Star Trek Tech Warping to Reality Faster Than You Think

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Star Trek tech keeps popping up in real life, making Trekkies, Trekkers, and even the casual sci-fi fan, extremely giddy.

Enterprise 1701d Star Trek Tech Warping to Reality Faster Than You Think

USS Enterprise 1701-D (Credit: CBS Television)

It’s no secret that many Star Trek fans are deeply passionate about the sci-fi franchise. These hardcore fans have been clamoring for a new Star Trek television series since Enterprise went off the air in 2005. Hopes were falsely raised on Tuesday, June 10 when a report emerged claiming Star Trek author Larry Nemecek had announced at Phoenix Comic-Con that Netflix is in talks with CBS regarding a new Star Trek TV series. But Nemecek crushed fans’ hopes by clarifying that he only said Netflix is interested in a new series. No “talks” are taking place.

Although fans are still reeling from having their hopes for a new series crushed, the fact that we are moving ever closer to living in a Star Trek-type universe should provide some gratification. Technology resembling that seen in science fiction is appearing in the real world at an increasing rate.

Communication is the area in which Star Trek tech is most apparent at the consumer level. Smart phones and tablets have been compared to Star Trek technology for years. The iPhone, in particular, has made it pretty clear that it wants to be a medical tricorder. In addition to the glut of health-related apps and medical attachments available for the iPhone, Apple unveiled a new Health app that will be included as part of iOS 8, demonstrating a push to make the phone more useful as a health/medical device.

Also related to communication, Microsoft made headlines on Tuesday, May 27 when CEO Satya Nadella and Skype corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall introduced Skype Translator at the Code Conference in California. Although this nearly real-time translator for voice calls using Skype is still in development, this technology that resembles Star Trek’s universal translator will be released within the next year.

Skype universal translator Star Trek Tech Warping to Reality Faster Than You Think

A demonstration of the Skype translation feature. (Credit: Re/code)

But, looking at Star Trek tech on a much larger scale, a real-life warp drive might become a reality in the not-too-distant future. Dr. Harold “Sonny” White, the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate, stated on September 14, 2012 that “perhaps a Star Trek experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility.” And as Gizmodo explains, “Dr. White and his colleagues don’t just believe a real life warp drive is theoretically possible; they’ve already started the work to create one.”

Speaking at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in 2012, Dr. White explained that loopholes in the laws of physics indicate that the space-time fabric can be warped. A warp drive concept was proposed in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, but calculations determined that his warp drive would require too much energy. But after adjusting the equations, physicists believe the design could be changed to enable it to run on significantly less energy.

Space.com describes, “An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.” This original warp drive design would require energy of “about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.” But Dr. White proposes adjusting the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. And by doing so, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like NASA’s Voyager 1. Warp drive could theoretically enable a spacecraft to travel at faster-than-light speeds, as is depicted on Star Trek. Dr. White speculates warp drive “could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks.”

White and his team recently released updated concept art of a warp drive spaceship that, perhaps intentionally, resembles the Enterprise. Artist Mark Rademaker told io9 that he “worked with White to create the updated model, which includes a sleek ship nestled at the center of two enormous rings, which create the warp bubble.”

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Concept art of a warp drive spaceship. (Credit: Mark Rademaker)

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Design showing the rings that would warp time around the spaceship. (Credit: Mark Rademaker)

And, although it is not quite a warp drive, the University of Alabama’s Aerophysics Research Center, NASA, Boeing, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are collaborating to develop nuclear fusion impulse rocket engines that would be capable of taking a spacecraft from Earth to Mars in as little as six weeks (For reference, it took NASA’s Curiosity rover approximately thirty-six weeks to reach Mars using current propulsion technology). Scientists are hoping to make this impulse drive a reality by 2030.

So much other Star Trek tech already exists. 3-D printers are rapidly nearing the capabilities of Star Trek replicators. Virtual reality technology, like Oculus Rift, for example, is bringing the holodeck into your living room. The U.S. Air Force even developed its own version of the phaser. Their PHaSER (Personal Halting and Stimulation Response) was apparently designed initially to cause temporary blindness, but a second laser was added later that is capable of heating up skin. And many other futuristic technologies seen in Star Trek are currently being tested, including transporters, tractor beams, and deflector shields.

Enjoy, Star Trek fanboys and fangirls. The Star Trek universe and reality have already intersected in so many ways. And a true Star Trek-like reality, complete with space travel and space colonization is right around the corner.

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