When William Shatner and the late Leonard Nimoy first began trekking through the stars in 1966, they did it with a host of dreamt-up technologies at their disposal and over the decades, partly inspired by the TV show, scientists and engineers have made those same tools a reality.
Here are five Star Trek inventions that exist in some form today:
When Captain Kirk pulled a small gizmo from his belt to talk to the bridge of the Enterprise, he was effectively playing with a future version of the mobile phone. In fact, commercial handheld phones didn’t make an appearance until the 1970s and looked something like an oversized box. They’ve gotten smaller in size and more powerful since then and in more recent years some models even came with the flip-up lid just like our heroic commanding officer. Nowadays what our smartphones can do, from video calls to accessing instant information, would seem like science-fiction even to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry himself.
The Universal Translator
Over five television series and the following movies, right up to the current incarnation in Star Trek Beyond, we’ve been introduced to countless alien species from awe-inspiring planets and galaxies and yet they can all speak English. Thanks to a handy device called the universal translator, our fearless Starfleet crews can converse with these species to negotiate peace treaties, diffuse a tense stand-off between starships, or order a Romulan ale in a space station pub.
Real-life voice translation technology is advancing at warp speed with tools like the Skype Translator allowing near real-time audio conversion. As the recognition software is ever-improving, it’s only a matter of time before more languages are available. Given that it can be studied in college courses, don’t be surprised if Klingon is included.
This medical device from the Star Trek universe allowed for injections without needles, something that would save countless squeamish patients from fainting in real life. In 2012 scientists at MIT developed a needle-free injection system proving that the technology is possible. Meanwhile, the medical tricorder used by Dr. Bones McCoy was a hand-held device capable of reading vital health information. Today the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition is offering a $7 million prize to the company that can replicate a functioning model here in the 21st Century.
When Captain Jean-Luc Picard helped to reboot the Star Trek franchise in The Next Generation in the late 80s, he did so with a brand new ship and sleek new gadgets. One such gizmo was the PADD - Personal Access Display Device - a handheld piece of hardware with a screen relaying information. Sound familiar? Actor Patrick Stewart’s favorite toy is essentially the modern-day iPad. Doug Drexler, one of the prop producers for the show once called the iPad: “the true Star Trek dream.”
Even back in the original series, desktop/laptop computers and video conferencing were inventions ahead of their time which are commonplace today.
Lieutenant Commander Data is a much-loved character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. An android, his artificial intelligence developed to such an extent that he wished to become human, even receiving an upgrade to experience emotions. True-life robotic technology has seen mechanical beings defeat humans in endeavours from chess to fighter pilot exercises. Android technology is already being used in the field of medicine to assist doctors while robots are being programmed to recognize and mimic human emotions. The question is: will the androids of the future help humanity in the way Data assists the crew of the Enterprise, or will something more sinister emerge, such as other science fiction nightmare stories like The Terminator?
We’re still some way off warp drive allowing us to travel through space at the speed of light. Likewise, Star Trek’s most famous invention, the transporter, won’t see us ‘beaming’ to destinations across the planet in the very near future. However, one day ‘beaming up’ to vast ships orbiting the planet may not be as far-fetched as once thought. If Star Trek has inspired scientists to achieve similar goals since 1966, as Spock would say, it’s only logical that it will happen again.