World

These science-fiction inventions became reality

By Rebecca Cairns, CNN

Published 3:27 AM ET, Fri October 16, 2020
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From 19th-century sci-fi novels to 1960s cartoons like "The Jetsons" (pictured), our obsession with the future has permeated popular culture. While some ideas about the possibilities of technology were wildly inaccurate, others anticipated future innovations with uncanny precision. Click through to see the sci-fi inventions that became reality. Warner Bros./Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Star Trek" first aired on TV in 1966. Characters in the show used "communicators" to contact each other. It would be another 30 years before flip phones became a reality. CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images
Mobile flip phones were pioneered by Motorola. These early prototypes were displayed at the Communications Tokyo exhibition in 1995. Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images
K.I.T.T., the supercomputer-powered car in the 1980s TV show "Knight Rider," was voice-activated, autonomous and equipped with advanced surveillance technology that helped it detect nearby obstacles. The car was the sidekick to detective Michael Knight, played by heartthrob David Hasselhoff. Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
While fully autonomous road vehicles are not commercially available yet, tests are underway for cars which use radar, lidar and GPS technology to sense obstacles. Shutterstock
In 1899, French artist Jean-Marc Cote produced a series of illustrations predicting technologies in the year 2000. In "Un Astronome" he depicts a man viewing a projection of the moon on a table. Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Our technology has gone a little further than mere projections, though. Google Earth, launched in 2001 as Keyhole EarthViewer, uses satellite images to create 3D pictures. In 2005, Google Maps launched as a desktop application, before it was turned into a mobile app for Apple's first iPhone in 2007 -- giving us all a map of the world in our pocket. Adam Berry/Getty Images
In the 2002 movie, "Minority Report" -- based on the 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick -- John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) uses a gesture-based computer system, swiping and zooming through multiple screens. CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images
Apple's iPhone design mimics the user interface in "Minority Report" with its pull, zoom and swipe functions. Most smart phones today incorporate a similar touch screen technology. CNN
"Back to the Future II" (1989) made some wild predictions for technology in 2015, but some now look eerily familiar -- like biometric security. Pictured, antagonist Biff Tannen pays for a taxi with just a finger print. Universal Pictures
Biometrics are now widely used in our everyday lives. Apple's Touch ID, integrated into iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, allows users to unlock their devices with a finger print. Thomas Trutschel/Photothek/Getty Images
When Luke Skywalker lost his hand in the film "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), it was replaced with an advanced prosthetic hand with touch-sensitive skin. Lucasfilm/Disney
Prosthetics have come a long way since the 1980s. Open Bionics create lightweight, multi-grip, bionic "Hero Arms" for children and adults. Through 3D scanning, the prosthetic is customized to each person, while swappable magnetic covers allow users to choose from different styles -- some, like this Iron Man arm, with a superhero aesthetic. Open Biotics
The holographic projection of Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for help in the original "Star Wars" film (1977) kickstarts the movie's narrative, leading Luke Skywalker on a journey through galaxies far, far away ... Lucasfilm/Disney
Today, most of us don't send holographic messages to each other like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia did, but in a life-is-stranger-than-fiction twist, US company Base Hologram has created posthumous performances for renowned musicians, including Whitney Houston and Roy Orbison. Danny Lawson/PA Images/Getty Image
Pioneering French sci-fi writer Jules Verne is often dubbed the "Father of Science Fiction," alongside his English contemporary H.G. Wells. Published in 1865, "From the Earth to the Moon" tells the story of three men who build a projectile to reach the moon -- 104 years before it happened in real life. Bantam Classics
Verne's predictions of a trip to the moon came true in 1969, when the Apollo 11 mission launched from Cape Kennedy. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," and became the first men on the moon. Neil Armstrong/NASA/Getty Images
At a time when chunky headsets were the norm, Ray Bradbury's 1953 dystopian novel "Fahrenheit 451," anticipates wireless earphones. "And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind." Simon and Schuster Books
Bradbury's "little Seashells" became reality in 2016, when Apple unveiled its AirPods. The small, white, wireless earbuds sit in the users' ear and connect to the iPhone via Bluetooth. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Stanley Kubrick's 1968 sci-fi film, "2001: A Space Odyssey" was loaded with advanced tech that would ultimately become reality, including smart tablets which the spaceship crew use to watch TV and films. From MGM
So did Kubrick invent the tablet? Samsung thinks so -- in 2011, it presented a still of Kubrick's 1968 film in an unresolved legal dispute over Apple's handheld tablet patent, as proof the iPhone creators didn't come up with the concept. However, it was the iPad that revolutionized the smart tablet market. Today, tablets are often used as a teaching tool. Julian Stratenschulte/Picture Alliance/Getty Images