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“Treknology:” What technologies need to be invented to bring us up to speed with Star Trek?

Since The Original Series first aired in 1966, we’ve certainly seen technology that seemed like magic then become a reality today. Smart phones, tablet PCs, voice controlled computing, 3D printing… But, what technologies are we still lacking (or currently working toward) in order to make our lives like what we see in Star Trek? Joe Dickerson takes a look at up and coming technologies in the works that could Trekify your life in the not too distant future (and some that you might be waiting a while for).

My day job is designing user interfaces for both computers and mobile phones, and to do that I regularly research technological advances and innovations. I’m constantly seeing new “tech” that allows me to create designs and functionality I could not have even dreamt of even 5 years ago. I often tell my colleagues that the future has already arrived; it’s just not obvious to most of us.

Obviously, there’s lots of technology seen in your typical episode of Star Trek. Here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

  • Food (and material) Replication
  • Sensors
  • Phasers
  • Tricorders
  • Transporters
  • Communicators
  • Artificial life forms
  • Tractor beams
  • Time travel
  • Photon torpedoes
  • Impulse engines
  • Artificial gravity
  • Warp drive

Looking at a list like that, you can see that there’s a lot of “out there” stuff that the creative teams on the series have come up with. We’ll never have any of those things in “real life,” right? Actually, we very well may… and in some cases much sooner than the 23rd Century.

Let’s look at them one by one, and see how our scientific community is working on making the world of Star Trek a reality.

Food Replicators
Well, we are already growing meat, so we are already advancing in that arena. As we have seen from the great late Norman Borlaug when it comes to coming up with ways to feed the multitudes, science has always been able to find a way.

And when it comes to material replicators, we are on the verge of a huge advancement in the world of 3D “printing” thanks to startups like Form1 and MakerBot. And the name of MarkerBot’s first consumer-level 3D printer? The Replicator, named after… well, you know.

Sensors
Science is continuously refining our abilities to scan the visual (and all the other) spectrums… and while we aren’t close to being able to scan a planet’s surface in moments like on Star Trek, we have been able use satellites and drones to gather a tremendous amount of data quickly and with startling detail.

Phasers
Well, we’re working on that… sort of. See this link for details on a sonic weapon that can stun, disrupt or kill.

Tricorders
Do you have a smart phone? If so, you have in your hands the modern equivalent of a Tricorder (merged, of, course, with a communicator). Now, the Tricorders in Trek recorded three types of data – geological, meteorological, and biological. Modern smart phones can record sound and video, but not much else. Yet. I recently read that at least one tablet computer that has been released with a barometer, and most smart phones are now plugged into GPS and provide location services (not geological, but similar). Future phones will be extensible and customizable even more than they are now… and some of those “plug-ins” modules could very easily support the needs to scan and capture your environment… just like in Star Trek.

And let’s not forget the medical tricorder, which is also being developed. Not only has an X-Prize program been created to encourage the development of a working medical tricorder, but “Lab on a Chip” technology is being created to allow for blood tests to be quickly and cheaply done in developing countries, to improve public health around the world.

Transporters
Well, seeing as the whole original idea of this was to save money on the special effects budget (to not have to land a ship every episode), we actually have guys working on it.

Communicators
See Tricorder, above. We have moved away from single-purpose devices and more towards that “Tricorder” multi-function model. The real challenge is the range – having a “cell phone” that can transmit from a planet surface to a ship in orbit without significant latency is a lot to ask for. Unless you have some massively powerful transmitter that can fit in your pocket… I’m thinking this may not be achievable without a very larger “repeater” to enhance the signal on the surface.

Artificial life forms
As we saw when the Watson computer (almost) won on Jeopardy last year, the singularity may be here sooner than we think. While AI like Darwin isn’t a “life form,” it’s not hard to believe that early “betas” of Data were much like Darwin is today.

Tractor beams
That’s actually being worked on now. Whether we can ever get to the scale that a tractor beam can pull a space ship over a long distance… well, we’ll see.

