Sci-fi inventions that became reality

Published 7:12 PM ET, Wed March 21, 2018
star wars luke skywalker prosthetic hand altstar wars luke skywalker prosthetic hand alt
1 of 12
Luke Skywalker's prosthetic hand in "The Empire Strikes Back." Singaporean biotechnologist Benjamin Tee is engineering an electronic skin substitute that will help people wearing prosthetics to one day feel with artificial limbs. Tee was inspired by Star Wars, but his invention isn't the first to leap from science fiction into reality.

Scroll through the gallery to discover more
There are numerous examples of video phones in science fiction, but the earliest on screen is in Fritz Lang's masterpiece "Metropolis" (1927). Used by Joh Fredesen, master of the titular city, it's large, clunky, and requires four dials to set up a call, but it's undoubtedly a video phone. In real life, the first two-way videophone was demonstrated surprisingly early, in 1930, but the first to receive any real attention was the Picturephone by Bell, trialled in the 1960s and early '70s. UFA
Tony Stark's superhero suit debuted on May 10, 1968, looking slightly more like the Iron Giant than Robert Downey Jr.'s big screen incarnation. There have been countless versions of the hi-tech armor since. The idea of an Iron Man-like super soldier is in the works, with the US military developing the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), made of liquid armor that solidifies on command. It would also feature a battery-powered exoskeleton reducing body strains and various in-helmet technologies. Marvel Studios
You didn't think we meant an actual Death Star, did you? The nefarious space station is, on the whole, unfeasible, but scientists have been toying with some of its features. In 2015 a team from the University of Sussex in England created a sonic tractor beam, using tiny speakers to levitate objects with sound waves and changing the sound to move them. And the US Navy has developed its Laser Weapons System (LaWS) described as "more precise than a bullet." LaWS works by directing photons at an object, causing it to super-heat. But it's probably not capable of destroying Alderaan. Lucasfilm Ltd.
Star Trek's communicator debuted in 1964 as Starfleet's de-facto device for talking to one another. Its stylish flip design outshone numerous shortcomings when they went out of range, were lost or stolen in the crew's journeys around the galaxy. Motorola introduced the world's first compact clamshell/flip cellular phone with the StarTAC in 1996. CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images
Some of the details of Jules Verne's 1865 novel "From Earth to the Moon" are uncanny: three Americans are sent to the moon in a spacecraft built in Florida. In the 1870 sequel "Around the Moon" the pod circles the moon, although the trio are unable to land. In 1969 man not only went to the moon but landed on its surface. NASA
Philip K. Dick's 1956 short story "The Minority Report" was turned into a film by Steven Spielberg featuring Tom Cruise in 2002, and included computers operated by hand gestures using special gloves. MIT Media Lab was developing a similar interface around the same time the film was being produced. What the team had at that stage wasn't as slick as what appeared on screen, but gesture technology has improved and is becoming more widespread. Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy
Again, a popular sci-fi trope and one that kick-started the original "Star Wars" in 1977, with Princess Leia imploring Obi-Wan for help. The practice of holography precedes the space opera, beginning in the 1940s, but 3-D holograms like those in the movies are only just coming to fruition. In 2017 Australian company Euclideon Holographics debuted what was claimed to be the world's first holographic table, utilizing glasses to create a realistic 3-D environment that can be manipulated by users. Yours for $47,000, reported Arch Daily. Lucasfilm/Disney
In a direct case of art becoming life, Marty McFly's Nike high tops in 1989's "Back to the Future II" became reality when Nike released a limited number of the Nike MAG in 2011, and again in 2016. The latter pairs were self-lacing, with proceeds donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which supports people with Parkinson's disease. For those that didn't bag a pair, Nike later launched the HyperAdapt 1.0, a sneaker with automatic laces that tighten using a sensor in the heel. Roger Kisby/Getty Images
Star Trek did it first -- again. The replicator began as a means to materialize food at the touch of the button. Its methodology was a little hazy, evolving though the series, as did uses, eventually creating spare parts and clothing. Anything was possible as long as details of the desired object was on file. Today we have 3-D printers, which can synthesize objects of any shape or form, from houses to human ears. That said our 3-D printers have gone where Starfleet dared not: protocol dictates no one can make weapons using the replicator. CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images
A mushroom cloud rises above Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Thirty-two years earlier H.G. Wells' novel "The World Set Free" was written, foreshadowing the emergence of nuclear weapons. Wells writes of "atomic bombs" and "new bombs that would continue to explode indefinitely," inspired by the research of chemist William Ramsay, radiochemist Frederick Soddy and the father of nuclear physics Ernest Rutherford. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Fahrenheit 451" is receiving increased attention with HBO releasing a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel from 1953. He writes about "Seashells," thimble-sized radios secured tightly in one's ears, which transmit "an electronic ocean of sound" containing music and speech. Experimentation in in-ear listening devices precede the '50s; Frenchman Ernest Mercadier patented a form of in-ear headphone in 1891. But the first sets of truly wireless in-ear headphones went on sale this decade, popularized by Apple's AirPod, meaning users could cut the cord for good.