Real-life technology inspired by the movies and science fiction

Real-life technology inspired by the movies and science fiction

Over the years, science fiction has inspired scientists to create new technology to match Hollywood fantasy


Google Glass was inspired by sci fi!
Google Glass was inspired by sci fi!

We love the trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. The stories always have crazy technology that doesn't exist ... yet. Sometimes ideas actually make it from make-believe to real life. Here are five great science-fiction ideas that became science reality:

Heads up displays from Terminator

You know how the Terminator - or Tony Stark in Iron Man - can see a screen in front of his eyes, feeding him data about what he's directly looking at? That's called a heads-up display, and a scene from Terminator was the direct inspiration for Google Glass. 

A computer that you wear like glasses, Glass lets you see directions in a corner of your lens, share what you're seeing with other people by taking pictures or videos, or do voice searches. It's like having access to Jarvis from Iron Man or Siri, except that you don't have to look down at your phone because the information shows up in front of your eyes. 

It sounds exciting, but the bad news is that we won't be getting Google Glass anytime soon. Earlier this year, Google announced that they won't sell Google Glass to the public, and that the first phase was pretty much just a big public test. They haven't announced what they'll do with Glass in the future. 

Speeder bikes from Star Wars

The new Star Wars movie is coming later this year, but in Episode Six: Return of the Jedi, we saw Biker Scouts gliding across the forest moon of Endor on speeder bikes. Now a US company called Aerofex has made something called the Aero-X, which is like a motorbike, but instead of wheels, there are two large turbines that lift the bike into the air. 

The company made it so people could fly without having to do the training needed to fly a plane or helicopter. However, it isn't cheap. Pre-ordering one now will cost more than HK$659,000. 

Photo: Reuters

Heat ray from War of the Worlds

In H.G. Wells' classic science-fiction novel War of the Worlds, the Martians that attack Earth have a ray gun that fires heat. The effect of the ray was described like this: "Then it was as if an invisible yet intensely heated finger were drawn through the heather between me and the Martians, and all along a curving line beyond the sand pits, the dark ground smoked and crackled." 

The US military is developing a crowd-control gadget like this. It's a giant ray gun that fires microwave radiation, which will make you feel hot but won't kill you. The idea is that if they fire it at a crowd, everyone will get so uncomfortable that they'll run away. The US military have tested the system, but they've never used it so far.

Photo: Josh Spradling/The Planetary Society

Solar sail

In the 1960s, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story called Sunjammer about a race with spaceships that are powered by rays from the sun. This May, a non-profit space group called The Planetary Society launched a test project called Light Sail. 

The spaceship is only the size of a loaf of bread, but once in space, it opened a 32 square metre sail, which absorbs energy from the sun to push it forward. That means that it doesn't need to carry huge fuel tanks for its engines. It's doing a month-long test now, with a first mission planned for next year. 

This isn't the first time this project has been tested: Nasa and Jaxa (the Japanese space agency) tried it a few years ago. The first light sail mission is still being crowd-funded on Kickstarter, and it's already raised more than US$810,000 - four times its initial target.  

Photo: AFP

Laser cannon

This is a classic: what would Star Wars, Star Trek, the Gundam series, and other displays of future weapons be without laser cannons? 

In December, the US Navy tested a laser cannon by shooting down a drone and a target mounted on a speedboat. Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, said it locked on and destroyed the targets immediately.

Operating the laser system is like playing a video game. It has several settings, from disabling to destroying. It's cheap, too, at less than US$1 for each shot. 


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