Star Trek is the most influential sci-fi space opera ever created. This is not a value judgment about which is the best or most loved. Neither of those things matter. Even if you hate Star Trek, your life has, and will continue to be influenced by the vision of the future the show has inspired over the decades.No other piece of science fiction has inspired more real-world innovations. It is not Star Wars that made kids want to become astronauts or give minorities the hope of a more equal future. Utopian visions make us want to reach for the stars. Dystopian visions make us recoil with suspicion and pessimism about what is to come.
Another thing that Star Trek gave a generation was the love of science and discovery. We have theoretical models for warp drive and experimental data for transporters. It will be some time, if ever, before those innovations are fully realized. But we already have smartphones, iPads, and automatic doors thanks in large part to the series.
Just recently, Amazon added “Computer” as a wake phrase for the Echo. Trek-inspired tech has come a long way and still has a long way to go. But there are at least three Trek tech tropes coming to a reality near you.
One of the most interesting IoT devices is the smart door lock. It brings the smart doors in Trek a lot closer to reality. Existing smart door locks need a little more effort to use, but not by much.
If you have a whole building full of managed doors, you will require an IoT application platform that supports the hardware.
One of the biggest challenges with IoT is there are many competing standards. If devices don’t work together, your doors will not be opening on command. Picking a platform that is customizable and expandable is the key to opening the door to smart door technology.
Like smart doors, the era of smart lights is almost here. We are so close. There are just a few more implementation details to work out. On Star Trek, the crew can walk into a room and just ask the computer to set the lights to their desired brightness. Thanks to home automation applications, we can do that too.
But the really interesting things start to happen when we combine lights with other activities. We can set lights to come on and display certain colors when it’s time for a little gaming. When products like Hue lights are paired with Apple’s HomeKit or Amazon’s Echo, we can set our lights according to what movie we are in the mood to watch.
Combine them with motion sensors, and the lights come on automatically when we enter the room. Make just the right recipe, and depending on what time of day it is, they can come on in full brightness, or in dim, muted yellow tones. But right now, there are still too many moving parts to make it all work reliably. We are still a couple of years away before it is ready for the mainstream.
Humanity will advance another major step when real-time communication between different language speakers is perfected. On Trek, it is called a universal translator. In real life, it may be called Google Translate. But according to MIT, Microsoft has something that could get us a lot closer, and a lot faster.
They have demonstrated a product that can instantly convert spoken English into Chinese, and do so in a synthesized voice matching that of the speaker. Right now, it is just a proof of concept. But the concept has most certainly been proven. And a real consumer product can’t be too far behind.
Star Trek is not real. But the technology it inspires is. Smart doors, smart lights, and universal translators are already here, mostly. It is up to us early adopters to help manufacturers get them the rest of the way.