Things are only impossible until they are not.
These inspiring words were spoken by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a character from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” And I’m not quoting him just because I like Star Trek. (Though I really do.)
Star Trek shows us what life could be like if technology became incredibly advanced. We could travel through space, explore distant planets, meet new life forms and experience new civilizations. We could teleport thousands of miles in seconds. We could understand virtually any language with no study required. We could experience a simulated reality that’s far more immersive than what today’s virtual reality headsets allow for.
All of these things may seem impossible for us to achieve today. But — with the help of startups and new technology — that could change.
In the spirit of boldly going where no one has gone before, I’m highlighting three technologies from the Star Trek universe that I’d love startups to bring to life — and some that startups are already beginning to develop.
Transporters are teleportation devices that convert a person or object into an energy pattern and send them to a target location, where they then “re-materialize” into their original form. This all takes place within seconds. (In early Star Trek parlance, “Beam us up.”)
The benefits of teleportation are endless. Just imagine the convenience. Being able to travel not just across our planet, but to other planets entirely — all within seconds. Vacations would become easier and more accessible. Everyday travel would be immensely more efficient. Governments could rapidly and easily distribute aid to those who need it.
We’re not quite at the level of teleportation, but a hyperloop is pretty close. The term hyperloop (originally coined by Elon Musk) refers to a super fast railway transportation system. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (or HyperloopTT) has developed the world’s first full scale hyperloop test track, insurance framework and safety and certification guidelines. HyperloopTT’s technology consists of pressurized capsules that look like small wingless airplanes. While traveling through a network of tubes, the capsules float on a frictionless magnetic cushion. The hyperloop can reach up to 760 miles per hour, seat 28 to 50 passengers per capsule and carry more than 160,000 passengers per day.
HyperloopTT is working with both the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation to create the first commercial hyperloop route. It also has a partnership with Italy-based Hitachi Rail. HyperloopTT and Hitachi just recently concluded proof of concept for a cloud-based traffic management system.
HyperloopTT is not the only company working to make the hyperloop a reality. Virgin Hyperloop (U.S.) and TransPod (Canada) are both working on their own hyperloops, and there are other companies outside of North America working on them too. Between all those companies and the smart engineers behind them, I hope we can make the hyperloop a reality in the next decade.
A replicator is a machine that can create and recycle things. It’s mostly used for food, though in later Star Trek series, replicators can create larger, non-food items as well. The replicator is a large part of the reason why humans aboard the Starship Enterprise don’t need money. There’s no need for anyone to purchase anything when a replicator can manufacture virtually anything they need in an instant.
Look, I enjoy cooking. I think there’s value in being able to make your own meals. But if I had the option to just immediately receive any meal I wanted without having to put in any work, it would be a game changer. And I know I’m not the only one who would benefit from that.
PeAR Technologies doesn’t create food you can eat, but it does replicate a highly realistic image of food you might want to eat. The company uses augmented reality to render high-definition, 3D food models from restaurants. Users download the app, peruse menu items in detail and can thus feel more confident in their decisions. Being able to see a high-quality and realistic image of a dish is not quite replicator-level technology, but it is one step closer.
Nanotechnology is essentially the use of tiny, near-atomic-sized matter to create new structures, materials or devices. In the Star Trek universe, nanotechnology is often used in medicine. Doctors aboard the Starship Enterprise use it to heal a wide range of ailments — often much more effectively than treatments you’d find at a hospital today.
Nanotechnology is already being used in a variety of medical treatments in our world. Cello Therapeutics has developed a cellular nanoparticle platform to treat cancer. And the company has already shown how its tiny nanoparticles can inhibit tumor growth and metastasis.
Nanotechnology has massive potential to treat all kinds of diseases. And given that we already see several Star Trek medical technologies in use today, it’s only a matter of time before we bring nanotechnology to new heights.
These three technologies are just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish. The world is full of driven, passionate startups that are laser-focused on technology.
In time, we’ll find that far more is possible than we ever imagined.