Technology that was once the stuff of science fiction is becoming reality. We switched to flip-phones as a result of the Star Trek communicator and gained inspiration for the bluetooth ear device from Lieutenant Uhura’s communication device. Where the Enterprise carried around pads, we now have tablet computers to match. But what about holodecks, phasers and teleportation?
1. The deflector shield
Star Trek: Deflector shields are layers of energetic distortion which allow a starship to be protected. Energy and matter should be effortlessly deflected and only minor damage from a Klingon warship fight will be sustained.
Reality: Scientists have created a lightweight system that will protect astronauts from the harmful radiation that was picked up on Mars. The RAL plan is to create a concept spaceship called Discovery, which will recreate the earth’s magnetic field as a barrier. The deflector shield has already been tested on a model inside a fusion reactor and scientists are pleased with the results. The next stage of the plan is to scale it up and attach it to a real craft.
2. The holodeck
Star Trek: In the holodeck room, Lieutenant Worf enjoyed cowboy adventures and Captain Jean-Luc Picard role-played as private detective Dixon Hill. Its programs can create “solid” props and characters as well as holographic backgrounds.
Reality: Computer scientists have created a virtual reality platform called CAVE2, which combines 320 degrees of panoramic, floor-to-ceiling LCD displays with an optical tracking interface. Project Holodeck is, essentially, a holodeck prototype – we’re still far from photon projected programs. It’s current program, Wild Skies, allows two players to pilot an airship through steering movements and can equip weapons by pressing buttons and executing gestures. The creators claim that the applications are virtually limitless, and could impact fields as diverse as space exploration, archaeology, architecture, and medicine.
Who is involved: US military, Missile Defence Agency
Star Trek: This small hand-held weapon is always carried by crew members when they leave the ship. It is a direct-energy gun that can be set to ‘stun’ or ‘destroy’.
Reality: In 2002, Scientist Paul Koloc created a weapon that could be used for a range of purposes, from stunning personnel to destroying electronically operated devices, small rockets and vehicles. Sound familiar? The Phased Hyper-Acceleration for Shock, EMP and Radiation (PHASER) weapon has successfully formed plasmoids a foot in diameter, but they have yet to be made sufficiently stable. Until this power can be controlled, the US military’s PHaSER and MMDEAS are the closest recreations – both of which can slow down rioters.
Star Trek: The replicator is a machine capable of creating objects and synthesising meals on demand.
Reality: 3D printers, just like a replicator, allows us to recreate entire objects. We have reached the stage where 3D printers can replicate about anything, from car parts and dolls to textured display-only food. But we’re still a long way from having computers create fully cooked steaks. The reason why? We still work with plastic. This is all set to change, however, with Professor Lee Cronin’s Chemputer. This high-tech 3D printer has the ability to synthesise inorganic molecules. Ultimately, what starts as a vision of printing exact copies of complex pharmaceuticals, could actually turn into a modern version of Star Trek’s food synthesiser. NASA have also awarded a grant to the Systems & Materials Research Corporation to design a 3D printer capable of creating a pizza from 30-year shelf stable foodstuffs. This technology will later be used onboard space shuttles.