I love Star Trek. Or more precisely, I really love the 80s, 90s and 00s Trek. Nothing is more soothing to me than the low hum of the Enterprise D, with Data and Geordi La Forge discussing the alignment of dilithium crystals in their coveted warp core.
While most of Star Trek’s ‘technobabble’ is intricately thought out nonsense, it’s no secret that early sci-fi has had a huge influence on the development of real world tech. And while I’ve yet to use a tractor beam to pull a comet out of a trajectory towards the Klingon homeworld Qo’noS, I have used a tablet to play Fruit Ninja.
So without further ado (thanks YouTube), here’s a few sci-fi technologies that have made it into real life.
The most convenient bit of sci-fi tech ever created: replicators. They’re essentially hyper-advanced 3D printers that can instantly create anything, from a cup of Earl Grey to alien-melting guns. While current 3D printers aren’t quite there yet, Star Trek’s replicators have been the inspiration and aspiration for many of these devices — with some of them getting eerily close.
For years, Martin Cooper — the inventor of the mobile phone — cited the original Star Trek communicator as his inspiration for the famous ‘brick phone’ he designed at Motorola. But it was all a lie. Last year, in his memoir, Cooper revealed that it was actually the two-way wrist radio from the 1930s comic Dick Tracy that drove him to invent the mobile phone. *Gasp!*
In 2014, Arx Pax revealed its Hendo Hoverboard, which is currently still being developed. While even Tony Hawk has a hard time looking cool on this thing, we’re still excited to see the first person do a 360 kickflip on one of these.
The current versions of the hoverbike won’t get you through Endor’s forest quite as fast as the ones in Return of the Jedi. Still, there have been actual live demonstrations. Most recently, the Japanese startup A.L.I. Technologies showed off its Xturismo in front of a crowd. And it did the thing!
Tractor beams have been a sci-fi staple for years, but the real life versions tend to operate on a slightly smaller scale. Researchers have been trying out different techniques, utilizing soundwaves and light to pull and push things as small nanoparticles. Currently, NASA and Arx Pax (the Hoverboard people) are working on a tractor beam powered by magnetism. Awesome.
The PADD, Star Trek’s version of the tablet computer, was so clearly Apple’s inspiration for the iPad, that when revealing it in 2010, Steve Jobs showed a Star Trek movie on the device.
There are a lot of different versions of invisibility tech in sci-fi, but one of the first iconic ones was used by the monster that had the unenviable task of duking it out with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987: the Predator. Considering its violent origin, it’s not surprising that the website of one of the leading companies developing the tech today — HyperStealth — looks like this.
While it doesn’t seem particularly futuristic now, the MP3 format was invented by Karlheinz Brandenburg, who has cited this brilliant scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation as being his inspiration for a digital audio format. Thank you, Mr. Data.
What’s your favorite bit of sci-fi tech? Let us know on Twitter.
Published April 8, 2022 - 2:10 pm UTCBack to top