I'm not a smoker, but I thought that Heinlein's self-lighting cigarette idea is a darn good one. Are any of his fictional inventions actually being produced or researched in the real world?

  • Tangentially, in "For Us, the Living" Heinlein appears to have correctly predicted the year WWII would end several years prior to the actual event. I've always wondered if that was editing or scary coincidence.
    – morewry
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 5:35
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    In his Future History stories, an inventor suggest a helpful device for the electricty-starved world in the book - an IR sensor light switch, that shuts lights off in rooms with no humans in them. Those are now available in real life. Commented May 16, 2015 at 12:14

4 Answers 4


Well, one leaps to mind: The therapeutic Waterbed. Heinlein described it in detail enough that there was some issue on the patent.

To quote from the Stranger in a Strange Land page:

Stranger contains an early description of the waterbed, an invention which made its real-world debut a few years later in 1968. Charles Hall, who brought a waterbed design to the United States Patent Office, was refused a patent on the grounds that Heinlein's descriptions in Stranger and another novel, Double Star, constituted prior art.

This site lists 119 inventions credited to RAH; I'm not sure I agree with them all, but it's interesting to look at. I think it is more of a 'Credit for the Idea' than a true list of inventions.

Also he didn't invent them, but he's the source of the term 'Waldo' for remote telefactoring devices.

  • I think a waterbed appears at the start of Beyond This Horizon. It empties itself as part of Felix's wake-up call.
    – sueelleker
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 17:25
  • @sueelleker - You are correct; it does appear there, but is only described with "Hamilton became aware that the water had drained out of his bed, and that he lay with nothing between him and the spongy bottom but the sheet and the waterproof skin." Stranger is usually sited, tho, as it has a bit more descriptive info, "The patient floated in the flexible skin of the hydraulic bed." "Nelson opened a valve at the head of the bed; water drained out." "...fill it first. Frame did so, cutting off the flow when the cover skin floated six inches from the top." as does Double Star.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 17:39

Too many to list here. A few are:

  • CAD/CAM software, from A Door into Summer.
  • Robotic Prosthetics, from Citizen of the Galaxy
  • Computer Controlled Cruise Missle, from Citizen of the Galaxy
  • Genetic engineering, from Between Planets
  • Waldoes (remote manipulators), from Waldo and Magic Inc
  • Computer controlled showers, from Starman Jones
  • Voice activated security locks, from Stranger in A Strange Land,



Since your question currently is not limited to technology, I feel compelled to mention to grok, a term Heinlein coined in Stranger in a Strange Land.


Cell Phones

He used the concept of portable phones in many of is novels starting in 1948. The basic concept of his "pocket phone" was just that, a phone that fits in your pocket and allows you to make phones calls from anywhere.


He came up with an idea strikingly similar to velcro in 1957's The Door Into Summer. Velcro was patented in 1955 and the company built an office in the US in 1957, with the US patent filed in May of 1958.

The Internet

He also predicts the internet in a couple of his books. His first attempt was not digital, but pneumatic, and involved live librarians who sent you copies of requested data.
His second attempt, which was in 1983 was a bit more on point, but since the internet already existed, this isn't as amazing, but what is pretty cool is how he describes using the technology and getting lost in endless clicks while doing research.

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    Welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy. Good first answer! Could you add the titles of the works you have in mind for your examples of the Internet? Oh, by the way, you might like to take the tour.
    – SQB
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:32
  • There were mobile phones in science fiction well before Heinlein started his writing career, e.g., the pocket radiophone in Donald Wandrei's story "Finality Unlimited" in Astounding Stories for September 1936, and the pocket videophone in Thomas McMorrow's story "Mr. Murphy of New York" in The Saturday Evening Post for March 22, 1930.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:04

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