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How close are we to Star Trek technology?

Saturday, 21 October 2006 — by

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…

Matter Transporters

Star Trek: Transporter
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.

Warp Drive

Star Trek: Warp Drive
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.


Transparent Aluminium

Star Trek: Transparent Alumina
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,…”

Hypospray

Star Trek: Hypospray
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.”

Cloaking Device

Star Trek: Cloaking Device
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.”

Universal Translator

Star Trek: Universal Translator
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.

Force Fields

Star Trek: Force Fields
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.”

Phasers

Star Trek: Phasers
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.”

Tricorders

Star Trek: Tricorders
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

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Comment and be known


Anonymous → Sunday, 29 October 2006 @ 14:39 BDT

Wow, thats really interesting I never thought that people were working on something like that cool post dude.

if you want, you can go to my blog at:

http://itsongoogle.blogspot.com

Ben → Thursday, 16 November 2006 @ 23:25 BDT

The Universal Translator cracks me up… I just can’t imagine it works so well, but then again, I know translating software and word recogniztion software is getting better and better. But *universal* – I mean, c’mon, how many languages can it know?! I suppose that’s the marketing department for ya…

The cloaking device I heard about recently. I’m in awe of this… I try to follow all the develops in physics as well as the strange philosophical musings that develop in relation to quantum physics. Physics is always doing something to blow our minds.

I wonder if you’re familiar with the writings of Ray Kurzweil; being that I see what you write about and that you love to watch trends, I can’t imagine you’re not familiar with his works. If you’re not, check it out. I wonder if you find him over the top or right on.

BTW I found your blog through BlogShowOff (mine is on there as The Dreaming Life). You’re blog is really well done. I especially love hearing your insights into Google.

Wayne Smallman → Thursday, 16 November 2006 @ 23:51 BDT

Hi Ben and thanks for posting!

“The Universal Translator cracks me up…”

When I was researching this article, I was looking for a mobile / cell phone manufacturer who’d developed an English-to-Japanese translator some years ago, which had worked very well by all accounts. But I just couldn’t find the article!

While I like the cloaking stuff, I’m more interested in the Hyperdrive stuff because that’s the most significant of all of the technologies mentioned.

Get that right and the sky realy is no longer the limit.

Ray Kurzweil, his name does ring a bell. I’ll be sure to look him up. Thanks!

“You’re blog is really well done. I especially love hearing your insights into Google.”

Then stick around!

Feel free to comment, make your views known and let’s share some ideas.

Thanks again for posting, hope to see you around soon…

Michael-From-The-Future → Thursday, 7 December 2006 @ 11:40 BDT

FANTASTIC article Wayne! I have made mention of this article on one of my pages in hopes of bringing a few more people over here, really great stuff!

I don’t have time right now to comment on the entire article but It’s nice to know that someone else has a positive outlook on what we CAN do : )

Keep writing Wayne!

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 12 December 2006 @ 12:31 BDT

Hi Michael, and thanks for that!

A note to everyone: as and when new ‘Star Trek’ technologies role out, I will append them to this article.

So stay tuned!

Serious Science: cloaking device → Wednesday, 24 October 2007 @ 8:23 BDT

[...] subject of cloaking devices isn’t a new subject for me. I once asked the question: how close are we to Star Trek technology? Which formed the basis for an article covering a variety of technologies, such as: matter [...]

David Bradley → Thursday, 14 February 2008 @ 16:23 BDT

I covered some recent research into portable medical diagnostics devices fairly recently on Sciencebase.com

db

Gao → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 3:28 BDT

Interesting article, but I don’t think the Trophy defense system is anything like a force field. Force field is supposedly a field of energy that has the capability of blocking projectiles. However, the Trophy defense system is just a radar with a highly accurate gun, and when the radar detects and identifies a projectile, the gun will shoot and try to disable it. The is no energy sheild involved in Trophy.

The way you use the quote from Trophy’s Manufacturer seems misleading..

