You might not know it, but the way we work has been hugely affected by Star Trek. We’re not all beaming our way to work (at least not yet) – but you might be surprised just how close we’re getting, and what Star Trek tech we’re already benefiting from.
Space, the final frontier…
If you’re reading this then chances are that, like me, you know this intro by heart and love the series that’s associated with it: Star Trek.
Whether you’re a fan of the original series, or any of its subsequent variations, we’ve all viewed with jealous eyes the world our favorite characters inhabit.
Not only are they flying through space, encountering new species of aliens, and visiting strange worlds – they also live in ‘quarters’, hook themselves up to fancy equipment, and teleport here there and everywhere.
However, it’s not just us who has been inspired by Star Trek’s science fiction environment.
In fact, scientists and inventors have been working hard ever since the series’ launch to – make it so.
And since this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek series, I think it’s appropriate to have a look at the impact these developments had on our life.
What has already turned into reality? What is in the pipeline for the near future? And what marvels will sadly remain unachievable for the foreseeable future?
A small disclaimer before we begin – not all of the technology was originally imagined by Star Trek.
Many elements actually originate from other sci-fi series or books. But what Star Trek did do is to transport these technology ideas to a large audience. That said, let’s begin.
The Surprising Advances Star Trek Has Already Inspired
Image by: Davidbspalding
Our workplace might be a completely different type of environment had it not been for Star Trek inspired inventions that have already been developed.
Can you imagine a working day without using a:
- Mobile phone
- Touchscreen mobile device
Nope. Me neither.
Kirk’s Communicator and the First Mobile Phone
Thinking back, most of us would agree that a close second to the memorable theme tune, is the memorability of the sounds made by the original Star Trek communicator device.
The squeak as it is flipped open. Followed by the whistling trill as communication is received aboard the Enterprise.
Back in 1973, the clothes were colorful and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s get it on’ rocked the charts.
Cut to Schaumburg, Illinois, and a man that you probably haven’t heard of in your entire life: Martin Cooper.
At this time Cooper lead the Communications Systems division at Motorola, and was responsible for creating the DynaTAC 8000x.
This breakthrough piece of kit means that Cooper is widely referred to as the inventor of mobile phones.
In many interviews since, he has said that Captains Kirk’s communicator was one of the main inspirations behind the development.
Who can say that mobile phones, or mobile technology in general, hasn’t significantly changed the way we work on a daily basis?
Lt. Uhura and the Wireless Headset
We can never forget scene after scene in which Lt. Uhura swivels in her chair to face Kirk, to deliver a vital insight she’s picked up from her fancy listening machine.
Nowadays Bluetooth or other wirelessly connected headsets open up the possibility for us to communicate or listen to sounds while retaining free use of our hands.
Let’s for the moment ignore that person we all know in our lives, who needlessly uses such a device to look ‘cool’. You know who I’m talking about.
As irritating as that person may be – wireless headsets are very useful for all kinds of situations both personally and across industries.
Motorola, among many other manufacturers, also played part in the popularizing of the wireless headset.
Although the background for headsets (wired or wireless) stretches back to 1910!
But we remember that it was Lt. Uhura, originally played by the charming Nichelle Nichols, who always wore such a piece herself.
Undoubtedly, Uhura’s use of the headset inspired a generation of designers to find a useful way for headsets to be linked to other technology we use.
All the way through to the Apple AirPods!
The PADD’s Link to Smartphones and Tablets
Remember how often we saw Captain Picard and his crew wander through scenes carrying a handheld device, before stopping to tap speedily on its touch screen surface?
Well – mobile devices continue to proliferate our current working environment.
Their usefulness has expanded greatly over the last few years thanks to technology developments that have made them more powerful and transportable.
From in-office use through to on-site construction scenarios, mobile technology has proven its value to our workplace.
And there is a striking resemblance to our favorite handheld device from Star Trek – the PADD.
And while there are different opinions on when tablets became to be (some claim PDAs, some later, larger versions), the similarity to the Star Trek PADD is undeniable.
Star Trek Inspired Technology Now In Development
OK – so far so good.
