Sunday, May 08, 2011

Star Trek as the Mother of Invention

This is an odd post for Mother's Day, but it is tough to discuss it without writing about my mom, myself, or other family members.

But, as one who appreciates gadgets, I am grateful to science fiction authors for dreaming up some of the useful objects that we take for granted. Like other science fiction yarns, Star Trek is a mother of invention.

The original series of Star Trek was telecast in the mid-60s, and there were not many computers around. Those that were in existence then were low in processing power and huge in size. They recorded data on large spools of magnetic tape. During its three-year run, the characters on STOS used objects which resembled computer disks. They also used wireless (blue-tooth) ear phones, projectile free weapons, and even flip open communicators that look quite similar to Motorola's flip phones.

In my youth, I just thought that science fiction writers were a bit prophetic. However, more reading has helped me understand that SF writers may be helping fulfill the prophecies in their fiction. Among the most ardent fans of SF on the page and one the screen are engineers and scientists, and they derive some of their inspiration from SF. So, the reason we have flip phones is because an engineer saw Captain Kirk chatting with his ship, and decided to build a device which can actually do that.

Since the Enterprise was only a space-going vessel, characters used shuttlecraft to make some short trips down to planets, and this concept no doubt inspired the name and some functionality of the space shuttle fleet which came along a few years after the series ended.

Technical inspiration did not end with the original series. When Roddenberry's Star Trek, the Next Generation aired, the entire ship ran via touch interface. I can't view a rerun of STNG without seeing technical concepts which have made the jump from screen to reality. Notable STNG inventions in everyday use include their oft used PADD, which clearly helped inspire today's iPhone and iPad. The frequently used touch panels have inspired many kitchen gadgets, too. My microwave, my stove, and my dishwasher all use multi-colored touch pads, just like the USS Enterprise NCC 1701D.

The Borg of STNG and Star Trek Voyager relied heavily on nano technology. That is an up and coming method of enhancing everyday objects. Recently, I saw a pair of men's pants which professed to have a nano stain fighter woven right into the fabric.

Star Trek gave us five different television series, and the tech of Trek continues to inspire engineers and scientists to create more and better gadgets. In fact, you may have given one to your mom today.

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