Eureka!

6 times science fiction inspired real science

Joel Remy Gif via Giphy

ilbusca/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

What do self-driving cars, cell phones, and smartwatches have in common?

A century ago, they were simply science fiction.

There are countless inventions that echo the fantasy stories of decades past.

Some can be traced back to specific works of fiction, while others were inspired by more broad-reaching sci-fi themes.

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Feliks Tomasz Konczakowski via Giphy

And the influence of science fiction and science is more circular than you might realize.

Authors and inventors have always inspired each others’ works — directly or indirectly.

Here are 6 real inventions inspired by science fiction:

Shutterstock

6. Transparent skin cells

H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel, The Invisible Man, inspired a team of actual scientists to create transparent skin cells.

Joshua Sera via Wikimedia Commons

In 2020, researchers described in a Nature Communications report their ability to take a protein from the opalescent inshore squid and make almost completely see-through human liver cells.

“From my perspective, it's inspired by a lot of science fiction-type stuff that I used to love as a kid — those kinds of fantastic concepts that even H.G. Wells was thinking about 120 years ago.”

Lead study author Alon Gorodetsky, to Inverse

VICTOR HABBICK VISIONS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

5. Surgical robots

One researcher who created a robot designed for abdominal surgery told Inverse he was loosely inspired by the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage.

Vicarious Surgical

1966 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

In the movie, a submarine full of people is shrunk down and sent into a scientist’s bloodstream in an attempt to save him from a blood clot.

Vicarious Surgical

The real surgical robot doesn’t have humans on board, but its principle is similar — it can crawl within a dime-sized incision to repair what ails you.

4. Solar stations in space

The 1941 short story Reason by modern sci-fi pioneer Isaac Asimov described humans generating solar power from space — an idea researchers are taking a serious interest in today.

NASA via Giphy

European SPS Tower concept

As climate change worsens, organizations like the European Space Administration are looking to fund projects that will design solar power stations for space that will beam energy down to Earth.

Shutterstock

The idea of generating solar energy from space is widely attributed to scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovky in the 1920s — showing how the influence of sci-fi and real science feed each other.

3. Cell Phones

Captain Kirk’s communicator from the original 1966 Star Trek sure looks a lot like a cell phone. But which came first?

Joe Merrell via Giphy

Martin Cooper invented the first portable cell phone in 1973 while working for Motorola.

Ted Soqui/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Giphy

He’s quoted as saying that he took inspiration from Star Trek, but later clarified that he had been thinking about mobile phones before the show even debuted.

It’s a classic case of science and fantasy wandering the same paths.

2. Earbuds

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 mentions a device called the seashell or thimble radio, a small piece of equipment that nestles in one’s ear and plays music or talk shows. Sound familiar?

Shutterstock

Feliks Tomasz Konczakowski via Giphy

Though the invention of headphones dates back to the early 1900s, we didn’t see the explosion of in-ear listening devices and Bluetooth until almost 100 years later.

Shutterstock

And earbuds weren’t the only invention that Bradbury predicted — his work also foreshadowed flat-screen TVs and even the “digital wall” of social media.

1. Future Cities

The towering dystopias present in films from Metropolis to Blade Runner inspired architects to design cityscapes that mimic fiction.

Yaorusheng/Moment/Getty Images

“Ever since H. G. Wells wrote The Sleeper Awakes, in late 19th century London, the assumption was that the future was going to be vertically gigantic.”

Steve Graham, author of Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers, told Inverse.

guowei ying/Moment/Getty Images

It’s no coincidence that towering cities and impressive skylines exist today.

And as daunting challenges such as climate change threaten metropolitan areas, researchers are eyeing futuristic ideas, such as floating cities, to sculpt how we live in the future.

Shutterstock