In our fast paced world, we tend to forget the way that we got here. Back in the days when we would see our favorite characters control or fix ship sections with a PADD (Personal Access Display Device), receive information from the bridge with a communicator, or diagnose a patient with the tricorder, we owe Star Trek a bunch for the inspiration that lead to our favorite devices. Star Trek has also taken a few innovations and improved upon them, making them mores stylish in the show than they previously looked. Below is a list of Star Trek inspired innovations and also some that made their way on the show in a cooler fashion.
While cell phones were amazing new devices when they first came out, can you recall when the first flip phone came out? That was the moment when fiction and reality really started to collide. Motorola created the first one called the StarTac, which isn’t pleasing to look at any more. But it was exceptional for many reasons when it came out because of the flipping motion. Fans wanted to re-create that feeling of pulling out the communicator for years and here was their closest change to have that experience. The flip phone would continue to improve, like the original Motorola Razor, and as we began to add more and more sounds to our phones, I can recall much glee when people were able to add the Star Trek communicator sound and complete the whole package.
Voice Control and A.I.
Before there was Siri, Google voice, or Cortana, we had Majel Barrett, Gene Roddenberry’s wife who provided the voice for the ship computer in most the iterations. She lent her voice to the iconic off-screen character who had one of the most important roles on the ship. We now have the ability to turn TV’s, Xbox’s and a variety of electronics off and on just by speaking. This is definitely a Star Trek inspiration that was derived from the captain and other crew members getting critical information from the ships computer by asking, setting off the self-destruct sequence, or just offering hot tea from a replicator. For the first time, we saw flawless and effortless voice control taking place through various places in the ship that made everyday tasks easier. Then, we also saw the crew members interact with the computer and checking to see if various solutions would work and hearing a confirmation or warning from the computer for each respective scenario. This kind of innovation is something we are inching and leaping closer to closer.
And when you can’t tell the computer what to do audibly, there’s always manual control. Touch screen panels have been a staple of Star Trek for years and is definitely one of the biggest areas we have seen Star Trek influence our technology. TNG had more static displays for their ship controls, but future iterations would begin to incorporate different variations for the ship computer and the PADD’s we would see on screen.
The videoconferencing that has sweep the globe was a second thought in the Star Trek universe. From receiving new orders or communications from Starfleet or hailing a rival ship’s captain, the bridge’s main screen and the other viewing devices showed how interconnected the galaxy was just between ships and planets. We can easily take advantage of Skype and various video sharing applications today with the ease of our phones that easily mimic the tech displayed on our televisions years ago.
This tech was being developed and implemented years before the first series aired, but future Star Trek would show mapping technology that we still haven’t achieved yet. We can do searches off a GPS transponder, give ourselves directions to the local pizza joint, but GPS tracking in the Star Trek gives the helm a wealth of information. Without it, or the Star Trek version of it, they would be unable to lock on for transporters, deliver supplies, monitor health signs, and variety of improvements over our systems. In the Trek universe, the biggest difference between our GPS and their tracking system is the senor arrays. A spaceship can do an entire planet scan within minutes and get a wealth of information whereas we would need probes and satellites to even come close to the same functionality.
Sliding doors predate Star Trek by almost 10 years, but this is an example of Star Trek taking a pre-existing idea and enhancing it. By adding sliding doors to almost every entrance of the ship, we were shown ships that were slick and seamless. This only added to the cool and wow factor of walking through the Enterprise.
Virtual Reality / Holograms
VR Tech has significantly improved over the past decade and while different shows and movies has displayed this type of tech before, I don’t believe anyone matches the depth that Star Trek covered it. The holodeck has been every nerd’s dream since we first saw it implemented. There have been vacations, training, and battles waged on the holodeck for years and only until now we have seen tech inch closer to that dream. We’ve had holograms sing songs on stage and we have VR goggles, such as the Oculus Rift that have been the fruition of many years of development. All towards having 3D shape and objects that we can create through a computer screen and interact with in the real world.
Lastly, we have the replicator. No, we don’t have a food option yet, but our closest comparison right now is the 3D printer. We now have the ability to upload the schematic for a item and so long as we have the materials available, we can create almost anything we desire. Don’t be surprised if we see variations that eventually can make our food for us in the ear future.
This list could have been much longer and we would be here quite a while. And the cyclical nature of sci fi inspiring science and vice versa is also a hard path to trace. But we definitely point to the examples above as proof of Star Trek tangible impact on our world.