Given that a large proportion of Silicon Valley is made up of sci-fi geeks, it’s no surprise that over the years tech has focused on bringing to life many of the once outlandish concepts seen in movies, TV series and comic books.
With the Apple Watch bringing several more of these to life -- Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio among them -- we thought the time was right to run down our 8 favorite sci-fi gadgets we’d love to see turn into actual products, as outlandish as some of them might be.
After all, you never know when Bill Gates is going to be scanning a blog, looking for ways to unload his fortune.
Scan right to check out the rest of the gallery.
(Picture: Dick Tracy)
From Star Wars's Millennium Falcon to The Dark Knight’s Tumbler, sci-fi and fantasy movies have given us plenty of iconic vehicles over the years. Perhaps none have inspired more viewer envy, however, than the hoverboard first used by Marty McFly in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II.
Enabling young Marty to zip, skateboard-like, through busy streets (but don’t think about riding it over water) owning a genuine hoverboard has been the stuff dreams are made of ever since. There have been a few attempts to bring the technology into the real world, but most of these have turned out to be either crushingly disappointing hoaxes or, frankly, a bit rubbish.
Scratch what we just said-- The Iron Man armor may be even better than Marty McFly’s hoverboard. An armor-plated exoskeleton powered by a miniaturized Arc Reactor, Iron Man’s red-and-yellow suit provides a normal (well, relatively normal) civilian with the ability to fly, sustain huge amounts of damage, and fire repulser blasts from its hands.
The notion of time travel has fascinated sci-fi fans since H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine. In movies, we’ve seen various memorable takes on the concept — from the DeLorean in Back to the Future to Dr. Who’s TARDIS. As much as we’d welcome the possibility of a real, working time machine however, it seems close to a certainty that we won’t be getting one, well, ever. Why? Because as per the Fermi paradox, if time travel was going to be possible at some point in the future, wouldn’t we have seen a few travelers by now?
We’d happily forgive that logical oversight, however, if someone would just hurry up and build one. Our first order of business if they did? Travel back to December 12, 1980, of course, and buy all the Apple stock we could lay our grubby little hands on. Without someone unravelling our own future lives with some kind of Butterfly Effect-related mishap, naturally.
Okay, if we can’t have a time machine at least give us a Star Trek-style Transporter to get from one location to another. The meta-story behind the Transporter is adoringly low rent. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's original plan was to have the Enterprise land every episode, which was quickly ruled out due to the costs of carrying out the necessary model work. Next he switched to picturing a shuttlecraft, although the full-sized shooting model was not ready when filming began. Teleportation — which required just a simple fade-in/fade-out special effect — was the fallback option.
In the real world, of course, it’s turned out not be such an easy answer after all. Teleportation has occurred, but only on a quantum level. Earlier this year, scientists announced a reliable way of transferring data by quantum teleportation, but that’s still a long way from “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Hopefully they’ll test the human-sized technology on a redshirt first.
(Picture: Star Trek)
A Haptic Touch Interface
The iPad has a touchscreen, you say? Not like the one in Minority Report, it doesn’t. The 2002 Tom Cruise movie features Cruise’s police chief character whipping through screens of information and manipulating video playback simply by waving his hands in front of an ephemeral digital screen. In fact, despite its futuristic setting Minority Report is one of the most grounded sci-fi films out there in terms of its attention to detail. Director Steven Spielberg consulted Silicon Valley’s top experts on how they saw technology taking shape over the coming decades, and put their conclusions into the movie.
This is why it’s hardly surprising that 12 years after Minority Report landed in movie theaters, researchers at Bristol University in the UK have developed similar technology in the form of a haptic screen manipulated via soundwave vibrations. Provided the interface turns out to be user-friendly there’s no reason we won’t see this particular technology become a reality.
(Picture: 20th Century Fox)
This is a common trope of science fiction, and is getting a whole lot closer thanks to the impressive artificial intelligence systems being honed by the likes of Google. But a real-time version of the Babel Fish from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which instantly understands and translates spoken words in foreign languages) would be one of the most useful tools ever. It would be kind of like hearing Phil Schiller dubbed into Mandarin at the glitchy start of Tuesday’s keynote, only without the hair-tearing frustration.
Remember that nifty pen-sized gadget from Men in Black that let agents wipe the mind of anyone they wanted to, simply by flashing a bright light in their eyes? Depending on the chosen setting, the Neuralizer can erase memories going back hours, weeks, months, or even years — with the recipient then susceptible to suggestions about what happened during those blank patches. (A deneuralyzer, by comparison, is a special chamber that can be used to reverse the effects of the neuralyzer.)
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like any such device is likely to make it to market (or into reality) any time soon. Think of the possibilities if it did, though, particularly if you’re a person prone to making mistakes.
(Picture: Columbia Pictures)
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s simulated reality experience is kind of like the Oculus Rift turned up to eleven. Featuring total immersive virtual reality that looks and feels like the real world, it could be used for training personnel or, more entertainingly, for staging all manner of wacky fantasies.
My personal favorite use of the Holodeck came in the Star Trek: TNG episode entitled “A Fistful of Datas,” in which various members of the Enterprise crew become trapped in a 19th-century Wild West adventure with the safety protocols accidentally disabled.
Granted, that one may not be quite so much fun were this to become a reality.
When my kids and I walked into a coffee shop one sunny day last month, we were greeted by a row of tables holding laptops with gaming demos.
My son gravitated toward the biggest display, a huge TV screen with a giant, face-obscuring set of goggles set in front of it. This was the Oculus Rift, the latest fad gaming device that places two stereoscopic images in front of your eyes to simulate virtual reality.
He slid the massive black eyewear onto his face, picked up the connected Xbox controller, and started moving his head around. The rest of us could see the game on the TV — an abstract shooting gallery in three dimensions, with my boy at the center, first-person style.
After about five minutes of waving his head around and pressing buttons on the controller, my son pushed the goggles up and off his head and said, “Dad, I think I’m going to be sick.”