Friday, November 6, 2009

Is life starting to imitate Star Trek?

Is life starting to imitate Star Trek? There is a story about Leonard Nimoy walking down a street talking on a cell phone. In the fullness of time, so the story goes, he noticed quite a few people staring at him. This was not normal behavior, even toward the ironic star of Star Trek.

Leonard Nimoy soon came to the realization that people were not actually seeing Leonard Nimoy talking on his cell phone. They were seeing Mr. Spock talking on a communicator.

Indeed, cell phones have the look and feel of Star Trek communicators. One can even get a call sound that resembles the chirping that communicators did on Star Trek.

Of course one cannot call the star ship Enterprise on ones cell phone—yet.

It looks like that the communicator is not the only Star Trek technology that is entering the real world, over two hundred years before the events of the classic series.

Recently a scientist at NASA Ames demonstrated a chemical sensor device that could be plugged into an iPhone that sounds very much like the tricorder that the crew of the Enterprise used when exploring those strange new worlds. The iphone attachment can send data to another phone, or to a computer network.

Meanwhile, a very crude version of the replicator is being developed for use at future space colonies and on future long duration space flights. The device, known as the electron beam freeform fabrication (EBF3) uses an electron beam to melt raw metal and then build things, such as spare parts or tools, literally layer by layer. The device has been tested on the “Vomit Comet” and may fly on the International Space Station.
Phasers? The military has been testing airborne lasers as part of a missile defense system. Hand weapons that stun rather than kill are under development.

The world is likely a long way off from transporters and warp drive, despite some low level research into even these two technologies. Still, what seemed remarkable in 1966, when the adventures of the star ship Enterprise first aired, are now becoming common place.