Inventors Who Got Their Ideas from Sci-Fi

 

American inventor Simon Lake was captivated by the idea of travel after reading Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” in 1870. He built the Argonaut, the first submarine to operate successfully in the open ocean, in 1898. Verne congratulated him.

Igor Sikorsky invented the modern helicopter, inspired by Jules Verne’s “Clipper of the Clouds.” He quoted Verne: “Anything that one man can imagine, another man can make real.”

Robert H. Goddard built the first successful liquid-fueled rocket in 1926, inspired by an 1898 newspaper serialization of H.G. Wells’ classic novel about a Martian invasion, “War of the Worlds.”

In 1914, H.G. Wells’ novel “The World Set Free” inspired physicist Leo Szilard in 1933 to solve the problem of creating a nuclear chain reaction — in 1933.

E.E. “Doc” Smith delighted readers with his “Lensmen” novels, about a futuristic Galactic Patrol. In 1947, sci-fi editor James W. Campbell wrote Smith to say that the Directrix command ship featured in his series had inspired a U.S. naval officer to introduce the concept of combat information centers aboard warships.

Robert Heinlein in 1942 wrote a short story about a physically infirm inventor, Waldo F. Jones, who created a remotely operated mechanical hand. Real-life “waldos” were developed for the nuclear industry a few years later.

Martin Cooper, the director of development at Motorola, credited the Star Trek communicator for the design of the first mobile phone in the early 1970s. “That was not fantasy to us. That was an objective.”

The early 20th century character Tom Swift, a genius inventor, inspired NASA physicist Jack Cover’s invention of the Taser, an acronym for Swift’s “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.”

Apple scientist Steve Perlman got his idea for the groundbreaking multimedia program QuickTime after watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” where one character listens to multiple music tracks on his computer.

Philip Rosedale, inventor of the online community Second Lifecredits Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” for painting “a compelling picture of what such a virtual world could look like in the near future, and I found that inspiring.”

Bill Gates credits a “Stargate SG-1” episode, “2010,” with the idea of creating a vaccine to dramatically reduce Earth’s population to reverse the threat of global climate change. “We only need some way to convince people to take it.”

Excuse me, what’s that? Oh, of course. Bill just called to correct the record. He has never watched “Stargate SG-1.” (He also muttered something about, “Let them eat insects.”)

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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Mark Alexander:

    Robert Heinlein in 1942 wrote a short story about a physically infirm inventor, Waldo F. Jones, who created a remotely operated mechanical hand. Real-life “waldos” were developed for the nuclear industry a few yeas later.

     

    Heinlein is also credited with: the waterbed; slidewalks, the moving sidewalks like in airports; and the linear accelerator.  I would argue he should at least get credit for original concept on ATMs.  Puppet Masters includes descriptions of an electronic checkbook that could plug into a kiosk.

    • #1
  2. Jack Shepherd Coolidge
    Jack Shepherd
    @dnewlander

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    • #2
  3. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Ah, Robert Goddard.

    That Professor Goddard with his “chair” in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action and reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

    — The New York Times, pushing the absurdity envelope, Jan. 6, 1920

    • #4
  5. Jack Shepherd Coolidge
    Jack Shepherd
    @dnewlander

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    He was born the same year as me. So I’d expect he’s composing haiku in Heaven right now.

    • #5
  6. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    He was born the same year as me. So I’d expect he’s composing haiku in Heaven right now.

    In honor of Waldo:

    The rule for today

    Touch my tail, I shred your hand

    New rule tomorrow

    • #6
  7. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    He was born the same year as me. So I’d expect he’s composing haiku in Heaven right now.

    Or Hell.  They’re not as sweet as they look.

    • #7
  8. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    A great collection of fascinating trivia. Thanks, Mark.

    • #8
  9. Jack Shepherd Coolidge
    Jack Shepherd
    @dnewlander

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    He was born the same year as me. So I’d expect he’s composing haiku in Heaven right now.

    In honor of Waldo:

    The rule for today

    Touch my tail, I shred your hand

    New rule tomorrow

    That would have been his sister, Powder, short for Gunpowder. The only cat I’ve ever known who could say her own name. She’d walk into a room and proudly proclaim, “POW!”

    She also had a penchant for sleeping atop doors that were slightly open. Which meant when you pushed the door open to enter you encountered a face full of fur, claws, and fangs as she fell on you.

    • #9
  10. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    He was born the same year as me. So I’d expect he’s composing haiku in Heaven right now.

    In honor of Waldo:

    The rule for today

    Touch my tail, I shred your hand

    New rule tomorrow

    That would have been his sister, Powder, short for Gunpowder. The only cat I’ve ever known who could say her own name. She’d walk into a room and proudly proclaim, “POW!”

    She also had a penchant for sleeping atop doors that were slightly open. Which meant when you pushed the door open to enter you encountered a face full of fur, claws, and fangs as she fell on you.

    Now THAT’S a cat.

    • #10
  11. Jack Shepherd Coolidge
    Jack Shepherd
    @dnewlander

    BDB (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Jack Shepherd (View Comment):

    When I was growing up, we had a cat named Waldo. My parents named him for the Heinlein story, because as a kitten he had very large paws.

    I’ve asked my mother for some pictures of him, so I can write a post about him, because Waldo was an extraordinary cat.

    Where is he now? Don’t answer that.

    He was born the same year as me. So I’d expect he’s composing haiku in Heaven right now.

    Or Hell. They’re not as sweet as they look.

    Not him. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.

