One thing that makes manufacturing so interesting is that there is always new technology. The research and development sector of manufacturing can, for the most part, be credited with the technological breakthroughs necessary to make science fiction a reality. In fact, manufacturers in the United States perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. (Nam.org) Sometimes these technological breakthroughs are used to support the advancement of the manufacturing process itself (3D printing is a good example of this) and sometimes it is the breakthroughs are the products being manufactured.
Below, we talk about seven items that were at one point just ideas in science fiction novels, television shows, and movies that are now used everyday.
1. Smart Phones & Smart Watches: If you were a Star Trek fan, you were pretty much watching a technology filled crystal ball. So many inventions in the last decade can be found in Star Trek (albeit slightly different versions) episodes from around fifty years ago! The Star Trek communicator and the NCC-1701 Watch were things of fantasy, but now almost everyone we know owns a smart phone and more and more people are jumping on the Smart Watch (also depicted in The Jetsons in 1967) bandwagon. Not only are these things super cool and pretty much necessity these days, they have completely changed the way the world interacts with one another.
2. 3D Printers: Another invention that was predicted by Star Trek is the 3D Printer… only aboard the Enterprise it was known as “The Replicator”. It worked a little differently than the 3D Printers we have today, but our modern 3D Printers can get almost the same result. There are actually multiple manufacturers throughout Southwest Virginia that use 3D printers on a daily basis. For example Universal Fibers in Bristol, VA has an entire room filled with different kinds of 3D printers and they have created filament to be used for printing.
3. Tablets: The tablet is incredibly similar to the Star Trek PADD (sound familar?). This technology can be found in homes, in classrooms, and on the plant floor of many Southwest Virginia manufacturing facilities! Manufacturers are moving away from paper-based reporting and production information systems to using tablets that can easily send and receive the necessary information.
4. Google Glasses: So far there has been a common theme to this list… Star Trek. This is the last Star Trek invention being mentioned…we promise. The Star Trek Virtual Display Glass is eerily similar to Google Glasses. Although the purpose of the two are different – in Star Trek they were used to view the outside of the ship to better defend themselves – the real life version is used for less ominous tasks… like checking emails.
5. Hover Boards: Any skateboarder or surfer who watched Back to The Future was immediately filled with envy. Now, hover boards are not only real, they are affordable! They may not be quite as cool as the on-screen version yet… but they are most certainly heading in that direction!
6. NASA Canadarm: 2001: The movie, A Space Odyssey, had a mission robot that is incredibly similar to the NASA Canadarm. The Canadarm has helped move equipment as well as astronauts for over thirty years.
7. Robot Vacuum Cleaner: In the 60’s, The Jetsons was one of the coolest cartoons there was. The technology in the show made everyday mundane tasks (such as vacuuming) a thing of the past. And now, a lot of those tasks really are things of the past. Robot floor cleaners now cleans floors whenever you set a timer for it to do so. And they’re now affordable enough to become fairly commonplace.
Things that are in the process of being created but aren’t quite finished.
- Jet Packs
- Star Wars Speeder Bike -> Aerofex Aero-X
- Iron Man Suit -> Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS)
- Bionic Man -> Titan Arm
- The Jetsons Robo Chef -> 3D Printed Food