Time travel
Well, we are ALL time travelers… it’s just we are only traveling in one direction. Stephen Hawking is working on it, though it may be a LONG time coming.

Photon torpedoes
It’s just supercharged anti-matter bombs propelled at an incredible speed, right? Well… I don’t know of anybody working on this right now… but I hope they are on our side.

Impulse engines
See the Ion drive… not yet built in space, but again, we have top men working on it.

Artificial Gravity
This was because they were on a TV show with a limited budget… and they couldn’t afford the “wire work” necessary to have everyone floating around. I question whether we will even invest in significant efforts to make this happen, though you never know. And you CAN have artificial gravity in space right now. Just build a very big centrifuge.

Warp Drive
This is the big one… And yes, scientists are working on it. In fact, they are designing a warp drive powered by “dilithium crystals” right now… in Huntsville, Alabama. Are we about to get the jump on Zephram Cochrane?

The take away?
Obviously, we are not living in a Star Trek reality yet, but there are enough developments in “treknology” to make me not only optimistic but also curious: would we be investigating these ideas if Star Trek didn’t have them first? I have it on good authority that Steve Jobs was a Star Trek fan – did that influence the vision behind the iPhone and the iPad? It makes you wonder.

The key to all technology is, of course, its application. How will it be used? Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I have a feeling that advances in technology will be for (and result in) the greater good, and not be leveraged by forces bent on destruction. Lives will be made better, the poor will be better fed, and the world will be a better place.

Or, in other words, and to quote a certain Great Bird of the Galaxy… the human adventure is just beginning.

 


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Hat Rick
October 22, 2012 3:08 am

Food (and material) Replication –Real life (RL) counterpart: 3D Printers
Sensors — RL: medical “tricorders”; wide-spectrum scanners
Phasers — R: Directed beam weapons (tested out on our U.S. naval ships)
Tricorders — see sensors
Transporters — extremely difficult, but some progress has been made: RL: Quantum teleportation
Communicators — Not only cell phones, but satphones
Artificial life forms — RL: Genetic engineering + cybernetic research
Tractor beams — RL: I seem to recall something about this in the news some months ago
Time travel — RL: May be impossible for physical beings; best bet may be tachyon research, quantum theory development, dark energy; far-off future
Photon torpedoes — RL: ?
Impulse engines — RL: Ion drive
Artificial gravity — RL: ?
Warp drive — RL: Alcubierre theoretical speculation

Hat Rick
October 22, 2012 3:10 am

Regarding artificial gravity, the recent discovery of the Higgs boson may be of interest, as it provides substances with mass. An artifical projector of the effects of such quantum particle could be possible speculatively within a few centuries or less.

October 22, 2012 3:43 am

I’ve said for some time we need to have a medical tricorder. As I believe most doctors know nothing it would have saved me many years of grief at many doctors offices.

The Last Vulcan
October 22, 2012 3:55 am

An Agonizer for fakeboborcis. :)

October 22, 2012 4:46 am

Hi, Billy Mays here with another fantastic product.

Robert
October 22, 2012 5:11 am

Technically photon torpedoes are simply antimatter nukes, and nukes have been around for decades.

October 22, 2012 6:14 am

I’m happy with my iphone and star trek communicator app but i’ll take what comes.

Daoud
October 22, 2012 6:36 am

“…we have top men working on it…”
.
Aaargh… hopefully by the 23rd century, journalists will stop using sexist language that reinforces the pressures on women to avoid science, technology, engineering, and mathematics….

UK Trekkie
October 22, 2012 6:53 am

Yes, Steve Jobs was a big Star Trek fan.

I have it on good authourity that Steve gave Gene Roddenberry one of the first Apple Mac computers for him to use instead of a typewriter.

Gene found that it wasn’t powerful enough and gave it away. It was later discovered that this Apple Mac computer had the serial number 000001.

