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There are a lot of technologies which we would consider to be 'iconic' to the Star Trek franchise, such as the Warp Drive and transporters. When I consider these though, they are merely mechanisms were proposed to provide a technological basis of older ideas. Consider warp drive - it's really just a particular mechanism by which faster-than-light travel is accomplished. Yet, the concept of faster-than-light travel has existed long before Star Trek. Same with the transporter - it's just a mechanism by which teleportation, a fairly old idea, is accomplished.

So, what I'm looking for is what technologies in the Star Trek franchise are not merely new mechanisms for old ideas but are new ideas? Note, I'm basically looking for what technological concepts are introduced for the first time in the Star Trek franchise at some point (e.g. if nowhere before had the idea of a 'replicator' i.e. a machine which can produce just about anything, was an idea first introduced in Star Trek, then that would count). This is not seeking individual's opinions. Rather, I am looking for new technological concepts (not mechanisms) that were first introduced in the Star Trek franchise, specifically the TV series' and the films (i.e. TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT and all the motion pictures (yes - including the 2009 reboot))

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    Well Samsung & Apple have been locked in a patent war for the past decade or so regarding tablets and phones, and one of the arguments raised at some point was 'prior art' with Star Trek Padds being the 'art' in question – Robotnik Jun 23 '15 at 0:44
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    Tablet computers (iPad size) were used in 2001: A Space Odyssey way back in 1966. That's even before the internet. – paul Jun 23 '15 at 2:50
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    What's with the downvotes on OP's question? Feedback? – Praxis Jun 23 '15 at 3:41
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    @KyleJones : It is a difficult question, that's certain. But in my reworked answer below, I may have found something that fits the bill. – Praxis Jun 23 '15 at 4:19
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    I also can't see how this question is too broad; there are a limited number of technologies introduced in Star Trek, so there are limitations. The answer from @Praxis shows that this is indeed an answerable question – Often Right Jun 23 '15 at 4:22
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As OP pointed out, the warp drive and transporter are just new mechanisms for older ideas in science fiction. The replicator and holodeck don't count either — The Jetsons had both, only a few years earlier. Wonder Woman's invisible plane had cloaking technology in 1942, well before The Original Series ever did. The medical hypospray also existed in the real world before it did in Star Trek. Phasers ("ray guns"), artificial intelligence, and androids were also the stuff of sci-fi lore prior to Trek. Nanites aren't original either.

After ruling out nearly every technology that appears in Star Trek, here is the one concept I could find that actually appears to have been introduced for the first time via Star Trek:

Transparent aluminum

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty gives a commercial polymer expert the formula for transparent aluminum, thereby creating a transparent metal for the first time on Earth in the Star Trek universe. There may be transparent metals in other science fiction works (in various short stories — thanks @user14111), but this seems to be the first reference to transparent aluminum in particular.

Also, this may be the first reference to an ability to permanently transform a pre-existing real-world metal into a transparent form of the same metal.

I can find no earlier references in science fiction to transparent aluminum, and many journal articles on recent scientific advances toward transparent metal make reference to Star Trek's transparent aluminum.

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    Another thing is the idea of a combadge, not sure if that started in ST but they've made one of those – Often Right Jun 23 '15 at 1:28
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    Re: flip phones - I believe the main character in Get Smart had a sort of flip phone in his shoe, although I don't know if Get Smart predates ST – Wad Cheber Jun 23 '15 at 1:35
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    @WadCheber : See Motorola fact in updated answer. – Praxis Jun 23 '15 at 1:36
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    @wadcheber the get smart shoe phone, he removed the entire sole/heel of the shoe the phone was hidden underneath. So you wouldn't be face full of street candy – user16696 Jun 23 '15 at 1:52
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    Wasn't Wonder Woman's plane made of metal that became transparent? It didn't cloak the occupants, it just became invisible. – Samuel Jun 23 '15 at 17:35
3

The phaser. Not a simple death ray, it could be set to destroy (vaporize), kill, or merely stun (non-lethal force). Ray guns of other SF are always inflexible killing machines, where the phaser offered a flexible response to a threat. In today's world we have the laser, which perhaps implements the phaser's "vaporize" function (and to some extent realizes the classic SF death ray), and we have the taser, which is generally non-lethal, but doesn't really "stun" in the manner depicted on the show, and unlike the phaser, requires physical contact with the target.

I'd say that the phaser, with its full range of functionality combined into a single device, was unique to Star Trek when it first appeared, and remains so to this day.

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    There are a number of earlier stun-beam concepts listed here, not sure if any of them featured an adjustable beam that could also be set to kill but I'd be surprised if there were no examples of science fiction stories prior to Trek that depicted this. – Hypnosifl Jun 23 '15 at 3:02
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    Actually, just remembered the Stargate zat gun. It could stun, kill or vaporize, depending on how many times it was shot at something. But it appeared long after the phaser and the 1-2-3 escalation of effect is a wee bit hokey to me. – Anthony X Jun 23 '15 at 3:08
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    I like this, but I'm not sure this is in the spirit of the OP's question. The phaser, despite its range of functionality, is a new "mechanism" for an older concept. – Praxis Jun 23 '15 at 5:00
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    @Praxis - Agreed. The bolt action rifle was an improvement on muzzle-loaded rifles and muskets, but it was only an improvement, not a brand new concept. The same idea applies here. – Wad Cheber Jun 23 '15 at 5:12
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    Gotta agree with @Praxis on this one, although your input is greatly appreciated! I am definitely looking for entirely new concepts introduced in Star Trek rather than mechanisms – Often Right Jun 23 '15 at 5:34
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Not a new technology, but a novel concept for its time: the Enterprise bridge layout (round, helm/navigation paired toward the front, captain in the center, other functions around the perimeter). The US Navy has evaluated the concept for implementation on US warships. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Enterprise_(NCC-1701)#Science

  • @user14111 Just edited my answer to add a reference – Anthony X Mar 24 '18 at 2:00
2

Tractor Beams

aka Optical Tweezers

Optical tweezers (originally called "single-beam gradient force trap") are scientific instruments that use a highly focused laser beam to provide an attractive or repulsive force (typically on the order of piconewtons), depending on the refractive index mismatch to physically hold and move microscopic dielectric objects similar to tweezers. Optical tweezers have been particularly successful in studying a variety of biological systems in recent years.

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    Nope. E. E. Smith first coined the term "tractor beam" (an update of his earlier "attractor beam") in his novel Spacehounds of IPC, originally serialized in Amazing Storiesmagazine in 1931. The hero of his Skylark of Space books (1929 onwards), had invented "attractor beams" and "repellor beams." Repellors can also be emitted isotropically as a sort of defensive force field against material projectiles. – user16696 Jun 23 '15 at 15:07
  • @cde : You beat me to it. – Praxis Jun 23 '15 at 15:09
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    Disaster! I'm gonna leave this here anyway, I'd never heard of it before, maybe someone else might find it interesting as well. – Daft Jun 23 '15 at 15:13
  • If we are expanding into real things how about a working tricorder? spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/… – ivanivan Mar 24 '18 at 0:41

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