But what’s in the pipeline for the not so distant future?
There are plenty of projects being worked on at the moment to make more of the Star Trek workplace our reality.
How would you fancy being able to:
- Beam to work
- Diagnose with a Tricorder
- Take a trip to sickbay for speedy recovery
These are closer to becoming a reality than we might think!
Forget the commute – Beam to work
I know you will now say ‘WOOOOT’ but yes, beaming actually has been done (kind off) and therefore falls into the present section instead of the future, where I guess you might have seen it appear.
To be frank, we are still far away from transporting humans from one place to another, but what scientists have already created is called Quantum Teleportation.
What it essentially does is copy the quantum state of an atom or photon to another atom or photon at the other end of the line, while at the same time destroying the original.
This idea has been around for a couple of years, but within the last few years has gained more traction.
The current record distance is 89 miles. And to bring this into comparison, the International Space Station circles earth at a mean altitude of 205 miles.
So even if we could transport humans, this wouldn’t influence our space exploration plans yet.
But just think about the impact on our daily life once beaming becomes a reality.
No more commuting and therefore less pollution.
No more heavy lifting, generally more time at hand, no jet lag and the possibility to see the world whenever you want to.
The option to do Home Office for everyone and still being able to meet in person whenever necessary. The possibilities are almost endless.
But apart from beaming, there are also some other and more advanced projects.
Get a Quick Check-up with Tricorder Diagnosis
While in the past the xPrize brought us the first private spacecraft, in 2012 the challenge was set to develop a tricorder.
In Star Trek, the tricorder is a wireless scanning device for scientific or medical purposes.
And while the complete functionality will probably not be achieved in my lifetime, the results from this development competition could be astonishing.
From small sensors or portable analysis tools that still need the drawing of blood, scientists have been inspired to develop the future of medical scanning.
Get Well Soon with a Trip to the Sickbay
A similar project is the Lifebed from Hoana that is inspired by the scanner bed in the Enterprise sickbay.
What it does is essentially monitor the patient using sensors included in the mattress and blanket, therefore allowing for less cables needed to be attached to the patient.
By continuously monitoring all kinds of vital signs over a period of time, more accurate diagnosis can be made – speeding up the recovery time of patients.
International Teamwork with a Universal Translator
Our Star Trek heroes boldly go where no one has gone before. Often meaning that they bump into all kinds of races of aliens from across the universe.
You might think it would be a challenge to communicate with humanoids who don’t speak the same language.
Star Trek solves the language barrier problem with a universal translator, a technology integrated into the communicator and ultimately translating all sounds reaching the ear into a known language.
Now a company called Waverly Labs is trying to do the same with a wireless ear-piece and a translation app on your smartphone.
The first version of the device allows for the translation of speech between two users, but like Marion Guerriero, Communications Director at Waverly Labs told me,
“the final dream is for the Pilot to translate everything happening around you. We’re not there yet, but this is the first step in that direction.”
Looking at this from a workplace perspective, I would love to see it become reality.
Right now I am lucky enough to work with people from over 60 nations, and speaking a staggering 52 native languages.
It’s beyond belief to think about the possibilities, and what people and society as a whole could achieve when the language barrier would be non-existent.
More Star Trek Technology That Will Change the Way We Work
So what is left for us? Where will the future lead? There are still many more exciting technologies waiting to be developed.
Who wouldn’t want to travel faster than light using a Warp Drive?
Einstein created the basics in 1915 when he proved that space can be warped through gravity.
But there is still the small problem of time being warped as well … although I am sure many of us would enjoy time travel as well. Though our bosses might have an issue with it.
But for now I think we will have to make do with the latest developments in laser propulsion, namely the project Breakthrough Starshot that aims to reach our neighboring star Alpha Centuri and is masterminded by Star Trek superfan and genius Stephen Hawking.
I personally would also like to see the creation of a real life replicator. A technology that could solve world hunger (and revolutionize workplace canteens) by simply using one kind of matter or energy and converting it into something else.
How amazing would that be?
What do you think we missed? Is there anything you would like to see become reality? And how do you think would it impact our work life?
I’m looking forward to your comments.