Star Trek in real life, the Starfleet gadgets you can buy today
Star Trek Into Darkness premieres in London tomorrow, 2 May, and as such, we thought it might be fun to take a look at how some of the classic gadgets from the franchise have made their way into real life.
Amazingly, things that seemed light years ahead when Star Trek was first shown on TV in 1966 are now either close to becoming reality or can even be bought off the shelf. Read on to find out some classic Trekkie kit that gadget fans can now enjoy for themselves.
The Tricorder is sort of like Star Trek’s take on the smartphone, without the phone bit. Capable of gathering all sorts of data, it exists in different types. Medical Tricorders, for example, can check to see what issues Starfleet crew members might have with their health.
Switch back to real life and we have the Tricorder Project, run by Peter Jansen to develop and build Tricorders based around the Star Trek devices. He describes the aim as being “to provide intuitive ways of visualising data - so you might see magnetic fields, temperature, or polarisation as naturally as you see colour", and the project hopes to bring the most affordable components available into one compact package.
It's already had a few attempts, the latest being the Science Tricorder mark 2, which runs on Linux and uses an ARM-based architecture. It is able to check things atmospheric pressure and temperature as well as reading electromagnetic fields. It is, for all intents and purposes, a real life Star Trek Tricorder.
The International Space Station also has the LOCAD-PTS or Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development Portable Test System, which is able to detect things bacteria and fungus, all from the palm of your hand.
Finally, we have Qualcomm's Tricorder X Prize, a $10 million competition to create a device that can carry out basic tasks required for healthcare from the palm of your hand.
This is where things get slightly more far-fetched. The transporter is a Star Trek classic, known for the famous “Beam me up Scottie” line and its ability to teleport people from ship to planet.
Finding a real life version of a machine that can transport a human being anywhere in the world instantly is going to be pushing it for 2013, but it’s good to know people are still having a crack at developing the concept.
Star Trek lore says the first Transporter was put into action in 2121. Work is getting started now, however, with scientists managing to transport information through the air over 89 miles using quantum teleportation.
The information was sent via tiny particles of light between two telescopes in the Canary Islands. The issue is that information delivery is fine, matter is another, er, matter entirely. So no transporting yourself to the shops yet, sadly. Obliterating your molecules is possible - it's the putting them all back together in a different place that's the tricky part.
The Phaser is the classic Star Trek weapon. Pocket-sized, yet utterly lethal (when not set to stun), it is carried by nearly every member of a starship’s crew whenever they are not on board (and ship-bound security details). Translating something like the Phaser into real life isn’t quite as easy as the Tricorder for example, but we aren’t far off.
At the moment even a conventional Blu-ray laser is capable of popping balloons, so Star Trek fans have incorporated them into mock Phasers. Et voilà - a balloon-popping weapon.
Japanese scientists have gone one further and put together something called a Phonon laser. It combines both light and sound in one single wave. It won’t do you much damage, but a Phonon laser is too close to the word Phaser for us to miss it out.
There is a US military technology called the pulsed energy projectile which is planned for use in crowd control. It's essentially, a controlled beam that will slow down potential rioters but not kill them. “Set phasers to stun,” very much so.
Members of Starfleet are able to chat to each other anywhere on the ship, via the small buttons attached to the front of their outfits. Naturally, we already have these in real life, they are called mobile phones. Although the steer away from a clamshell design in modern times is taking them away from the classic Star Trek look.
That's not to say you can't still get a clamshell mobile device. Indeed, Nokia actually created a proper communicator phone for the first of the new-look Star Trek films in 2010. Released as a very limited edition of the 5,800 handset in Europe, it is hands-down the most awesome piece of movie-related merchandise we have ever seen. If you see one on eBay, buy it immediately.
Tridimensional Chess, or 3D Chess, is a Star Trek classic. Played by captain and crew alike, most often between Kirk and Spock, it is a three-dimensional spin on the classic boardgame. Think of it like Chess played out on a wedding cake, except with less cake and more Chess.
Amazingly, there is a version of the game you can pick up from Amazon.com. It is around £500, so best get saving. Alternatively, you could build you own. Instructions of exactly how to do so can be found here.