Vultan
October 22, 2012 7:02 am

#8

Lighten up. That’s a line from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“Who?”
“TOP men.”

samporteresq
October 22, 2012 7:24 am

What about holograms? And they’ve also got prototypes of “holograms” that displace matter. You can reach out touch an invisible object that feels just like an object you recognize. Put the two together – holodeck,anyone? Or, a holosuite if you prefer the more . . . well, colorful side of life. : )

George Zip
October 22, 2012 7:28 am

Nothing to add at the moment, but I got really excited when I saw there was a new article. Keep ’em coming, guys, even if they’re just pointers to other articles.

#8 – lighten up; as #10 said.

Charla
October 22, 2012 7:32 am

Awesome article Joseph, thank you for posting it. It certainly brings up some interesting topics about how far we’ve come but also how far we have to go to get to where Star Trek is technologically speaking.

I have particular interests in the medical field and love the needle-less injections for patients which has come to fruition in the last few years.

http://medcitynews.com/2012/09/needleless-syringe-maker-presses-on-raising-2-8-million-amid-u-s-flu-vaccine-hurdle/

I would love to see the tricorder advance as well. I have been both caregiver and patient and agree with Bones when he worked on Chekov’s brain injuries on ‘The Voyage Home’ that 20th century medicine is “barbaric”. It seems to remain so in the 21st century, but at least it is better than in the middle ages. Thankfully there is work being done in that area as well, and a nice reward for coming up with it as well.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2011/05/13/x-prize-and-qualcomm-announce-10-million-tricorder-prize/

http://gigaom.com/2012/09/23/qualcomm-wants-your-help-in-building-a-diagnostic-tricorder/

We here at TrekMovie could come up with this technology couldn’t we? We have until 2015 to “make it so” and win!!

Thanks again Joseph for the post~

AJ
October 22, 2012 7:48 am

Thanks for using the phrase “TOP men.” My favorite from “Raiders.”

rm10019
October 22, 2012 8:09 am

Always fun to explore the Trek Tech!

Luke Montgomery
October 22, 2012 8:13 am

Vulcan, I’m s guy and #8 does not need to “lighten up”… They are spot on right. “Top men” is sexist without doubt. What if the author had said We have some of our best white people working on it now”? Would that be more clearly wrong. No harm was meant I’m sure but harm none the less was done. Women have been historically excluded from a range of things for so long that it has become ” normal” and in the language we use. We need to root it out everywhere we see it. Don’t make me have Janeway come explain it to you.

casual poster
October 22, 2012 8:16 am

16. Luke Montgomery

I think you need to lighten up too. It was a line from a movie. He wasn’t slighting women, it was JUST a line – no insult was intended by it.

Gary S.
October 22, 2012 8:16 am

#14 Yeah, I caught that too.
But, in the film wasnt the “Top Men reference a LIE?
I hope we really DO have top men working on an Impulse Drive !

cpelc
October 22, 2012 8:38 am

Related News

Google devolps computer inspired by Star Trek

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9625235/Google-develops-computer-inspired-by-Star-Trek.html

Oh and BTW has anyone else noticed that Darkness is spelled Darrkness on the released image of the prequel comic? That’s a fairly large spelling error to make it unnoticed before release.

Perhaps the villain’s name is Darrkness and it’s a double-meaning in the title?

THX-1138
October 22, 2012 8:44 am

#8

You’re a jerk. If this site had a moderator that cared you would be banned. Ever since you totally spoiled the ending of Looper on that 3 frame clip thread I consider you persona non grata.

Phil
October 22, 2012 8:55 am
There really are only a few that are long ways from being possible, or practical, which is really more important… Transporters — apparently they work at the quantum level, but require ridiculous amounts of energy to use. Communications — long range has the same problem with the speed of light. Artificial life forms — There seems to be a growing train of thought that once machines become self aware, one of the first things they are going to figure out is they really don’t need man. AI as Data will probably never happen. Photon torpedoes — Not a lot of anti-matter laying around, and again, requires ridiculous amounts of energy to make. Artificial gravity — Would seem to be a must for zipping around at sub-light speeds. Warp drive — Seems like everytime someone finds a shortcut around this, Einstein has the last word. These are mine – 100% computer reliability – imagine the blue screen of death popping up on a computer controlling a vital system, like the artifical gravity. A failure, for even a microsecond, and the crew is dead. Cheap energy – a lot of the Trek universe seems to require a tremendous amount of power to make it work.Look at food – a replicator is going to take some inert matter (remember, you can’t create something out of nothing), transport that matter from storage to a replicator, apply a lot of energy to it, and turn it into a tasty and nutritious meal. We seem to… Read more »
n1701ncc
October 22, 2012 9:22 am

