For more than five decades, “Star Trek” has inspired technological innovation. According to Popular Science, many of the technologies that were science fiction when they debuted on “Star Trek” are now available in real life. Video teleconferencing, virtual assistants, Bluetooth, wearable tech, and tablets were all inspired by items in the Trekverse like view screens, the ship’s computer, communicators, and PADDs.
In a feature by TechRepublic, some of the leading minds in tech research and development described how “Star Trek” inspired them to pursue STEM careers. Each of them said that “Star Trek” helped them envision what the future could look like — a world where tech is seamlessly integrated into everyday life. The franchise made them want to be the ones to bring these technologies to the real world.
Because of the hard work of tech geniuses like these, two more “Star Trek” technologies are closer to becoming reality than ever before.
One of the most futuristic technologies in the Trekverse was the holodecks. First introduced in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the holodecks allowed the crew of the Enterprise-D to experience anything they wanted via virtual reality. Holographic images created scenes and characters with which the crew members could interact.
However, these holograms weren’t simply projected images. They had a physical presence. They could touch and be touched. They could physically interact just like an individual. These holograms were indistinguishable from reality. A few Trek characters, like Commander William Riker and Captain Kathryn Janeway, even had deep, intimate relationships with these holograms.
Super realistic holographic projections have existed for a while now and have been used for a variety of purposes, according to “Nature.” However, scientists hadn’t figured out how these projections could give users a tactile experience, until recently. A group of scientists in Glasgow, Scotland developed a new technology called “aerohaptics” that uses the movement of air to create the sensation of touching a hologram.
Ravinder Dahiya, one of the researchers on the project, wrote a piece for The Conversation explaining how the technology works:
My colleagues and I working in the University of Glasgow’s bendable electronics and sensing technologies research group have now developed a system of holograms of people using “aerohaptics”, creating feelings of touch with jets of air. Those jets of air deliver a sensation of touch on people’s fingers, hands and wrists. In time, this could be developed to allow you to meet a virtual avatar of a colleague on the other side of the world and really feel their handshake. It could even be the first steps towards building something like a holodeck.
Other scientists are working on different approaches to touchable holograms. “Science Connected” published an article in May 2021 about a group of researchers from the University of Bristol that’s using ultrasound waves to create touchable holograms.
Though holodecks are admittedly still far away, touchable holograms are on the way! Of course, this technology likely won’t be available to regular folks for quite some time. But it’s a big step toward a “Star Trek” future.
Replicators are one of the most important technologies in the Trekverse. “Star Trek’s” creator, Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future without scarcity because replicators could make the resources everyone needed to survive. In Roddenberry’s future, hunger, homelessness, and poverty were all eradicated, largely because of replicators.
The real world got its first pseudo replicator in the 1980s when the first 3D printer was made. According to Sculpteo, one of the leading 3D printer manufacturers, Charles W. Hull developed the first 3D printer in 1986. The first home 3D printers were available by the early 1990s, but they were too expensive for regular consumers.
In the 2000s, 3D printers got a lot of attention for their medical uses. A 3D printer was used to make a human kidney, leading to dreams of a future where people never had to wait for new organs. Soon after, the first 3D printed prosthetic limb was made, promising to revolutionize the field of prosthetics.
When the existing patents on 3D printers ran out in 2009, several companies, including Sculpteo, jumped into the 3D printing market. This led to a massive drop in prices, which allowed regular consumers to purchase 3D printers. Though 3D printers are still a bit too expensive to have one on every home, that’s where the technology is headed.
Replicating food is one of the major goals of researchers in the field of 3D printing today. However, there are several obstacles to achieving that goal.
One researcher told SyFyWire that current 3D printers are totally capable of printing food, but the software and raw materials are lacking. 3D printers require both a program to tell them how to make the thing they’re printing and the substances necessary to make that thing. Before 3D printers can be used in everyday life, scientists need to perfect the programs for replicating food and mass-produce the substances necessary to print food. They’re close, but they’re not quite there yet.
Another obstacle to “Star Trek” style food replicators is cooking. Given the right program and the right materials, a printer can make a food item. However, a regular 3D printer can’t cook the food itself. So, a person could print a chicken cutlet, but it would print raw.
A group of scientists may have come up with a solution though. These researchers combined a 3D printer with a series of lasers. The 3D printer makes the food and then the laser cooks the food. The result is a cooked chicken cutlet that comes out of the machine ready to eat. These scientists published their research in a journal called Science of Food in September of 2021.
So far, they’ve only cooked thin chicken cutlets printed with their special 3D printer. However, they’re optimistic that this technology could be used to make all kinds of meals. Once this technology is perfected, food replicators could become a household appliance as common as an air fryer, though probably much more expensive.
Scientists all over the world are working on other technologies inspired by the Trekverse like phasers, ion propulsion, tractor beams, even transporters. Within decades, many of the technologies of the fantastical 24th century could be the reality of the 21st century.
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