Far-fetched gizmos of 'Star Trek' are today's tech toys

(USA TODAY) -- Star Trek has been an inspiration for many tech giants over the years.

“We would fight over who got to be Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock, and somebody played the computer too. It was really fun. We made little cardboard phasers and tricorders,” Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said at a conference in May.

But while the gizmos seemed light years away when Trek first aired, many of its far-fetched inventions became reality much sooner.

"It is really funny that when the folks were developing the television program in the '60s, they thought this technology would exist but literally many centuries from now rather than 30 years down the road," says Gerald Gurian, a systems design engineer who writes the blog Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Authority.

A look at some of the more notable inventions:

-The communicator, a precursor to the  smartphone. It took just four years after the original series ended before Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first mobile phone call on April 3, 1973, though the first commercial cellphone wasn’t available until 1984 and sold for nearly $4,000. 

-The universal translator seen on Star Trek is comparable to today's smartphone translator apps. 

-The wedge-shaped clipboard used by Star Trek's  Yeomen in the '60s series was a precursor to today's computer tablets.

-The multi-colored “microtape”  data cartridge became reality in the form of 3.5-inch computer diskettes, which later begat flash drives.

-The Enterprise’s main computer, with  the female voice of Majel Barrett, interacted with the crew the same way Alexa, the cloud-based voice recognition agent of Amazon's Echo, does.  And of course, there is Siri for iPhone users. 

-Video-conferencing technology was commonly seen in Star Trek, using the ship's main view screen.  Now Skype and Apple's FaceTime allow anyone to use the technology on the go to chat with friends.

-Star Trek's ship’s scanners and transporter device tracked the precise location of anyone on a planet, just like today's GPS capabilities.

-Dr. McCoy's hypospray is similar to MIT's Jet Injector, which delivers medicine or vaccines painlessly through the skin without needles. It works somewhat like a laser, with a very thin jet of medicine.

-McCoy practiced serious non-invasive medical procedures, and did not operate on patients with scalpels and other  surgical tools he kept on display in his sick-bay office.  Today's non-invasive surgery techniques, using ultrasound and laser technology, are routine. 

-The technical manuals and literary works seen on rudimentary computer monitors foreshadowed today's e-books.


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