For nearly 50 years, science-fiction enthusiasts have tuned in to Star Trek, a TV series that depicts the adventures of humans and aliens who explore the galaxy aboard the starship Enterprise. The show, which debuted in 1966 and may soon be entering another TV reincarnation, gave its viewers glimpses of technology yet to be invented.
According to an article in Ireland’s Irish Examiner, two Trekkies—as the show’s fans are known—went on to invent devices resembling ones featured in the series. IEEE Life Fellow Martin Cooper, for example, was inspired by the Communicator, a wireless, handheld, two-way radio used by Star Trek’s Captain Kirk to talk to his crew. Cooper says he had it in mind when, in the early 1970s, he led the team at Motorola that developed the first mobile phone. Neurosurgeon John Adler says he was inspired by the show to invent the CyberKnife, a computer-controlled laser for excising tumors without invasive surgery, in the early 1990s; Dr. McCoy, a Star Trek character, treated patients with a similar device.
And still more Star Trek–inspired devices may be in the works: Qualcomm’s X Prize Competition challenges participants to devise a real-life medical instrument like the Tricorder, a handheld device that McCoy used to monitor patients’ health and diagnose disease. The first to invent such a device will receive a US $10 million prize.
Is there a device from a TV show or movie that inspired you to work with technology? Are there any other gadgets you’d like to see developed?