Even scientists need a little inspiration sometimes. While many of the inventions we were “promised” years ago have yet to be here, humans have still done some amazing things with technology. Of course, the most astounding feats are those that borrowed from science fiction of today and yesteryear.
Here’s seven awesome inventions that science fiction thought of first.
If you were old enough to watch Back to the Future when it first came out, admit it — you wanted Marty McFly’s hoverboard. The scene where he’s being chased by Biff and his goons is one of the most iconic scenes in sci-fi film history. Oh, if only you could be the Tony Hawk of the air!
Thankfully, we’re scratching the surface of hoverboard technology. In 2014, Greg Henderson invented a hoverboard that works like a maglev train. The downside of this is that the board need to be on a non-ferromagnetic metal surface to work. It hovers just one inch above the ground, using four engines.
And let’s not forget that Lexus, of all companies, introduced a hoverboard in 2015 that’s powered by magnets and superconductors cooled with liquid nitrogen. Although footage showed it being used at a concrete skatepark, it was revealed that that surface was actually partially made of metal. So while we’re not there yet, at least we’ve taken flight.
2. Flip Phone
Can you imagine a time without cell phones? If so, you’re one of the lucky few (or a non-millennial). As it turns out, one of the revolutionary cell phone designs came about with Motorola’s StarTec phone in 1996.
The StarTec obviously wore its influence on its sleeves. It was the first cell phone to use the flip-phone style, inspired by the communicators used in Star Trek. Other innovations included its incredibly light weight and its vibration setting, the first of its kind. And you thought the Razr was all the rage back in the day.
While you won’t see anyone cascading through the city on mountains of nanobots like in Big Hero 6, you will see them used in medicine.
In 2014, nanobots the size of cells were developed that can swim through a person’s body, find a cancer cell, and “turn off” their ability to multiply.
Nanobots are still in their infancy, but don’t be surprised if your doctor recommends a nanobot sweep at your next physical.
In the 1970s, NASA researcher Jack Cover created the taser. It’s a device that forces electrical currents through a target, which stimulates motor and sensory nerves. This overstimulation produces involuntary muscle contractions, disarming and temporarily disabling a target.
Cover’s inspiration came from a book called Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, where the protagonist had just that: he invented an electric rifle. In fact, TASER stands for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle!
5. Prosthetic Arms
When our hero Luke Skywalker lost his arm in The Empire Strikes Back, he got a robot arm that worked exactly like his old one. Unfortunately, our world’s robot arms have been kind of clunky. Amputees are forced to wear hooks or unattractive plastic limbs.
But now, thanks to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, you can get robotic arms that are controlled by your thoughts. They accommodate many different needs, and movement is much more seamless than before.
6. Magic Microwaves
In the movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Zooey Deschanel’s character walks up to a microwave, thinks of what she wants to eat, and it synthesizes it for her. Watch out, foodies: this fantasy is now real.
While the 3-D printer is a marvelous invention, it doesn’t produce something people care about deeply: food. That’s where magic microwaves come in handy. Thanks to the Foodini machine, you can type in ingredients and end up with a real “printed” meal. It does everything from pizza to chocolate to burgers. It’s already in the manufacturing stage, too.
7. The Internet
Mark Twain was a remarkable man, and he gave us literary gifts with his unique storytelling abilities. For a while, he dabbled in science fiction. While the 1898 short story From the London Times of 1904 was a bit of a clunker, it actually predicted the Internet — and it was scarily accurate.
In the story, a “worldwide phone system” is described, where any person can view other people’s activity and talk to them anywhere in the world. Given the unattractive name of Telelectroscope, it seems like a precursor to social media.
It’s amazing to think about what science fiction has inspired. Who knows what effect future films and novels will have on technology of the future! Have an invention in mind that wasn’t mentioned? Comment below!