    I have to write that post.

    • #11
  12. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander:

    Robert Heinlein in 1942 wrote a short story about a physically infirm inventor, Waldo F. Jones, who created a remotely operated mechanical hand. Real-life “waldos” were developed for the nuclear industry a few yeas later.

    Heinlein is also credited with: the waterbed; slidewalks, the moving sidewalks like in airports; and the linear accelerator. I would argue he should at least get credit for original concept on ATMs. Puppet Masters includes descriptions of an electronic checkbook that could plug into a kiosk.

    The moving sidewalk predates Heinlein’s birth by over a decade: The Columbian Exposition in 1893. In 1937 Princeton physicist E. F. Northrup explored in depth the concept of a linear accelerator or mass driver for just the purpose Heinlein envisioned.

    • #12
  13. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    I recall also seeing an interview with the doctor who invented the first surgical laser in which he said he got the idea from hearing Dr. McCoy ask Nurse Chapel for a “laser scalpel” on Star Trek. If I have time to look for it, and am successful in my search, I will post it here. 

    Thanks for the interesting post. 

    • #13
  14. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    And BioJect invented the “hypo-spray” several years ago.

    • #14
  15. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    BioJect was not the first. In fact, the technology long predates Star Trek and was used by the CDC as early as 1961 for mass vaccination programs here in the United States.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    It’s amazing how the human mind can make those connections!

    • #16
  17. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    The tablet computer was foreseen in 2001: A Space Odyssey:

    • #17
  18. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Mark Alexander: James W. Campbell

    John W. Campbell?

    • #18
  19. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    So, comb my book for good ideas. You might change the future…. ;) 

    Yes, I am shameless. 

    Amazon.com: Charis Colony: The Landing: 9798560467180: Martin, John David: Bücher

     

    • #19
  20. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: James W. Campbell

    John W. Campbell?

    Good catch. 

    • #20
  21. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    As an inventor who loves Science Fiction… great post!

    • #21
  22. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    BioJect was not the first. In fact, the technology long predates Star Trek and was used by the CDC as early as 1961 for mass vaccination programs here in the United States.

    But the BioJect is a pencil-like slim handheld device.

    • #22
  23. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Stad (View Comment):

    The tablet computer was foreseen in 2001: A Space Odyssey:

    But in PORTRAIT MODE?

    c’mon, man!

    Star Trek TOS (The Original Series) had “widescreen” viewers starting in 1966.

    • #23
  24. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Stad (View Comment):

    The tablet computer was foreseen in 2001: A Space Odyssey:

    But notice he never picked it up.  That’s because it was fabricated into the desk top.

    • #24
  25. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    duplicate

    • #25
  26. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    When USB thumb drives started coming out, a tech reporter noted that when Star Trek came out its storage devices were small squares, about 3 or 4 inches. When Next Generation came out 3.5″ disks were a prominent storage device and TNG had the isolinear chips, which looked a lot like the thumb drives that came out ten years later. 

    • #26
  27. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    When USB thumb drives started coming out, a tech reporter noted that when Star Trek came out its storage devices were small squares, about 3 or 4 inches. When Next Generation came out 3.5″ disks were a prominent storage device and TNG had the isolinear chips, which looked a lot like the thumb drives that came out ten years later.

    The isolinear chips always seemed to be described more as processing, not storage.  And DEC actually introduced a similar-style “FLIP-CHIP” modular technology in the early 1960s.

    https://gunkies.org/wiki/FLIP_CHIP

    Especially when you see how they were used in situations such as the season 1 TNG episode “Naked Now” it seems clear that the chips have different functions (also indicated in the DS9 episode “Prodigal Daughter”) and have to be installed in pre-arranged patterns for systems to work.  That’s how FLIP-CHIPs were too: they plugged into a backplane which was wired to connect the modules in various ways needed to accomplish different tasks.

     

     

    Such as in the PDP-12, perhaps my all-time favorite computer.  The modules were grouped by function, those with maroon color handles were “operational” type modules that might contain parts of an internal register, etc.  Green modules were involved with memory storage (which used “core” technology at that time).

     

    MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

     

     

     

     

    • #27
  28. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    kedavis (View Comment):
    But in PORTRAIT MODE?

    Hey, Clarke and Kubrick got it mostly right!

    Do you remember that early IBM word processor that had the large portrait mode screen?

    • #28
  29. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Stad (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    But in PORTRAIT MODE?

    Hey, Clarke and Kubrick got it mostly right!

    Do you remember that early IBM word processor that had the large portrait mode screen?

    The early full-page WYSIWYG display was very cutting-edge.  That was intentional, it was supposed to look like the page (of paper) you were setting up.

    Early Macintosh computers had very small screens, and third-party options were available to add a full-page display or even two-page side-by-side to make best use of the available Desktop Publishing software.  Some of those were even connected to the SCSI port since many of the early Macintosh models didn’t have anything else!

    • #29
  30. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    But in PORTRAIT MODE?

    Hey, Clarke and Kubrick got it mostly right!

    Do you remember that early IBM word processor that had the large portrait mode screen?

    The early full-page WYSIWYG display was very cutting-edge. That was intentional, it was supposed to look like the page (of paper) you were setting up.

    Early Macintosh computers had very small screens, and third-party options were available to add a full-page display or even two-page side-by-side to make best use of the available Desktop Publishing software. Some of those were even connected to the SCSI port since many of the early Macintosh models didn’t have anything else!

    Aldus forever!

    • #30
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