How Sci-Fi Masterpieces Turn Into Start-up Ideas

How Sci-Fi Masterpieces Turn Into Start-up Ideas

If Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” premiered today, it might not have become one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all times. Aside from its stunning visuals, iconic music, and thought-provoking plot, an important element of this genre’s charm was and will always be a fantastic, yet believable technology. We love science fiction because it promises that we’re getting such technology sometime in the future.

Over 50 years ago, AI and newspads were a technology that we want, a technology that solves today’s problems or could’ve made our life much easier. Today we carry AIs in our pocket and “newspads” are already on the verge of extinction. This is how quickly a technology can go from an impossible idea to a boring routine. Reading or watching a sci-fi story with tech that we actually have today is… well, nothing special at all.

And here’s something fantastic about science fiction – it creates a market with a zero proposition and a consumer base that is ready for innovation since childhood. Because for many, the predictions of old are the startup pitches of youth. Pitches that can be quite lucrative. So can we take an advantage of ideas that are on the surface? Here are several proofs that their time might have already arrived.

Driverless cars have a long road ahead

If I ask you where you’ve first seen the concept of a self-driving car (or a “robo car”), most would probably remember a somewhat uncanny looking taxi driver from the 1990 movie “Total Recall”. It has almost become public’s go-to image for an artificial chauffeur which owns its appearance to the 1966 novel by Philip K. Dick. Certainly not the first concept of a robotised car, but it’s the one that helped to cement the idea in the collective subconscious. Maybe in the same fashion as the 1982 TV series “Knightrider” made us want an AI-powered vehicle.

Today Tesla and Google’s self-driving cars trying to find their spot in this market. A market which by some estimates will be reaching $42 Billion by 2025. Smart cars need a lot to successfully force out the “analog” ones and software is one of those things. A California startup Civil Maps understands that and has raised almost $6.6 million (with Ford Motor among the investors) to provide 3-dimensional maps for the cars of tomorrow.

Carbon stairways to heaven

But let’s get back to Sir Clarke and his other masterwork “The Fountains of Paradise”. While the idea of a space elevator may not belong to him (such concept was suggested by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky some 120 years ago), it’s often quoted as an inspiration by those who are building it right now.

Even now the idea of a gigantic tower that would theoretically reduce the cost of delivering cargo to a geostationary orbit from $40,000 to $100 per kg seems ridiculous. But Elon Musk believes in it. Even Google wants to build one! But should you hop on this “craze”? Probably no as the market already seems overcrowded. Better put your efforts and resources into researching the carbon nanotubes. It’s the main component lacking for Google to unfreeze their project and for Elon to get back into it.

VR in your backpack

As for something more recent and entertaining, consider watching a weird cyberpunk anime “Serial Experiments Lain” which is often overshadowed by “Ghost in the Shell”. It blooms with futuristic ideas and an augmented reality is one of them. Today the augmented reality can be one of the most popular mobile game, a relatively affordable Windows gadget, and a whole mobile platform.

But what in 1998 was a creepy and stereotypic-looking geek with a VR goggles and a backpack computer, is predicted to become a $9.55 Billion market by 2022. And you were wondering why HP, Zotac, Alienware, and MSI are releasing their somewhat yet difficult-to-imagine-in-everyday-life PC backpacks.

The Good, the Bad and the Smart

Smart guns have been a golden thread of sci-fi worlds for decades. From automatic turrets in Aliens to Judge Dredd’s Lawgiver handgun. The later is actually an interesting piece of tech. It not only features several types of rounds but also has a built-in DNA-scanner. It works as a safety lock which preventing it from falling into the wrong hand. Additionally, it tags every bullet fired for accountability.

Isn’t it the exact same ideas pursued by a legion of startups? That’s supported by President Obama, and competes against an $8 Billion market of the traditional firearm? We’re far from an ideal smart gun solution, but the occasional solutions supported by investors and grants prove that there’s a demand for them on the market that is still open to suggestions.

Should you invent, improve or innovate?

While not all of these concepts have been realized successfully yet, they do show promise. Most of them address the real-life and not fictional problems. For some, the generation one might fall flat. But so did the tablet PC presented by Bill Gates in 2001 only to be overshadowed by the iPad nine years later. The inventor of the later one admitted that “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”. So why not steal from the source material itself? Next time when you’ll be looking for what to start-up or invest in, flip through the pages of Sir Arthur Clarke’s or other future gazer’s works.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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