5 everyday technologies inspired by sci-fi

October 8, 2012 by Joel Willans

Sci-fi is more than just a popular genre of fiction. It can also give an amazingly accurate insight into the future.

Science fiction isn't all phalanxes of tentacled aliens and star ship battles. In fact, from the creative brains of science-fiction writers and directors have come some of the 21st century's most important technologies. Engineers, it seems, sometimes need the imaginative spark of the non-scientist to germinate an idea.


Take lasers. We use them in DVDs, eye surgery, forensic fingerprinting, printers, hair removal, industrial processes and weapons; they're a staple of modern science. Einstein wrote about  in 1917, but way back in 1898, science-fiction author HG Wells described a familiar-sounding 'heat-ray' in War Of The Worlds. What's more, in 1925, Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov wrote, in Fatal Eggs, about an intense red light that stimulated growth – long before the first experiments into laser bio-stimulation took place in the late 1960s.


Then there's Arthur C Clarke, science-fiction God, the man behind the film and book, 2001: a Space Odyssey, as well as a stack of other brilliant things, and all-round genius. Back in 1945, Clarke wrote an article for the magazine Wireless World, outlining a new idea – which turned out to be the geostationary communications satellite. So thanks to Clarke, we got long-distance phone calls and satellite television. These days, geostationary satellites allow people in very remote areas access broadband internet.


Clarke also, in Space Odyssey (1968), came up with a gadget called a newspad – a flat-panel screen that allowed its users to read Earth's newspapers from afar. or e-reader? You decide!

Debit cards

Even the humble debit-card has its roots in . In 1888, Edward Bellamy published Looking Backward, a novel that described 'a piece of pasteboard' that corresponded with the monetary holdings of its owner and was accepted by shop-clerks in lieu of cash.


Finally, smartphones aren't light-years away from the handheld communicators that used to wow us geeks on Star Trek. These devices certainly inspired mobile phone developers to create clamshell designs like the Nokia 7200. While the locator functions on Star Trek communicators are also very similar to smartphone mapping software we all take for granted. And if this wasn't proof enough of Star Trek's influence, in 2009, Nokia actually designed a mobile phone prototype to exactly resemble the communicator. Sadly, for us Trekkies it never made it to market.

Explore further: NASA: Arthur C. Clarke will be missed

Related Stories

NASA: Arthur C. Clarke will be missed

March 19, 2008

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration issued a statement Wednesday, mourning the death of renowned scientist and author Arthur C. Clarke.

1968 Science Fiction is Today’s Reality

May 8, 2008

The futuristic epic 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced many to fall in love with the limitless possibilities of space exploration. The movie sparked imaginations and provided a realistic preview of what our future in space ...

Military develops a Star Trek-like phaser

December 1, 2005

First comic strip hero Dick Tracy's wrist radio moved from science fiction to everyday fact and now Capt. Kirk's phaser is headed to the Air Force arsenal.

Recommended for you

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

November 17, 2017

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With ...

Optically tunable microwave antennas for 5G applications

November 16, 2017

Multiband tunable antennas are a critical part of many communication and radar systems. New research by engineers at the University of Bristol has shown significant advances in antennas by using optically induced plasmas ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 08, 2012

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.