Inventors can draw inspiration from everything. Dreams, nature, and divine intervention are just some of the ways inventors say they have been inspired. But did you know some innovators have sought their muse from science fiction? Movies and books involving science fiction have stimulated the imaginations of inventors for hundreds of years and they have directly cited these creative works as the basis for their inventions.
Although the first successful submarine was built in 1620 by Cornelius Jacobszoon Drebbel, the watercrafts which most resemble the modern sub were invented by Simon Lake in the late 1800s. The father of the modern submarine, as he was sometimes referred to, was inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which he had read a few decades prior. Lake says he was captivated by the prospects of undersea travel and exploration so he responded to the U.S. Navy’s solicitation for submarine design concepts in 1893. Lake’s notable innovations include the periscope, ballast tanks, and divers’ compartments, and his submarine design was the first to successfully explore the open ocean. Jules Verne even wrote Lake a congratulatory note.
With eleven patents in the wireless communications field and the innovator in radio spectrum management, Martin “Marty” Cooper is often considered the father of the cell phone. While working at Motorola in the 1970s, Cooper created the first mobile phone and with the help of his team, brought it to market in 1983. Cooper drew inspiration from Star Trek and Captain James T. Kirk when he used his Communicator on the television show. Cooper says a personal telephone was appealing because it would be “something that would represent an individual so you could assign a number; not to a place, not to a desk, not to a home, but to a person.”
NASA physicist Jack Cover could boast an extensive list of accomplishments during his lifetime. He helped put the first man on the moon, tested experimental aircrafts during World War II, and created the Taser gun as a solution to airplane hijackings. Cover would often cite a popular juvenile science fiction and adventure series as his inspiration for his interests and career as a whole as well as creating the Taser gun. Tom Swift, the main character in the book series, used a weapon called the Electric Rifle in his adventures. Jack Cover named his invention after the protagonist’s weapon of choice; TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. Several other famous scientists and innovators have alluded to Tom Swift as a fictional role model in their lives, including Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, and Isaac Asimov, science fiction author and prolific biochemistry professor.
In late 2014, crowdfunders jumped on the opportunity to support Hendo in their quest to create the world’s first real hoverboard. More than 3,000 backers pledged $510,590 to support their Kickstarter campaign. Mentioning Back to the Future as the direct inspiration for their invention, Hendo caught the attention of science fiction nerds and media all over the world. Although the invention is still in production, Hendo mentions it will be powered by electromagnetic repulsion and will be ready by October 21, 2015 (a date mentioned in the cult classic movie). They even offered 10 hoverboards to backers for a steep price tag: $10,000.
It’s amazing to think innovators have drawn inspiration from science fiction novels and movies. What recent blockbusters do you think will inspire future generations of inventors – Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy, or even The Hunger Games?
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