Tune into any old episode of Star Trek (either the original or the ‘Next Gen’), and you’ll see studio props that look surprisingly familiar. Is that…a tablet? A clam shell mobile phone? Or is it a communicator that allows ‘Scotty’ to start beaming people up? The truth is that many of our most iconic and familiar designs may well have been inspired by the imagination not of the late Steve Jobs, but from the fertile mind of Gene Roddenberry and his crew of prop designers and special effect experts.
How Wearable Tech Predicting the Future?
The Star Trek Effect
It’s known as the ‘Star Trek effect’. The ideas and concepts presented in the show has been strangely prophetic in mirroring our advances in technology, from flexible aluminium through to mobile communicators.
Remember: when these programmes were made, home computers were still regarded as a remote and fanciful dream, let alone tablets you could link to a world-wide network of information and databases. Does all that sound familiar? Here’s some of the most influential wearable tech that’s turned science fiction into science fact:
We’ve already mentioned the remarkable similarity between Captain Kirk’s communicator and the clam-shell style mobile phone. But in the later ‘Next Generation’ series, communicators were the badge insignia worn on the uniform and activated by a tap of the finger. Today, we have similar technology – although it can’t quite stretch between an orbiting ship and the planet’s surface just yet. Vocera Communications have developed the B2000 badge that can link people onto a network operating within a building using software and a wireless LAN connection. It weighs less than two ounces and is even designed to inhibit the growth of bacteria, so it’s ideal for use in a medical environment.
Another company developing wearable communicators is Orion Labs, based in San Francisco, California. Their product, The Onyx, is a personal communication badge that allows a group of people to speak to one another with just the press of a button – an upgraded Walkie Talkie. There’s no limit to how many people can join an Onyx call, and it operates using a private Wi-Fi connection or your smartphone’s data network. At just 2.36 inches in diameter and weighing in at less than 2 ounces, this device is ideal for clipping on clothing.
Wearable tech in the cosmic battlefield – transparent aluminium armour
In the fourth Star Trek movie, engineer Scotty traded the formula for transparent aluminium for some plexiglass (don’t ask. It involves transporting blue whales into the future…). Today, we have a material called aluminium oxynitride, also commonly referred to as ALON or aluminium armour. ALON is a ceramic powder that can be turned into a crystalline structure through the application of heat and pressure. It is then strong enough to withstand bullets, and polishing moulded ALON strengthens it even more. It is currently being tested by the military for use in both vehicles and as body armour.
Coming soon to a tech shop near you…
There are still a few things that we’ve yet to see materialise. One is, of course, the transporter, although scientists working on this have managed to transport atoms from one location to another, so that’s a (very small) start. The advent of organic electronics and research into the applications of things like flexible screen technology by companies like FlexEnable will continue to drive us forward when it comes to new wearable technology.