So they went and built a giant robot in the middle of Tokyo. Granted, the 59-foot Gundam only lasted for a short while, but it lit up and moved its head in an impressive show of science fiction made real, at least for millions of fanboys and geeks all over the world whose dreams of seeing the science fiction realm merge with reality just came true.
Thank you, Japan.
But how close does a mecha (a manned walking vehicle) come to the wild imaginings of sci-fi authors like Hugo Gernsback, Robert Heinlein, and H.G. Wells? What would they say when they see how far we’ve come, what kind of lives we lead? Maybe we’re not as advanced as they would have hoped (Heinlein thought mankind would have settled onto different planets by 2000), but there’s more than enough evidence to show that modern life can be one big science fiction story.
The list below comprises only a mere fraction of modern gadgetry and technology that has sprung from the annals of science fiction culture. Each one is continually being developed, and the idea of the other influences of sci-fi emerging in the near future is not a possibility, but an inevitability.
Let’s not forget one important technological advancement that was but a sci-fi dream years ago: the mobile phone and the other permutations of instant messaging. Practically an essential part of daily life, mobile phones’ initial emergence reflected a time when science fiction awed the world with gadgets like communicators (similar to modern-day flip phones) that allowed users like the Star Trek crew to contact peers aboard the spacecraft.
The iPhone: Not Just Any Communicator
Remember the days when we didn’t even know what a cellphone was? Or the time when each family had the huge black version that could practically be used as a weapon? No matter how dated those gadgets would seem today, one cannot deny the fact that their emergence changed the way the world worked, and how we saw it.
Now, multi-tasking and functionality are fast becoming the standard of the times, and the iPhone’s capabilities have taken mobile communication and convenience. It’s gone way beyond the usual communication device, and has emerged as an all-around gadget for the 21st century, fusing almost every modern technological development created, like digital media, voice command, and wireless communication in all available forms. And upon unleashing its touch screen technology (another sci-fi development come to life), the iPhone was welcomed by the entire world and considered the latest representative of the imagination merging with reality.
Wrist communicators, mere sci-fi lore when first introduced in Dick Tracy in 1930, have begun to seep into modern life with the emergence of wrist phones. The latest development to emerge is the LG GD910, a full-fledged Watch Phone that packs several features including video call capability, voice recognition, touch screen, Bluetooth, and 3G connectivity.
For a closer look, watch the slideshow from cnet.com
Currently available only in Europe at this time, the Watch Phone undeniably tips its hat at the science fiction technology manufactured by man’s wildest dreams, and goes on to bring a well-recognized piece of fictional gadgetry to present reality.
Movies like Lawnmower Man helped turn the public’s attention towards the actual possibilities and potential benefits that can be achieved through the development of the virtual reality technology. Years after, the fascination with the virtual world was given a significant boost, one reason being the impeccable user interface and interactive features shown in the film version of Minority Report, where Tom Cruise uses a computer that lets him pull up information with his hands, with the space before him as a monitor:
Amazing stuff, but reality isn’t too far behind. Touch screen technology – believed to have been inspired by the user interface in the movie – is now available, and is being used nearly everywhere.
MIT PhD candidate Pranav Mistry is trying to push the envelope by creating a wearable interface that uses simple hand movements and gestures to interact with digital information:
Mistry has been quoted late last year saying that the project will be open source, so until then, we will have to content ourselves with our iPhones and laptops.
Another offspring of the emerging possibilities of virtual reality is revealed by a research team from the University of Manchester. The team created a project that allows the virtual reality system to benefit amputees; the project was dubbed as the Phantom Limb experience, which allows amputees, via virtual reality, to see and move a 3D version of their missing limb:
This advancement indicates that it’s time for us to assess VR as a source of integral contribution to medical science.
Still alluding to the virtually interactive computer system on Minority Report (and other similar virtual data input systems in sci-fi history), we bring you the Bluetooth Laser Virtual Keyboard.
This nifty little gadget projects a fully-functional virtual keyboard on any surface, on which one can do regular typing complete with simulated key click sounds. Its Bluetooth connectivity capability makes it compatible with any PDA or cellular phone. A version using cable connection is also available.
Global Positioning Systems
Whether it’s the talking navigation system installed on your car, the Google Maps application installed in your mobile phone, geostationary satellite communication has emerged as a valuable tool today.
In its many forms, and with its versatile functions, there’s no denying that GPS technology is here to stay – a fact that consequently alludes to every possible gadget – handheld or otherwise – allowing for full support and compatibility to the technology.
An offshoot from one of the suggestions made in a letter penned by the late science fiction author, inventor, and futurist Sir Arthur Clarke, the geostationary satellite communications eventually gained public recognition that continues on today.
Although considering robots as “gadgets” is admittedly something of a question mark, there is no doubt that robots significantly shape modern life in their various forms – and sizes – and are therefore worthy of being given as much attention.
The first semblance of artificial intelligence sprung as far back as 1921, in a Czechoslovakian play by Karel Capek, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) – the first time the world was introduced to the term “robot”. Capek’s play featured artificial beings made from a chemical substance. Decades later, the world was introduced to the modern understanding of the robot through science fiction writers, the most prominent being Isaac Asimov, writer of such works as I, Robot.
Today, robots in many forms continuously run and help organize daily life for humans. Also continuous is the development of the science of robotics (coined by Asimov).
A robotic hand, developed by Shadow Robot Company is said to have a range of functions, including the ability to defuse bombs from a safe distance, scan the landscape via an installed camera, and produce a substance meant to absorb the impact of bomb blasts.
There is also the emerging field of robotic surgery, with developments such as the da Vinci Surgical System:
But the burning question remains: when can I get a robot of my own?
All eyes turn towards that domestic dream, the robot maid. Not far behind Rosie, the Jetsons’ famous robot maid, are a slew of other household helpers, like the modular Silicon Valley-based ReadyBot capable of a range of activities from elderly assistance to general manual labor:
Korea has also come up with the Marhu-Z and Marhu-M, dubbed as the most advanced when it comes to autonomous movement. These “assistant” robots are capable of executing human activities by observing and recognizing household tasks yet to be done, and does them, aided by dexterity and mobility, all via remote control from a computer server.
While these developments are making headway in their own field, it will take a long time before these can be truly mass-produced. No need to break out Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics just yet.
Maybe the here and now is far from the utopian world that science fiction movies have envisioned. Neither are we on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse. But there’s plenty space for mankind to go boldly where it has never gone before, as we continue to embrace our unknown futures.
Click here to see other science fiction gadgets that eventually came to life.
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