Think you're a Star Trek fan? In 1996, Barbara "The Commander" Adams shocked a lot of people by showing up for jury duty in a full Next Generation uniform, complete with Tricorder and possibly a phaser (she would have to check the sidearm at the door). She was very boldly trying to live in Gene Roddenberry's vision of the 23rd and 24th centuries.
The world of 2011 may not seem much closer to the world of Trek than 1996, but it's actually possible for the average person to enjoy some of the technology and indeed even the environment of Star Trek in every day life.
While some of the future technology, like transporters, tractor beams and cloaking devices are still in the laboratory, below is a list of items available to the consumer to either buy or build.
1. Laser Pistol
This formidable-looking weapon is a closer cousin to the laser pistol worn by Captain Pike rather than Kirk or Picard's iconic phasers. It's hard to believe we live in an age where a consumer can purchase the parts to construct a "wear on your hip" laser pistol. This DIY weapon was constructed by Patrick Priebe and it can punch holes in thin sheets of steel with a single shot.
Even those of us not so handy can purchase a laser out of the box that will pop a balloon or light a match. (Always wear proper eye protection. If it can pop a balloon think about what an accidental reflection might do. No shields yet unfortunately.)
2. Ultimate Trek Apartment
In 1999 when Tony Alleyne's wife left him, he turned his distraught emotions (and over $160,000) into creativity and transformed his apartment into a true Trek environment. It took him 5 years to complete the transformation of his 500-square-foot studio apartment into a Voyager-esque world. Perceptive Trek fans will, of course, recognize the subtle differences from classic Star Trek: The Next Generation styling.
Fortunately for all of us, he turned his passion and obsession into a business. Now you can hire 24th Century designs to turn your world into a "Trek-scape."
3. LCARS in Your Pocket
It's great for RSS feeds, Facebook updates and all the usual suspects, and makes you feel like your using a control panel on the Enterprise, to boot. How can you beat that?
4. Communicators and Comm Badges
We've had flip-phones since the original Motorola Micro-Tac and Star-Tac phones that clearly resembled Kirk's era communicator. I can also guarantee that if you're reading this article you've almost certainly flipped one of the former open and called for Mr. Scott to beam you up (with a tiny hope that he just might).
If you're a TNG fan, you can now tap the likes of a Motorola CLP1040 two-way radio or a Vocera B2000 communications badge (both pictured) and call for transporter chief O'Brian for an away team retrieval. Easier still is this iPhone app that turns your smartphone into a classic communicator, and it isn't too hard to find replicas and toys, some of which really work.
5. "Switching to Visual"
Two-way video communication has been a reality for quite some time on computers and now phones, and is finding its way onto new platforms all the time. In the past, call quality was less than the Star Trek standard. There was a telltale jumpiness that made us look a bit like Max Headroom and it was typically not as easy as a phone call.
As the technology improves, the bandwidth, memory and video processing power available to the general consumer all increase. The jumpiness has reduced dramatically, and Apps such as Facetime and Skype (and others) are making video more like a phone call.
6. Check Your Tricorder Readings
It may not look like much, but this small-chip-and-iPhone combo (pictured) can detect gaseous anomalies. While it's currently being developed at NASA's Ames research center, it's cheap enough that it could conceivably see its way to the consumer market as a health and safety item.
There are still lots of apps that can make your iOS or Android device more like a tricorder, and they are available to everyone (most are free). Apps such as the Layar "reality browsers" can give you augmented reality information about a place or a thing just by pointing your device at it. What could be more tricorder-like than that?
7. Bridge in Your Bedroom
To say I wish this was available when I was a kid is an understatement. I wish I would have at least had the remote idea of this so I could have commissioned an artist to paint one on the wall of my first apartment. For those of us who can't afford the full conversion, wallpaper or paint can be just a s sweet.
8. "Your Agonizer, Please..."
It's a little scary that an item from Star Trek's Mirror universe — that parallel world with disgruntled and evil versions of all the characters — is also one of the easiest to find and least expensive. The agonizer — erm — stun gun is a common form of self defense in this day and age, and many of them pack quite a wallop.
Mr. Kyle will operate the transporter next time.
9. Klingon Music and Entertainment
Though not strictly technology, for total immersion in the Star Trek world, you can experience some of its entertainment today.
If opera isn't your thing, try the musical styling of Stovokor. You haven't experienced heavy metal until you've heard it in the original Klingon. Or go whole hog and just learn Klingon yourself — there's even an app for that.
10. Clothes to Look The Part
In the 1970s I risked life and limb wearing my itchy, polyester Star Trek uniform shirt. I wonder if my mother knew the irony when she bought me the red one.
Today, Trek is no longer some obscure canceled TV show from the '60s that only a precious few revered. Four additional series and movies in the double digits later, Trek is now as mainstream as can be. As a result, there are some truly remarkable (and comfortable) choices with details the discerning Trek fan appreciates.
11. Star Trek-Like Computer Interfaces
Other than the slick LCARS interface we already visited on this list, there's another key way Star Trek's characters interacted with the computers of the 23rd and 24th centuries: by talking to them.
For instance, the experience using theGoogle Mobile Appon your Blackberry or other smartphone is truly a Trek-like experience. Simply talk to it and it gives you answers not only based on your question, but your geographic location. I was in Eindhoven, Netherlands last year on business and it worked there just as well as in New Jersey.
A lot of phones feature that kind of functionality, to boot. Maybe not as wholly as in Star Trek, but we've had a feature from the far-flung future for a while now and hardly any of us really even noticed.
12. Live like Trek, Die like Trek
Nothing says a Star Trek funeral like being buried in a photon torpedo tube (pictured). Well, you can have that, too. There is actually a whole line of Trek funeral accessories from plaques with the United Federation of Planets seal to urns with the famous chevron shape.
Me? I'm still waiting for the option to have my funeral on Genesis.