Back in 1966, Star Trek introduced television audiences to a host of technological wonders. View screens provided for FaceTime like calls and Captain Kirk would sign bulky, iPad like devices. Flash-forward 50 years or so and a treasure-trove of other science fiction stories in books, television, comic books, and film, and you find an amazing array of technologies. Some, like Doctor Who’s TARDIS time machine, is likely for a future most of us won’t be around for. But other technology is just around the corner and soon to be as common as video calls and touchscreen devices.
Science Fiction Meets Science Fact!
Everyone remembers the famous holographic message recorded by Princess Leia that would help save the Rebellion. Or, the fun 3D chess game enjoyed by C3PO and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon. It’s coming very soon. Hologram technology isn’t new except in the way it’s being applied by researchers today. We’re one step closer to ditching the smoke and mirrors of today’s holograms and ushering in something more like the holodeck from Star Trek.
The Predator stalks its victims while enveloped in a field that makes the alien invisible. The reality of bending light is here. Some technologies, already in use, hide vehicles from radar and thermal imaging. New materials and approaches to controlling light, however, are making invisibility cloaks a real thing. Inevitably, a lot of perverts will be arrested for using them the wrong way, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
From Star Trek to Star Wars, science fiction features many “ray guns” in its arsenal of future weapons. The idea of manipulating energy for offensive purposes is one the military is actively pursuing. The US military achieved such sci-fi weapons in two different ways. First, it’s the “microwave gun” which mostly makes people feel like they’re a chicken nugget in an oven.
Energy Weapons, Part 2
But “microwave gun” doesn’t sound anywhere near as cool as blaster, phaser, or laser gun. Laser guns are a staple of the science fiction genre that won’t go away, even now, as laser weapons are deployed to real-life battlefields. The US Navy uses the LaWS, a system that fires lasers at targets, destroying them without the need for ammo or much maintenance. It doesn’t look as fancy as in the movies, but the weapon is extremely effective.
We see them all the time protecting spaceships or generated by the will of comic book characters like Invisible Woman or Green Lantern. Force fields are an invisible shell that can deflect or out-right stop projectiles and other dangerous forces. A recent patent filing by Boeing shows the company’s development of a system that will detect threats and generate a forcefield. To make things perfectly pop culture, part of the system is called the “arc generator.”
Another common science fiction tool is the tractor beam. Essentially, a force of energy is manipulated in order to pull, or sometimes, push away, objects. You might also think of it as the Force or telekinesis. Science is figuring out how to make this work and so far, has done so, albeit on a very small scale. But, it’s only a matter of time.
We all love the hover boards from Back to the Future. I’m here to tell you it’s already happening but not exactly in a way that’ll make it cool like McFly. Requiring super-cooled conductors, “quantum locking” or “quantum levitation” allows objects to hover in place and move, without little resistance, along a super-cooled path. Don’t lose hope! The first step is figuring out how to do it and that’s out of the way.