Jake → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 4:32 BDT

The system your gave as an example of a “force field” technology is not anything close to what is represented in star trek. The Trophy system has nothing to do with creating energy fields to stop incoming fire as star trek shields do.

It simply fires a projectile to intercept the incoming threat and can be more compared to a really fast shotgun turret with radar and a smart computer to calculate trajectory. Really nothing like or even remotely close to force fields shown in the star trek universe which consisted of manipulating energy fields to encase the ship.

Anonymous → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 5:28 BDT

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……

Elvis Gump → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 6:42 BDT

One of the things that gets skipped over a lot which was seen occasionally in TOS and often in TNG onward were the wireless PDA-like PADD props. Kirk could be seen sign reports for yeomen and Geordi and the TNG crew carried them around constantly several years before the Apple Newton or PALMs showed up in the real world. And the functionality of the rather privative communicator has become reality in cell phones.

The only thing I don’t look forward to is the sonic shower. Somehow I don’t think people will get behind their ears as well with that one as they do with water. Or the really well groomed 23rd century people might emulate Shatner and Nimoy and suffer from tinnitus.

Now, if you want to explore Trek tech for the win, I wonder what a 23rd century toilet will look like? Do you think people of the future will still use toilet paper or the three sea shell?

Tristan Hambling → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 9:21 BDT

You appear to have missed possibly the most important enabler “Replicator”

Wayne Smallman → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 9:22 BDT

Elvis, those are excellent points. I’m sure I could update this article to include those examples.

I wrote this article some time ago, before mobile phones were as sophisticated as they are now.

Gao & Jake, thanks for your comments, I do appreciated that.

There’s a story to this that I really didn’t want to go into at the time of writing.

I had the stuff about the Trophy defense system presented to me by a guy whose qualification in such matters exceeded mine, but I didn’t think it was appropriate in the context of the article.

But that was after I’d read an article about a real force field technology that was being tested.

This system did / does use a forcefield that extends around the perimeter of the vehicle. The caveat (at the time) was that the field itself only worked with projectiles composed of copper, or a copper alloy.

However, when writing this article, I couldn’t find the article discussing the “proper” force field technology, so I couldn’t reference it. So in it’s place, I used the Trophy defense system, because that’s all I had at time.

As I said, I do appreciate you guys highlighting this, but I can’t find the original article that does include a real force field technology.

I will endeavor to rectify this!

Wayne Smallman → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 9:42 BDT

Tristan, that’s a fantastic piece of research, there fella!

I’ve tidied your comment up into a list so we can all enjoy your videos & articles…

poser.geek → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 16:42 BDT

Awesome! I’m always excited to hear about the “beam me up, Scottie” technology becoming closer and closer into fruition!

Penny → Friday, 15 February 2008 @ 19:08 BDT

For the tricorder, look up “proton absorption resonance spectrometer”.

Penny

D-Smash → Sunday, 17 February 2008 @ 6:31 BDT

I have been trying to find info about ViA’s translator and I can’t find anything about it online except for in this article.

Does anyone know where to find more info about it?

Fox Anderson → Sunday, 6 April 2008 @ 0:29 BDT

I find the Force field bit interesting, thing is I know what they are talking about. The “Force Field” they are talking about that is in actual use right now is NOT an energy field of any kind but rather a point defense system that can spot incoming grenades bullets and other projectiles then shoots them down with high speed high accuracy bullets of its own. The closest thing we have to an actual force field is a plasma window about 1 CM wide. It uses a device that creates a magnetic field that contains the plasma in the magnetic field and can hold up to 15 PSI or maybe a little more. It could NOT as of yet stop a bullet or any solid that wasn’t ferrous. But we are getting to the point where we may be able to pull off even that stunt somewhere in the near future, maybe about 15 years from now.

Wayne Smallman → Monday, 7 April 2008 @ 21:12 BDT

Hi Fox, thanks for the comments!

If you read the comments further up, I address this issue.

Speak soon…

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