Star Trek: Tech advances, courtesy of Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek: Tech advances, courtesy of Gene Roddenberry

Summary: In 1966, NBC released an iconic but short-lived series that would inspire generations of inventors to bring about changes in our daily lives with technology that was once within the realms of strictly science fiction.


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  • (Image: CBS)

    Tablet computers

    (Image: Apple)

    My favorite of these display technologies is the PADD, or the Personal Access Display Device. Although the term was coined later in 1987 with the release of the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, it did actually make an appearance a few times in the original show, where it was used by various engineers and administrative staff.

    Today, aspects of the PADD can be found in Apple's 9.7-inch and 7-inch iPad, dozens of Android-based tablets, and Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface.

  • (Image: CBS)

    The Enterprise computer and data banks

    In addition to advanced display technology, human/computer voice interaction as featured on the many Star Trek series has also been implemented in various forms.

    While most of us do not interact with our computers by talking, voice dictation using products such as Nuance's NaturallySpeaking (originally developed at IBM) allows for limited and specialized application by using voice commands and voice dictation.

    (Image: Apple)

    "Expert" voice recognition systems used by airlines, telecommunications, and utility companies use voice recognition for accelerating call center screening. Although, when I use them, I tend to yell "Operator!" at the top of my lungs.

    Apple's introduction of Siri in the iPhone 4, and Google's introduction of Google Now in Android 4.2, are "intelligent agents" that allow for retrieval of information from the internet using voice queries, and work eerily the way the original Enterprise computer did.

    Star Trek's "Memory bank" technology, which enabled the crew and various alien civilizations to record and play back music and video in digital form, has also made its appearance as some of the most popular consumer electronic devices in the world — as iPods, portable media players, and digital video recorders, as well as Secure Digital and CompactFlash memory storage cards and the latest solid-state disk drives.

    And the subspace Federation communications network and database that we've seen crew members use to access any kind of information at their fingertips is probably analogous to both the internet and the cloud.

  • (Image: CBS)


    The "Sickbay" on the Enterprise was a medical science marvel, filled with all sorts of fantastic tools with the capability to diagnose virtually any ailment in existence and perform complex surgeries on life-threatened patients with virtually no blood spilled.

    While we've got a long way to go until we get the full set of medical tools that was available to Dr. McCoy, quite a few of Trek's medical gizmos have left their influence on real-life healthcare technology.

    The magical diagnostic bed that displayed all sorts of metrics on patient vital signs that was used on the original series did eventually come to fruition as various independent diagnostic and health monitoring equipment used in hospitals today.

    (Image: Hoana)

    One of those is the LifeBed, which is a near-dead ringer for Dr. McCoy's sickbay. Similar diagnostic equipment has been used aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and in mobile field hospitals in the military. Naturally, advanced medical imaging technologies inspired by the original series and Next Generation sickbays made their way into CT and MRI equipment, which are a staple of modern medical diagnosis.

Topics: Tech Industry, Emerging Tech, Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • warp speed and food replicators?

    we're still missing those. And one more thing, transporting devices, no need to fly to our destination.
    • Not yet :)

      This article is about tech from Trek that's actually materialized.
      • Warp drive coming sooner than we may have thought?

        Warp drive may not yet have "materialized" (heh heh - kind of an amusing term to use in reference to replicator/transporter tech, actually) but published reports suggest that NASA is already moving the development of an Alcubierre-style warp drive system from the realm of pure sci-fi/fantasy speculation to an attempt to produce a desk-top scale proof-of-concept piece of hardware. Granted, still a long way from being able to order an immediate jump to "maximum warp", but a sign that this -could- be reality a lot sooner than the original Trek series imagined (IIRC it was set about 300 years in our future). posted another interesting article about it on 04/12/2013:
    • Star Trek

      We are missing the antimatter engines, without those warp is not possible. It requires extreme energy source to warp space.
      • Antimatter does exist though, and it can be contained ...

        ... in a magnetic bottle.

        The beauty of antimatter is that mixing it with matter results in pure energy. No human technology can produce 100% conversion of matter to energy - NOT EVEN CLOSE. Even thermonuclear devices are extremely inefficient by comparison. That said, if we could harness that much pure energy, the ability to manipulate it might become a matter of engineering. We just don't know what we can do at such staggering energy densities. The LHC is just now touching on the energy densities necessary. Still, 1966 was not that long ago ... and look where we have come!
        M Wagner
  • How about Transparent Aluminum?

    Remember Scottie in the San Francisco episode (rescue the whales). He was trying to create transparent aluminum because it was so strong, and other properties.
    Here is the reality:
    Randy Reimers
    • sorry

      been done look it up
      • Yes, kind of - but only at ...

        ... extremely restricted wavelengths!
        M Wagner
        • but is out there being use in products

          sorry but it is out there.
    • I should also note gorilla glass . . .

      I should also note that gorilla glass is pretty strong. While we haven't seen panels as large as in Star Trek, it does a decent job at preventing breakage when a cell phone is accidentally dropped.
      • HAHA

        Not disagreeing with you...Just laughing because my buddy's going out to get a new phone. He dropped his iPhone the other day. All he had at the time was a roll of scotch tape to hold it together till he can get a new one. I laugh every time I think about it.
  • Data storage

    there was also what looked like a floppy disk that kirk could insert into his chair (arm rest on left side). i think spock also had one on his console.

    in the episode "All Our Yesterdays" Mr. Atoz was the librarian who used media which looks like todays CDs/DVDs although his were slightly thicker.
    • Plastic Media

      I used to think it was rediculous that they would insert a piece of plastic into the computer for information. 20 years later I found myself doing the same thing when the 3 1/2 discs came out...
      • I just stuck a 64GB MicroSDXC disk into my Surface RT.

        The capacity of MicroSDXC stands at 2TB! You were saying?
        M Wagner
  • Auto-opening doors

    were copied directly from Star Trek. According to one of the books, someone at a company wrote asking where they could buy them. The ST folks replied that there were actually people behind the set manually moving the doors. The company's response was, "Well, let's build them!" The original versions used switchmats and that was later replaced with ultrasonic detectors.
    • Unless you're referring to the sliding doors specifically, ..

      "auto-opening" doors existed long before Star Trek.
      • Not sliding doors that had no visible sensor though.

        M Wagner
  • but

    CBS bought up paramount and all the rights to it all because they could not have any one go after prier art that Roddenberry came up with if only in concept and use it against apple. who they own a huge block of.
    • one last thing

      If you look on the back of the 2001 a space odyssey album you will see the first tablet computer.
      • The 2001 tablet computer

        Is featured in the 1968 film. But Star Trek preceded it by 2 years.