliver your prescription, or wandering about with laundry. They are able to use lifts, and even move out of the way for people, proving that they have better manners than some of the patients you’ll meet there.
Hands up, who has ever wanted a jetpack? I thought so. Basically, they’re little rockets you can strap to your back and fly about with. 1991’s The Rocketeer featured a superhero that found a jetpack from the future, and the original Lost in Space series also had jetpacks. Glenn Martin, creator of Martin Jetpacks, was inspired the TV show, and hopes to release the world’s first commercially available jetpack. If you find yourself the proud owner of one of these devices, just don’t go fighting any Jedi near a Sarlacc pits – learn from BobaFett’s mistakes.
Not an obvious name this one, but a fantastic invention. Instead of having to open people up during a messy surgery, doctors are now able to use the Star Trek inspired Vscan. Using ultrasound technology, similar to that used for scanning babies, doctors are now able to check for heart problems, gallstones, abdominal disorders, fluid below the surface of the skin, and urological and foetal issues. Weighing about the same as a smartphone, it gives black and white anatomic and colour-coded blood flow images in real-time, meaning it can easily be integrated into a physical exam. Maybe they can combine this with the hologram technology, for a true Star Trek experience?