How close are we to Star Trek technology?
Saturday, 21 October 2006 — by Wayne Smallman
So when did science fiction become science fact, eh? After reading this, you may just discover that we’re a lot closer to the technology in Star Trek than you might think…
Being the sci-fi fan of old, I couldn’t resist writing this article. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to it for quite some time!
I’ve been waiting for the principle technologies maturing enough to a point where it would make sense for me to talk about them in a contemporaneous sense that would whet the appetites of those like myself.
As you’ll see for yourself, in terms of advancements in technology, we’ve come a long way already…
Is transporter technology a matter of opinion or a matter of fact?
Well, you might just want to ask Professor Eugene Polzik what he thinks:
“Until now scientists have teleported similar objects such as light or single atoms over short distances from one spot to another in a split second.
But Professor Eugene Polzik and his team at the Niels Bohr Institute at Copenhagen University in Denmark have made a breakthrough by using both light and matter.”
This is a topic I covered very recently:
“Although teleportation is associated with the science-fiction series ‘Star Trek,’ no one is likely to be beamed anywhere soon.
But the achievement of Polzik’s team, in collaboration with the theorist Ignacio Cirac of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, marks an advancement in the field of quantum information and computers, which could transmit and process information in a way that was impossible before.”
In summary, while there are significant hurdles to overcome, and some years between now and when these technological hurdles are traversed, matter transportation could well be a matter of fact.
This is no flight of fancy, and Chief Engineer Mr. Scott might smile with pride.
As we begin to see the commercial benefits of space exploration, the need to move efficiently and at speed through space becomes a high priority.
Advanced propulsion is an area of science and physics that a lot of very well-educated and very serious-minded people are currently exploring:
“Every year, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awards prizes for the best papers presented at its annual conference. Last year’s winner in the nuclear and future flight category went to a paper calling for experimental tests of an astonishing new type of engine. According to the paper, this hyperdrive motor would propel a craft through another dimension at enormous speeds. It could leave Earth at lunchtime and get to the moon in time for dinner.”
And who do we have to thank for this premier contribution to modern science and the stuff of science fiction?
“In 1957, German theoretical physicist Burkhard Heim publicly outlined a new idea for spacecraft propulsion. It was based on his new theory of physics which successfully described Einstein’s theory of Relativity within the framework of Quantum Mechanics, and it married the two so effectively that he became an instant celebrity. Such a goal was long sought by Einstein himself, but never realized.”
Might it be that within StarTrek lore there’s inspiration drawn from Burkhard Heim and his ideas? Could be. Maybe someone more familiar with Star Trek could fill us in on that one?
It’s also worth pointing out that there are fundamental differences between Warp Drive and the proposed Hyperdrive technology .. but that’s another story. Much too technical for now.
Clearly this can’t be real?
While seemingly improbable and bound to test the mettle of the best minds in metallurgy, transparent Aluminium (Aluminum for the US readers) is right here and right now:
“The Air Force Research Laboratory’s materials and manufacturing directorate is testing aluminum oxynitride – ALONtm – as a replacement for the traditional multi-layered glass transparencies now used in existing ground and air armored vehicles.
ALONtm is a ceramic compound with a high compressive strength and durability. When polished, it is the premier transparent armor for use in armored vehicles.
ALONtm is virtually scratch resistant, offers substantial impact resistance, and provides better durability and protection against armor piercing threats, at roughly half the weight and half the thickness of traditional glass transparent armor,…”
Bringing 23rd century into the 21st century would obviously be something of a shot in the arm for the medical industry and medical science in general, that’s for sure.
Also sure to draw a smile of satisfaction from Doctor “Bones” Leonard McCoy. So please welcome the Hypospray:
“It isn’t called HypoSpray, but the SonoPrep is a similar means to an identical end: painless injections. After 20 years of research and development, Prof. Joseph Krost of Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel has developed the device which applies ultrasonic waves to a small area of skin, opening microscopic pores and allowing medication to pass into a patient’s bloodstream.”
You’ll be forgiven for not seeing this one coming a little sooner.
However, for those guys currently developing Cloaking Device technology, it’s still very much a work in progress, with much more still to be done before a fully-working prototype is viable – which will no doubt be a relief to any fledgling Klingon Empire out there:
“Physicists have drawn up blueprints for a cloaking device that could, in theory, render objects invisible.
Light normally bounces off an object’s surface making it visible to the human eye. But John Pendry and colleagues at Imperial College London, UK, have calculated that materials engineered to have abnormal optical properties, known as metamaterials, could make light pass around an object as so it appears as if it were not there at all.”
And for now, there are significant limitations that rely on some advances in other technologies:
“However, Pendry’s team’s design could currently only work at wavelengths larger than visible light. Designing a cloaking device for visible wavelengths could be tricky as it would involve creating nanoscale metamaterials.”
Say what? The idea of a true, real Universal Translator will undoubtedly leave some people a little tongue-tied, but not for much longer.
So whether you’re fluent in Andorian or just learning Bajoran, getting lost in translation may be a thing of the past:
“ViA, a wearable computer maker, has developed an Earth-based language translator that will be available later this year to the U.S. military and English-speaking consumers.”
And here’s something from a recent press article:
“ViA Team Mission Statement: To develop a near real time, two way, mobile, lightweight, robust and low cost multi-lingual language translation device that can be operated with minimal training in a hands free manner.”
What can I say? Words fail me.
While this final technology was always likely to draw some flack, I can assure you, Force Fields are very real, tried & tested and are due to be in production and then on a battlefield (hopefully not too close to you or I) very soon:
“The system can simultaneously engage several threats, arriving from different directions, is effective on stationary or moving platforms, and is effective against short and long range threats (such as RPGs and ATGM). Trophy was designed to be effective in open or closed terrain, including urban area and can be operated under all weather conditions.”
Clearly unfazed by the challenge of developing weapon technology from the 24th century, scientists have set to the task of creating stunning laser beams as a means of pacifying a foe:
“The US government has unveiled a ‘non-lethal’ laser rifle designed to dazzle enemy personnel without causing them permanent harm … The Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHASR) rifle was developed at the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, US, and two prototypes have been delivered to military bases in Texas and Virginia for further testing.”
Looking set to measure up to the challenge of creating the portable medical diagnostician of the future, scanning through this excerpt, you’ll no doubt get a good fix on the many, many possibilities that will open up in the near future:
“Nanogen’s APEX scanner isn’t as flashy as Doctor McCoy’s medical tricorder – requiring direct contact with human tissue instead of a casual wave over the body – but Nova nevertheless predicts it will revolutionize diagnostic medicine. ‘We’re using electronics as the basis of our science,’ she says, adding that her technology could pose a competitive threat to conventional test tube laboratories, where results can be late and are occasionally wrong.”
Where to next?
There is no simple answer to this question. Threads that begun long before my time and the time of most of you reading this will extend onwards through our time and into some distant future. Some of those threads will merge and some will dwindle, fade into obscurity and some will – much like us – die.
However, some will find a second life and carry on renewed and afresh, while those that have persisted for centuries – and along the way, coalescing with others – will vanish and be replaced by something more permanent and appropriate for their time. But know this:
“At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat that cannot be achieved – if it can be achieved at all – within the next few hundred years.”
~ Arthur C. Clarke