There’s no question that science fiction inspires us. What’s amazing is that when an idea by a writer directly inspires an inventor to actually create a working version of that concept. But it absolutely has happened and continues to happen. Below are examples where the creator cites the specific inspiration or we can reasonably assume some influence because of how similar the creations are. What will be most interesting is to see a similar list in ten years. Will we have invisible cloaks, holographic communicators, or hyperdrive by then? Well, scientists are working to create such things that at this point are still just fantastical ideas in our minds. But take a look below and you’ll see how frequently ideas have turned into reality.
Inspired by Jules Verne
Inspired by the 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, American inventor Simon Lake sought to create a submersible vessel like the one Captain Nemo piloted. He created the Argonaut in 1898, the first submarine to successfully operate in the open ocean – and earned a letter of congratulations from Verne himself.
Igor Sikorsky, the inventor of the modern helicopter, was also inspired by Jules Verne, specifically his novel Clipper in the Clouds. Sikorsky often quoted Jules Verne, saying “Anything that one man can imagine, another man can make real.”
Robert H. Goddard was the American scientist who created the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. He claimed he was inspired by the concept of interplanetary flight that he read about in War of the Worlds in 1898.
Physicist Leo Szilard read The World Set Free in 1932, about a world powered by atomic energy. He solved the problem of creating a nuclear chain reaction by the following year. The book also inspired Szilard to campaign for arms control and peaceful international use of nuclear power.
Inspired by Arthur C. Clarke
British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in the early 1980s, an early version of the Internet we use today. He claims he was inspired by Clarke’s 1964 novel Dial F for Frankenstein. The story featured a platform that allowed computers to communicate with one another.
Inspired by Robert Heinlein
Heinlein wrote a short story in 1942 about a physically infirm inventor, Waldo F. Jones, who utilized a remotely controlled mechanical arm. The nuclear industry later created mechanical arms for handling nuclear materials and named it the Waldo in honor of its inspiration.
Heinlein’s 1956 novel The Door into Summer featured cleaning robots. Specifically, there was a robot called Hired Girl who just swept all day long without supervision, just like the Roomba and iRobot Scooba.
Inspired by Doc “E.E.” Smith
Doc Smith released pulp sci-fi novels in the 30s and 40s about the Lensmen, galactic cops (Green Lantern was also inspired by this) who got their orders from the command ship The Directrix. In a 1947 letter, sci-fi editor James W. Campbell informed Smith that this had inspired a U.S. naval officer to introduce the concept of combat information centers aboard warships.
Inspired by Star Trek
Motorola’s director of research and development in the 70s, Martin Cooper, the inventor of the first cell phone, has credited the communicator in Star Trek as his inspiration. “That was not fantasy to us,” Cooper said, “that was an objective.” Their 1996 StarTac phone took the inspiration to the limit by creating a clamshell design that directly mimicked the communicator from the show.
Steve Jobs’ iPad tablets for Apple bore a strong resemblance to the PADD (Personal Access Display Device). To be fair, these were also described in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 novel as newspads.
Apple scientist Steve Perlman claims he was inspired to invent Quicktime, an efficient multimedia player, when he watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that featured a character watching multiple music tracks on his computer.
Inspired by Tom Swift by Victor Appleton
The Tom Swift books were about a young genius and his adventures, written by many authors. NASA physicist Jack Cover invented the TASER and claims he was inspired by one of Tom Swift’s inventions. In fact, he says it stands for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.
Inspired by Neal Stephenson
In Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, people go online (they call it the Metaverse) and interact with each other through avatars. Philip Rosedale created the online community Second Life in direct response to the concept.
Inspired by Back to the Future II
Companies Lexus and Hendo both have prototype versions of a magnetic hoverboard, directly inspired by the device featured in the then-future of 2015.