Science-fiction films excel at stirring the imagination. Whether a tale of an intrepid space voyage to far away worlds, or an adventure here on Earth with mechanically enhanced heroes battling terrifying foes, one recurring theme in the genre rarely fails to fascinate: extremely advanced technology. But how realistic are the fantastical gadgets portrayed in so many sci-fi films? While it will likely take a decade or more for many fictional contraptions to become a reality, here are eight that already exist in some form today.
1. Iron man suit
One of the most coveted pieces of sci-fi tech (at least by this author) has to be Iron Man's legendary suit. Blisteringly fast flight, deadly repulsors and a sophisticated, artificially intelligent butler to keep you company during harrowing battles? Yes, please.
Defense contractor Raytheon has been hard at work on the XOS2, a robotic exoskeleton that grants the wearer enhanced strength. While it doesn't yet have the ability to soar through the skies and looks more like one of Justin Hammer's early attempts than an actual Iron Man suit, the XOS2 brings the world one step closer to a working Mark I prototype.
2. Invisibility cloak
Researchers have created a real, working invisibility cloak. It's a far cry from the Predator's version, and only conceals objects from specific wavelengths of light, but the high-tech blanket still makes things disappear.
It works by using metamaterials to bend light around a physical structure, creating the illusion that it isn't there. The first attempts only worked with one frequency of light, but scientists are quickly broadening the spectrum with the hopes of one day developing a Predator-worthy cloaking device.
"Beam me up" might actually become a commonly used phrase thanks to advancements in quantum teleportation. The cutting-edge science uses quantum mechanics to instantly transfer data from one particle to another. Scientists can't currently teleport large amounts of mass to distant planets, but they can accurately (and instantly) beam data across dozens of miles.
Of course, technology aside, this Star Trek method of travel comes with a host of ethical dilemmas, perhaps foremost among them is whether the teleported person would be the same as the one who stepped into the machine.
4. Tractor beam
Tractor beams have been proven to work in laboratories, but NASA hopes to implement this straight-from-Star-Trek technology in real-world space missions within several years. Using specially created, helix-shaped beams of light, scientists have managed to grab tiny objects and physically pull them closer. It's an incredible feat, but in order for NASA to have any practical use for these tractor beams, researchers still need to figure out how to ramp up the towing power.
Does this mean the next generation of space vessels will be in jeopardy of being caught in another ship's tractor beam? Probably not, but if astronauts spot any cube-shaped crafts floating through the expanse, they might want to fire up their thrusters and head in the opposite direction.
5. Laser blaster
Storm Troopers aren't the only ones with blasters — the U.S. Navy has them too. The military branch has fielded Lockheed Martin's 60-kilowatt laser and proven it can easily take down a plane with nothing but light. The Air Force plans to have the weapon system in widespread use by 2020, where it will protect troops by shooting down enemy missiles, artillery shells, planes, drones and any other threat that takes to the sky.
Back to the Future's Marty McFly may have popularized the hoverboard, but Lexus turned this bit of science-fiction tech into reality. The hoverboard — which actually hovers above the ground — uses liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductors to keep it floating atop a specially created magnetic track. The ride only lasts for about 10 minutes before the liquid nitrogen runs out, but a quick fill-up will get the board back in the air, and unlike "hoverboards" that use wheels, these ones won't burst into flames.
Another company, Hendo, created a battery-powered hoverboard that operates under similar principles, but unlike the Lexus hoverboards, these ones are actually for sale.
7. Bio-medical scanner
In the fictional world of Elysium exists a tanning bed-esque medical scanner that can quickly detect cancer and any other biological abnormalities. This wonderful piece of equipment can then repair the damage, greatly extending the patients' lifespans.
Medical company Human Longevity has their own version of this technology. For about $25,000 per scan, patients can have their entire genome sequenced and analyzed. The company has a battery of tests and scans to help find nearly 8,000 extremely rare DNA variants linked to disease. From there, Human Longevity gives its clients a prognosis, as well as the state of their current health, equipping them to seek any necessary treatment for ailments that might have otherwise gone undetected. It will likely take some time for this tech to become mainstream, but once it does, the average human lifespan could increase considerably.
8. Hibernation pod
A quintessential piece of technology for any longterm space adventure is a hibernation pod — a device that allows humans to slumber for eons as they silently drift through the abyss toward their destination. They're featured in some form or fashion in virtually every science-fiction movie that involves interplanetary travel, including Prometheus, Interstellar and Passengers.
Space exploration company Spaceworks will soon begin testing its first "personal stasis pods" with the goal of allowing spaceship crews to sleep for months-long intervals during interstellar missions. Using a technique called "therapeutic hypothermia," the pods will lower the users' body core temperature, reducing metabolic functions by as much as 70%.
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