5 Product Innovations Inspired by Star Trek - Part 1
Hi, and welcome back to Star Rapid, the company that does Serious Engineering for Serious Engineers – just like you.
In this episode we’re going to do something a little bit different. We want to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to…appreciate the fact that a lot of engineers, like me, were first inspired by an early love for science fiction, fantasy and other imaginary worlds filled with cool gadgets and amazing inventions.
And no influence was bigger than Star Trek, which came on the air in 1966 and brought with it a wealth of fresh design ideas that anticipated many of the devices that are now part of our everyday lives. So, in honor of the show, let’s take a closer look at five cool inventions that got their start in the past (or was it the future?) of Star Trek.
In 1966, a TV was a giant cathode ray tube with crappy picture quality, poor reception and a distorted, curved glass screen weighing 5 million metric tons (or thereabouts). Ah, those were the days!
But aboard the Enterprise they had flat screen monitors everywhere. They were full-color, portable and two-way interactive, ushering in the concept of telepresence and, thus, teleconferencing like we do with our computers every day – thanks a lot, Zoom!
Curiously, the most advanced monitors today are going back to being curved, but now they’re concave rather than convex, bringing more information into focus around the viewer’s range of vision.
More than just walkie-talkies, Star Trek communicators combined a flip-up microphone/speaker arrangement, volume controls, tuner and – crucially – GPS tracking so that the crew could home-in on distress calls. Real GPS for civilian use didn’t become fully operational until 1995.
Based on the Star Trek design, engineers at Motorola were inspired to create the first portable cell phone in the 70’s – the DynaTAC- winning the race against Bell Labs. But the DynaTAC was still huge and unwieldy.
It wasn’t until 1996 that Motorola came out with the starTAC, the first true clamshell-style phone that could fit in a trouser pocket. I saw one of those early versions in Scotland in 1995, when I was helping to develop the first prototypes.
And, by the way, Kirk never said “Beam me up, Scotty”, on his communicator or anywhere else. Fake news!
Ok, there were earlier shows that had amazing whiz-bang machines which materialized something from thin air.
But on Star Trek, the technology had a real underlying logic. First you take computer-encoded data (on a portable SD card that you put into a slot, no less), combine it with nutritious protean raw material and, Voila! out comes a steaming plate of futuro-food, courtesy of 3D printing magic.
Personal Data Assistant
The Tricorder was awesome. This little bit of tech was carried by the crew on many missions and gave them invaluable information about the location of approaching enemies, the condition of a sick patient, or how breathable the atmosphere was on a strange planet.
In other words, a Personal Data Assistant (PDA), or portable computer with sensors and cameras and a library of information that could be carried around everywhere. This concept would later be expanded upon in the Next Generation with the PADD, or Personal Access Display Device.
Fooled you, didn’t I? You thought I was going to say electro-plasma-turbo-blaster-phaser-array, didn’t you?
In 1966, automatic doors only existed using pressure-sensitive floor mats. But wireless proximity door sensors wouldn’t be invented until the 70’s. On the Enterprise, doors swooshed open and closed when you approached them, making life all the more convenient and, dare we say, hygienic.
So that’s all the time we have for today. Got a favorite that we missed? Drop us a line in the comments below and don’t forget to like, share and subscribe using this magic button over here.
Next time we’ll have even more in Part 2 of Star Trek Inventions! Remember, we’re the people who bring you Serious Engineering for Serious Engineers!
Warning: Side effects may include memorizing that one episode from Breaking Bad where Badger is telling Skinny about his Star Trek script that has a blueberry pie eating contest featuring Chekov versus Spock that ends very badly indeed for one of them and you’re just going to have to look it up to see what happens.