Randall Munroe answers some absurd questions; Danielle George reveals what’s in store for this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures; Jim Al-Khalili explores the strange world of quantum biology
Any fan of Back to the Future is likely to have dreamed of one day zipping down the street on their very own hover board. Well, thanks to a group of inspired French scientists (and the wonders of quantum levitation) that sci-fi gadget is fast becoming a reality.
But the hover board isn’t the only piece of sci-fi gadgetry to have been taken from the silver screen and developed for practical use. Here are our top five inventions inspired by films and television shows:
The universal translator
You’ll remember this one from Star Trek and Doctor Who. The universal translator was used to communicate with aliens from distant galaxies but the real version is strictly limited to languages of a more terrestrial nature. The Phraselator was developed by a company called VoxTec for use by the US military and is capable of translating English into 60 different languages. Using speech recognition software, the Phraselator will search its bank over 300,000 phrases and repeat commands back in the desired language.
Another Star Trek favorite is the Tricorder. This magical device could scan the body for diseases and collect information about a person’s general wellbeing. Last year saw the release of the Vscan. This small, handheld device uses ultrasound to measure and analyse the heart and other organs in the body. Developed by US company GE Healthcare, the Vscan is in all respects the Tricorder of today, able to diagnose health problems with a quick scan.
From Ironman to Aliens, exoskeletons have been a prominent feature in sci-fi films for decades. Although, the exoskeletons currently being developed don’t yet fly, they are capable of some pretty impressive feats. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will use one designed by the European Space Agency (ESO) to ‘virtually’ explore Mars and another, developed by technology company Raytheon, can give the user the strength of three men.
The concept of the jet back dates back to 1920’s sci-fi. Finally though, it seems someone has managed to create one that’s looks and flies like its Hollywood counterpart. Capable of reaching 5000ft, the Martin Jetpack is not for the fainthearted, but, if you happen to have a spare £50,000 knocking about, the good news is they are commercially available. The jet pack uses ducted fans to create lift and is the first capable of travelling long distances – up to 30 miles.
The underwater car
James Bond made the underwater car famous in The Spy Who Loved Me back in 1977, but it has taken over 30 years to develop a working imitation of that submersible Lotus. The sQuba is a concept car that really does work as a submarine. The only problem is you have to wear scuba gear, but it’s a small price to pay for a car that can function as well in water as it does on land.