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Sci-fi travels from imagination to reality

"Star Trek" and "The Jetsons" were science-fiction fantasies, but there are some real-life, real-time products that have resulted from such vivid imaginations. Among them are virtual keyboards and video glasses that work with smartphone devices and iPods.
Image: Virtual Laser Keyboard
Is that thing real? The answer is yes ... and no. The keyboard is a projected image, but you can really use it — anywhere. The Power Positioning Group

Early on, I gravitated toward sci-fi movies and television.

Of course, part of the allure was the gadgets. I loved thinking someday those devices would no longer be figments of the imagination. In the future, they’d be real.

“Star Trek” was the motherlode of super-cool gadgets, with transporters (teleportation devices), holodecks, replicators, PADDS (Personal Access Display Devices), comm badges (tap and talk) and so many more things, they’d fill a gynormous, online encyclopedia.

While airplanes are still the preferred method of rapid travel (even on “Star Trek,” transporters were still secondary to shuttle and ship travel), we have seen some real-life variations of those futuristic visions.

PDAs, smartphones, Pocket PCs, the iPhone, electronic readers and tablets are our PADDs of today; mobile phones and hands-free headsets work like comm badges, and very similar to the communicators from the original series.

After “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” came out nearly two decades ago, I wanted a robot companion. If he’d been as funny and sarcastic as Twiki, I would’ve been over the moon. I liked him better than R2D2 because Twiki could talk, not just blurt out beeps and whistles. I know, I know: R2 had personality. I just like my robots to speak human.

If only I’d have waited a couple years later.

Sony would make the AIBO robot pet and later the QRIO humanoid robots (jumping ones are on YouTube). Neither made it into households on any significant level (QRIOs weren’t even sold), but both fueled the idea that later generations might have robotic friends in their future. For now, kids have toys like Wow Wee’s RoboSapiens.

And there have also been mini-versions of R2D2s for those “Star Wars” fans who want to share the experience with their children. Some have voice recognition and are supposed to respond to an owner’s commands. Having seen one in action, they’re still a long way from being what you’d call any kind of artificial intelligence threat.

Myvu Corporation

But some devices make us feel like it’s not too far off. The portable I-Tech Virtual Laser Keyboard ($150) projects a keyboard onto any surface if the one on your BlackBerry or other smartphone isn’t doing the job — say for a lengthy e-mail or Word doc revisions.

Then there are the visors that allow users to experience video on their iPods as if they had their own personal movie theaters in front of them.

Myvu Solo Plus ($200) looks a little bit like those awful, skinny sunglasses from the ’80s. If you can get over the aesthetic silliness, it’s a great way to make the most of the viewing capabilities of the device.

Other variations of this theme include ezVision Video Glasses ($300), iTheater XT Video Glasses ($249) and Vuzix Iwear Glasses ($350).

Wish list includes time travel
When it comes down to it, sci-fi has and will always fuel my desire for gadgets. If it’s influenced you the way it has me, you probably have a little wish list going. Here’s mine:

  • Dr. Who’s Sonic Screwdriver: an all-in-one fixer-upper that seemed to work for a myriad of situations. And it was compact!
  • Time travel. Maybe not the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” or the nudity-required device from “The Terminator,” but something along those lines, to try to do some things differently. Actually, the remote control in the movie “Click” was pretty good for pausing uncomfortable situations and righting past wrongs. For the same reasons, I’d allow myself to be reduced to the molecular level if transporters were real, just to save time flying.

  • An invisibility shield, like on “Stargate: SG-1.” Aah, just to disappear for a little bit and catch my breath.

  • The Neuralizer from “Men in Black.” If you recall, this handy fits-in-your-black-suit-pocket device scrubbed short-term memories, usually in situations where mere mortals saw extraterrestrial activity, or the aliens themselves.

  • And, a big, silly dream of mine is a spaceship that folds into a briefcase, like on “The Jetsons.”

But for now, I suppose I’d settle for a hybird compact SUV with all the bells and whistles. That’ll be my next ride. If it flies — bonus points.