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‘Star Trek’ just turned 50. Here’s how it helped inspire today’s tech.

Trekees head to the Star Trek: Mission convention in New York to celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary. (Video: Reuters)
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"Star Trek" first took viewers on a voyage to the Final Frontier 50 years ago on Sept. 8, 1966. That’s when the original television show aired on NBC, introducing pop culture to a crew that would become iconic over the following half-century.

But "Star Trek’s" vision of the future didn’t just inspire adoration for the swashbuckling Captain James T. Kirk or his logically inclined first officer, Spock. It also helped spur innovators to create technologies that have changed the way people live in the real world.

Here are a few examples of the "Star Trek" tech that’s now reality.

Communicators and the cellphone in your pocket

The golden walkie-talkie-like devices crew members use to communicate in the first "Star Trek" series looks an awful lot like the flip phone that may have been your first cellphone in the '90s. In fact, Martin Cooper, the man behind the first cellphone, specifically cites the show as one of the things that spurred him to create mobile phones — albeit his first version was a lot bulkier than the one Kirk carried around.

You can even watch Cooper describe how the Star Trek inspired him in this clip from the documentary "How William Shatner Changed the World:"

The Personal Access Display Device (or PADD) and tablet computers

Years before the iPad was announced, crew members of the Next Generation were using their own round-edged touch-screen computers. They even had a similar name: the PADD, short for Personal Access Display Device.

Doug Drexler, one of the designers behind the PADD, told Ars Technica that iPads felt “eerily similar” to his team’s vision of how a real-life PADD would function. "It's uncanny to have a PADD that really works," he said, calling it “the true 'Star Trek' dream."

Voice-activated computers and digital assistants like Siri

Computers could be pretty chatty in the "Star Trek" universe, even starting back in the original show. But now, verbal interfaces are on the rise in the real world with digital assistants that talk back, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. ( founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) We’re not at the point where you can order Siri to make you a cup of hot Earl Grey tea, yet — although Siri will joke about the replicators being broken if you try. But with the push toward smart devices and connected homes, that might become a reality.

Fun fact: Someday you might be able to get your virtual assistant to sound like "Star Trek’s" original computer, which was voiced by "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett. The official Roddenberry account recently tweeted that it had Barrett’s voice recorded phonetically, and it's working on making her a voice option for Siri and similar services.

The Holodeck and virtual reality

The Next Generation helped dream up the future of entertainment when it introduced the Holodeck, a room capable of immersing crew members who needed to relax into almost any digital simulation they could imagine. Today, virtual reality appears on the cusp of mainstream — although VR systems such as Oculus rely on a bulky headset instead of a dedicated space to transport users to different digital realities.

But at least so far there’s no signs that the VR systems rolling out now will encounter the types of errors that sometimes turned Holodeck visits into virtual prisons. 

Transporters and, well, transporters

Okay, so we’re not actually close to having Scotty beam us up. But there’s plenty of research and projects that are working to do similar things. For instance, last year German researchers unveiled a “teleporter” of sorts that uses 3-D printing to recreate objects scanned elsewhere. They even dubbed it “Scotty” in a nod to the "Star Trek" character.

Researchers experimenting with quantum teleportation have also reported limited success in getting subatomic matter to exist in two places at once. There’s obviously a huge leap between that and figuring out how to use similar tech to teleport a person, transporter-style. But that might be a good thing: Some "Star Trek" enthusiasts argue the show’s transporters work by essentially killing the original person while reassembling a copy of their atoms together at their destination.