Star Trek was visionary in the technology it predicted. The show foresaw cell phones, tablets, universal translators, and more. But we’re still waiting for some of the other technologies to materialize. Fortunately, researchers are working to bring you all the replicators, phasers, and warp drives your heart desires. Here’s how soon you can expect to get your hands on these treknologies.
1. Warp Drive
But what if space itself was moving? Miguel Alcubierre theorized a warp drivethat would create a bubble of negative energy in front of the spacecraft and could push the space surrounding the craft arbitrarily fast. But scientists haven’t proven the existence of negative energy. Plus, the bubble probably wouldn’t be stable, and the energy released once the ship slows down might create a massive explosion. Warp drives won’t be ready to engage anytime soon.
Thirty years ago, Charles “Chuck” Hull invented and patented the first 3D printer. However, the technology really began to take off in 2009, as patents for 3D printers that use plastic filament began to expire. In December 2016, the patents for 3D printers that create with metal will expire, so expect to see more of those popping up, as well as multi-material printers.
Scientists were actually able to convert light into matter in 1997, and a 2014 paper proposed a way to do so more easily. Between that and 3D printers that can create food, the replicator is quickly moving toward science fact, rather than science fiction.
3. Tractor Beams
That’s not for lack of trying. In 2012, the microchip company Qualcomm initiated its Tricorder XPrize Competition, which challenged contestants to design a singular device capable of diagnosing 10 core health conditions as well as five vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen saturation. Ten teams made it to the final round and their devices began testing at UC San Diego’s Clinical and Translational Research Institute. But while most of the prototypes measured the vital signs quite well, they all had trouble diagnosing diseases. The judges eventually put a halt on the testing and gave the competitors two years to perfect their techniques.
As IEEE Spectrum points out, a major obstacle that the inventors are working against is that the device must account for the unpredictability and diversity of human nature. The way one person may describe their anemia or hypertension may be completely different than the way another one does.
The new deadline for the teams–there are only 7 left, three dropped out–to submit their prototype is September 2016, when judges will begin the next round of testing.
Then there’s quantum teleportation. First, you’d need to get two particles entangled, making a system where one set of properties describes both particles, and pull the two particles far apart from each other. If you give some quantum information to the first particle, then you can transfer that information to the distant entangled particle almost instantaneously. Chinese scientists were able to transport photon information across almost 100 kilometers back in 2012.
Today, Scotty can only beam you up if you’re a single particle.
Called the Multi-Dose Jet Injection Device, it was soon deployed as a fast and effective vaccination tool to combat smallpox around the world. But it turned out not to be without risk. Because the device penetrates the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, health officials quickly found that it had the ability to transmit diseases from one vaccinated person to the next, and many countries have stopped using this original device for this reason.
Recently, though, researchers have been able to develop jet injectors that employ single-use jet injectors that are much safer than older versions. One, the PharmaJet was approved for use by the FDA in 2014 to deliver a type of flu vaccine.
For humans living in 2016, hand-held beam weapons seem about as far-off as the 23rd century. But phasers weren’t just an easy stand-in for guns–they were also one of the primary weapons used by the Enterprise and other ships, and this is where the present is closer to the future. In 2014, the U.S Navy deployed the USS Ponce to the Persian gulf complete with a laser weapon aboard. Powering a beam with 30 kilowatts, the Laser Weapon System could burn drones and small boats. The Pentagon is developing several more powerful directed energy weapons in the 100-150 kilowatt range, with tests expected in the early 2020s if not sooner.