Forty-five years ago, the first episode of Star Trek aired on NBC. It was five years after the Soviet Union launched the first human into space, and the franchise explored a fictional 23rd century “United Federation of Planets” through a crew based on the starship Enterprise.
Six television series and 11 movies later, some aspects of Star Trek no longer seem futuristic (people still don’t live in space, but they are working on vacationing there).
To celebrate Star Trek’s anniversary and lasting impact, we enlisted help from the “Commander” of international Star Trek fan association Starfleet, Dave Blaser.
He and a handful of other Trekkies helped us point out these eight Star Trek technologies that have shifted from future fantasy to present reality.
SEE ALSO: 45 Years of Star Trek [INFOGRAPHIC]
1. The Flip Phone
While on away missions, the Star Trek crew often speaks through handheld “communicators” that look like walkie talkies with a flip top — in other words, much like a clamshell mobile phone.
The likeness inspired Motorola in 1996 to name the first flip phone “StarTAC.”
It also caused some strife for Trekie Ted Anthony, who wrote in a 2006 article for the AP: “Once, when I was 6, the teenage son of one of my father’s colleagues fashioned me a handmade communicator out of a wood block, paint and chickenwire. A few months later, I left it in an airplane bathroom as we flew to Asia and caused something of a bomb scare.”
2. The iPad
Throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation, touch-based control panels called PADDs (personal access display devices) were frequently used by crew members. They resemble the tablet-like computers of today.
According to Ars Technica, PADDs were partly a reflection of a constricted budget. The flat surface of the devices meant that no knobs or dials needed to be constructed, and the idea of that its software could be reconfigured to complete any task made it a flexible prop.
No actual code was written for the devices in Star Trek, but CBS Interactive created an iPad app that mimicks its interface.
3. Bluetooth Headsets
Photo source: Wikipedia
Uhura, for a time the Enterprise’s Communications officer, wears a giant silver earpiece while sitting at the communications station. This reminds Blaser and others of the bluetooth headpieces of today.
“Look at anyone walking down the street looking like they’ve gone insane and are talking to themselves and you’re likely to see a blue light flashing next to their ear and, looking closer, you’ll see the Bluetooth earpiece.”
In Star Trek, “tricorders” are handheld devices used for sensor scanning, data analysis and recording data.
A company called Vital Technologies intentionally replicated it in the mid-90s with a device that it called the TR-107 Mark 1. Like its fictional counterpart, the device included several scientific functions such as an electromagnetic field meter, thermometer, barometer and light meter.
According to Blaser, the company sold about 10,000 of these units before it went out of business.
More recent efforts at replicating the device include a Tricoder Android app that was taken down earlier this month after CBS cried infringement and a $10 million contest by the X-Prize foundation for a Tricorder-like medical diagnostic device.
5. The Floppy Disk and USB Drives
Star Trek foresaw the convenience of portable digital storage.
“On Star Trek, they were the small square coloured pieces of plastic that they inserted into various computer consoles, but in the ’80s and ’90s we had the 3.5-inch floppy disk that was remarkably close to the same size as those pieces of plastic that they had on Star Trek,” Blaser says.
“Later, in Star Trek: The Next Generation, they had isolinear chips that could hold gigabytes upon gigabytes of data. These days, you don’t see floppy disks being used but USB flash drives which are, incidentally, pretty close to the same size that Star Trek TNG showed the isolinear chips were.”
6. Voice Activation
When Scotty meets an at-the-time-of-filming modern computer, he’s confused when it doesn’t respond to his voice as the Enterprise computers do. Today, he might have had more luck. Many computer softwares, smartphones, cars and other electronics now have voice activation options.
While the transporter above is from the 2009 Star Trek movie, well after GPS was invented, its predecessors were also able to locate crew members with precision before beaming them up. The U.S. government declared GPS functional in 1995 after launching 27 Earth-orbiting satellites — about 30 years after the concept appeared in Star Trek for the first time.
8. Diagnostic Bed
Dr. McCoy’s medical diagnostic bed inspired a team of scientists at the University of Leicester to create a sickbay that observes patients for early signs of diseases using monitoring equipment such as thermal imaging technology and analysis of the patient’s breath.
A scientist who worked on the project called a “first step” to achieving the sci-fi technology.
Obviously, some of the gadgets in Star Trek were based on science fiction staples established long before 1966 (If you’re interested in the original origins of some of these gadgets, click here). But Star Trek is somewhat of a gold mine of once-futuristic technology and inspiration.
“The list can go on and on and on about various things that have been inspired by Star Trek,” Blaser says. “Even people have been inspired by Star Trek and have gone on to do great things. Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield and American Astronaut Mae Jemison were both Star Trek fans.”
Let us know about some of your favorite Star Trek gadgets in the comments below.