How about the universal translator, where we can hear and understand in whatever language a person speaks. Talk about job reductions at the UN …lol…

Gregg in DC
October 22, 2012 9:41 am

About time a new article was posted. C’mon Anthony, how about an explanation about why your not around much anymore. Don’t you owe it to us?

Emperor Mike of the Empire
October 22, 2012 10:02 am

Trekology is is amazing. Watch the Tos Ep Patterens of force and you will see Kirk and Spock looking at a large HD TV. Fake then but real now. I think we all can go on and on and see a lot of Tos Trekology in todays 21st century world.

CanOpener1256
October 22, 2012 10:17 am

What I find amazing is that in the 23rd century we will still be using steam valves in engineering, and freezer plastic door seperators on our shuttle craft. At least in Abram’s new universe. How about a reverse thread of modern tech still seen in all iterations of Star Trek? Like the sprinkler heads and emergency lighting units in that hallway where Kirk and Spock found Scotty in the. 2009 movie? That took me right out of the film for a moment or two.

ironhyde
October 22, 2012 10:18 am

I’ve always believed that when we get replication, putting the means of production in the hands of the people and decentralizing it, then we will get past money. That is something I’m really looking forward to, Star Trek’s economics.

Remington Steele
October 22, 2012 10:44 am

In before people complain this update doesn’t contain the new movie…

AJ
October 22, 2012 10:44 am

It would indeed be a challenge for Mr. Abrams & Co. to keep up the “Trek” tradition and come up with futuristic devices that we don’t know yet that we need.

How about a computer ‘self-destruct’ mode that says “Updates 1-17 are Being Installed. Do NOT turn off your Computer.” ;-)

rm10019
October 22, 2012 11:01 am

27 – I think Anthony owes us a personal apology and a slice of pizza for this new article.

If he is not careful, people will stop coming here and complaining about the fact that there are no new articles. Over, and over, and over… :)

StevenPDX
October 22, 2012 11:04 am

Loved the comment about photon torpedoes: “I hope they’re on our side.” No kidding! Reactivates the argument as to whether a visit from aliens will be friendly (ala First Contact) or hostile (ala Cowboys and Aliens).

Just as long as they bring some good beer with them…

Can’t wait for the new movie!

CAPT KRUNCH
October 22, 2012 11:21 am

as long as we don’t get synthehol….I only drink the real stuff…haha
Well isnt Siri kinda like a universal translator?….getting closer anyway.
I know the Navy or somebody is working on cloaking tech.

Paul
October 22, 2012 11:52 am

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20004210

Universal Translators anyone?

SoonerDave
October 22, 2012 11:56 am

Much bigger issue than artificial gravity is true inertial dampening. You can have all the warp drive you want, but if you go from 0 to c (in some theoretical manner) without internal dampening, you turn all the crew into a mass of intergalatic jello in about .000001 s

Lt. Bailey
October 22, 2012 11:58 am

For me the biggest or best Trek Tech would be to have a medical sensor to diagnose what is wrong and then the doctor can proceed with the treatment. Too many times we say ” I don’t know what is wrong, I just don’t feel good/right”. However, a phaser would be nice…

AJ
October 22, 2012 12:13 pm

33:

Turning the crew into “a mass of intergalactic jello” in .000001 s would solve the issue of food replicators for the passengers ;-)

Hat Rick
October 22, 2012 12:15 pm

In response to 30 (StevenPDX), I think that aliens, unfortunately, will be hostile. Why do I think that? Well, they say that aliens that aren’t beneficent will have blown themselves up before achieving interstellar travel. I’m not so sure. What if only the mean ones smart enough not to have destroyed themselves get to do it? I mean, think about it — if you’re so brutal that you’ve destroyed your own species, that’s one thing. But if you’re brutal enough so that you engage in warfare (accelerating technological development) all day long, and yet not quite so brutal as to destroy yourselves (although maybe your enemies, granted), wouldn’t that be the best formula for a civilization with star drive?

