The science fiction that has become science fact

OPINION / 20th December 2018

Mobile phones, smart watches and voice activated speakers are just some of the gadgets that came to life in ‘Star Trek’ creator Gene Roddenberry’s mind long before they became a reality.

In fact, many of the latest technological advancements have been born out of the sci-fi writer’s imagination.

‘Star Trek’, the series which began broadcasting in 1966, was the first TV show to depict its main character Captain Kirk holding a pocket-sized device which he used to communicate with his crew, known as the “communicator”.

This has since been cited as the inspiration for the first mobile phone, invented by Martin Cooper, which launched seven years later.

The writer of the show even predicted videophone communications, 3D printers (replicators), and the precursor to today’s smartwatch – the wrist-worn communicators as seen in the first two ‘Star Trek’ films.  

Many inventions, including submarines (Jules Verne’s 1870 classic 20,000 ‘Leagues Under the Sea’), helicopters (Verne’s 1886 novel ‘Robur the Conqueror’) and touchscreens (again, ‘Star Trek’) appeared in science fiction long before they became science fact.

Yet, it is perhaps no coincidence that life imitates art. Many writers and film directors, including Stanley Kubrick for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and Steven Spielberg for ‘Minority Report’, consulted industrial designers, futurists and creatives, to try to visualise what the future world will look like before embarking on filming.

Ahead of the festive season, we’ve taken a look at other ways predictions from sci-fi writers have become a reality:

Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak

Harry Potter was given an invisibility cloak as a Christmas present in 1991 by Albus Dumbledore.

Nineteen years later scientists in the UK unveiled a flexible film, called “metamaterial” which can manipulate light to render objects invisible, reported by the BBC.

Two years after that, British Columbia company HyperStealth Biotechnology showed a functioning prototype of its new fabric called “Quantum Stealth”, which bends light waves around the wearer without the use of batteries, mirrors, or cameras. It blocks the subject from being seen by visual means but also keeps them hidden from thermal scans and infrared.

Back to the Future Part II’s flying car

Flying vehicles have been featured in many films; most notably in ‘Star Wars’, ‘Minority Report’ and in the 1989 cult-classic ‘Back to the Future II’.

The Terrafugia flying car, that proclaims to be the future of mobility, seats four, plus a pilot, and can travel at a maximum speed of 230 km/h for up to 185 miles.

The soon to be launched TF-2 will “take off like a helicopter, fly an airplane, and drive on the roads”, using the latest technology in electric propulsion, construction materials and manufacturing processes to ensure safety and reliability.

The Jetsons’ vacuum robots

The US television animation series ‘The Jetsons’, which launched in 1962 and was set a hundred years in the future, featured the very first "automatic vacuum cleaner". The eager little robot was keen to clean the floor without help.

Robotic cleaners, that are able to vacuum the entire house on their own have been available, since the 1990s, but the latest range are bigger and better, and priced from £150 to £900 depending on the brand.

Knight Rider’s self-driving car

K.I.T.T. was the coolest car on television in the 1980s. The star of the US television series ‘Knight Rider’, the smart car that helped Michael Knight, played by David Hasselhoff, chase the bad guys, was able to speak and drive autonomously.

Although unfathomable back then, self-driving vehicles are now becoming a reality. Car manufacturers and tech giants are competing to release their versions to the market.

In July this year launched its first ride-hailing car, which has four external LED screens to communicate messages to pedestrians, in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas. It may not look as cool as K.I.T.T. but the technology powering it is extremely clever.

Amy Creeden Amy Creeden Senior Marketing Manager Amy Creeden