Friday, December 10, 2010

Science fiction that turned into fact

The Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHASR) gun is under development at the US Air Force Research Laboratory which like its science fiction counterpart can "stun" assailants. The real PHASR is a non-lethal, portable deterrent weapon which uses a laser system to blind the enemy temporarily.

Like their Star Trek equivalent modern mobile phones often have flip top lids and can - thanks to satellite navigation technology - be used to pinpoint your position. Unfortunately using them to "beam you up" remains a scientific dream.

The Universal Translator

Like the Star Trek device which translates alien languages, the US military is using the Phraselator in Iraq for speech translation. The website Google, among others, can translate web sites and phone manufacturer NEC is launching the first mobile phone with speech translation.

Medical Tricorder

MRI and CAT scans can like Dr McCoy's hand-held tricorder device diagnose diseases by scanning the body. The team at Yale University claim the portable biomarker detector will be able to identify signs of illness from a sample of blood within 20 minutes.

Tractor Beam

Optical tweezers are a scientific instrument that uses a focused laser beam to provide an attractive or repulsive force. Unfortunately unlike the Enterprises tractor beam which can trap and pull in space ships they only work on a microscopic level.

Cloaking device

Scientists in the real world have come up with all sorts of devices to copy the technology that renders Harry Potter and Klingon ships invisible, from "stealth" radar-absorbing dark paint to active camouflage. In the long run they are looking at a special "meta" materials, that theoretically could make light curve around an object and so make it appear as if it were not there at all.

3D holograms

Ever since Princess Leia used a hologram of herself to ask Obi Wan Kenobi for help in the film Star Wars, scientists have been trying to harness the same technology for real. Now a team led by Professor Nasser Peyghambarian, of Arizona University, have developed a way of updating the image every two seconds – making it close to "real time". The ability to beam a moving hologram to anywhere in the world could lead to holographic teleconferences, 3D adverts, and a wealth of telemedicine, engineering and entertainment industry applications.

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