9 Sensational Sci-Fi Ideas That Came True

The company said the vehicle, recently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, reaches 115 mph in flight.

3-D Printing

Imagine that you're on a camping trip in the middle of the woods and realize that you forgot to pack a screwdriver. Or you're hours away from home when your car breaks down and you need just one crucial part.

Cooper said that it might not be so long before a 3-D printer lets you create those objects on the spot.

In "Star Trek," Captain Kirk and his comrades called them replicators. But Cooper said military officers might soon be able to use 3-D printers to manufacture parts they need for their tanks while fighting wars in the desert.

"I think it's kind of where PCs were 20 years ago," she said. "I think we're going to see this become much more capable really fast."

For example, a Brooklyn, New York-based company called Makerbots sells 3-D printer kits for about $1,000 that let people "print" 3-D plastic objects. Once customers assemble the kit, they feed the machine a 3-D design. The company says the Makerbots can create almost anything that's four by four by six inches.

Though most 3-D printers mostly deal in plastics, Cooper said printers that produce metal objects -- and even human organs -- could be down the road.

Space Tourism

In the sci-fi classic, "2001: A Space Odyssey," a Pan Am space plane shuttles passengers to a space station. We're not there quite yet, but thanks to commercial space pioneers like Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk, we're getting closer.

Branson's Virgin Galactic is testing spaceships that could carry tourists on suborbital flights and, according to the Associated Press, already has a list of 300 clients willing to pay for the $200,000 ticket.

Musk's SpaceX reached a major milestone in June, when one of its rockets achieved Earth orbit as planned. At the time, Musk said the successful maiden voyage bolstered President Barack Obama's plan to give private companies contracts to carry cargo and people to the space station.

"That makes you think of these sci fi heroes that could always design spaceships to go off planet," said Cooper. "That used to be something we wrote a lot about."

Motion-Controlled Computing Reaches Consumer Electronics

Gesture computing and control is another fiction-becomes-reality kind of technology.

"Gestural computers – computers that respond to hand gestures – that's become associated with the 'Minority Report,'" said Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of the popular tech blog io9.com. "Actually, the first time that people probably saw computers like that was in 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.'"

In that 1951 black-and-white film, she said, one of the characters simply uses his hands to manipulate data on a massive computer screen. In "Minority Report," Tom Cruise's character pulls on a glove and then is able to do the same thing.

The average computer may still come with a keyboard, but more and more technology is becoming motion-controlled.

Last month, Microsoft launched Kinect, its new game controller that recognizes players' gestures and voices. Even Apple's multitouch iPhone, laptop trackpads and new Magic Trackpad use technology that responds to users' hand and finger movements.

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