Besides, Stephen Hawking says we should fear the aliens. So, on that idea, I’m sold.

T'Cal
October 22, 2012 12:24 pm

Time machine. That way we could leap to a day or two before ST:XII opens so that we could view a trailer or at least a teaser! :D

SoonerDave
October 22, 2012 12:36 pm

@37, Right idea, but I’ll go you one better – invent time machine to go forward and get BluRay of STID, bring it back, post it AND the trailers (in the extras) on YouTube.

And I just realized if you remove the “I” in the obvious acronym, you’ve turned JJTrek2 into an STD.

Rose (as in Keachick)
October 22, 2012 12:39 pm

#36 – Not necessarily. The alien technology may be quite different from ours, more based on mental/psychic abilities rather than on fairly gross material kind, where energy required is harnessed in a different way. These alien beings could be easily either – friendly or hostile and most likely, totally misunderstood by us and therefore feared. Fear in itself can induce defensive/offensive actions.

Rose (as in Keachick)
October 22, 2012 12:41 pm

“And I just realized if you remove the “I” in the obvious acronym, you’ve turned JJTrek2 into an STD.”

What? You’ve only just realized that now?! LOL

James Cannon - Runcorn Trekkie UK
October 22, 2012 12:52 pm

I’ve just spent the weekend in London at Star Trek Destination London! Awesome …. Why no articles on

Great article too btw.

TrekDude
October 22, 2012 12:57 pm

Best Trek Tech? My vote goes to replicators… hands down. :)

boborci
October 22, 2012 1:24 pm

The greatest avdvancement we’d have to make to to bring us up to speed with Star Trek is our ETHICS AN MORALITY;)

n1701ncc
October 22, 2012 1:47 pm

bob orci nice to hear from you again. Any new communication to us masses that are dying to know some new information on Star Trek. I think you tried to throw me off a several weeks ago when I said the villain was Gary Mitchell and you kind of said imagine the universe being saved from Gary Mitchell. After careful consideration I have gone back to and I just dont think it could be anyone else. For sure its not Khan and too bad its not Mudd but Mitchell will be great as one who can bring the characters closer together and form a special bond with lots of action.

Turbo lifts is another off the list of to be invented. Remember turbo lifts go vertical and horizontal on in the same shaft

boborci
October 22, 2012 2:02 pm

n1701ncc

Hiya. We are working away, getting your surprise party together;) Hope you enjoy.

Montreal_Paul
October 22, 2012 2:27 pm

45. boborci

I love surprises Bob… I hope it’s a big one!

btw – is Noel Clarke’s character being edited out of the movie?

MJ
October 22, 2012 2:41 pm

Keachick go away, your posts are always so full of themselves.
You Are not as clever or smart as you think!!!

October 22, 2012 2:44 pm

Okay, as to warp drive – it’s not powered by dilithium crystals. Anyone who reads the technical manual knows that a matter stream and an antimatter stream come together inside a dilithium crystal (which contains a fourth-dimensional component) where the reaction is controlled. Out of that reaction comes high-energy plasma that then “resonates” with the special material in the warp coils. This, then, creates the warp field.

A modern-day electricity generator operates kind of in the same manner – magnets react with each other and electricity is generated (or attenuated).

Vultan
October 22, 2012 2:45 pm

#16

It’s a line from an adventure movie set in the 1930s. Yes, a time of extreme sexism, and I’m thankful women have done much to break through those barriers, as they should continue to do. But it was also a time when folks didn’t get bent out of shape over the slightest thing said or written, as you and #8 have so thoroughly, absurdly demonstrated.

MJ
October 22, 2012 2:54 pm

“ICEBERG AHEAD!!!!”
Thats the line thats most appropriate of the state of this site right now.

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