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Published May 16 2013

Benshoof: ‘Star Trek’ tech a reality? Make it so

FARGO - As fans flock to the local multiplex this weekend to watch “Star Trek Into Darkness,” they’ll see a utopian society set more than 250 years in the future.

The technology on display, as with all past “Star Trek” movies and television shows, is shiny, advanced and futuristic.

And increasingly becoming reality.

This past week, researchers at technology university ETH Zurich reported the creation of a micro-robot that can possibly keep people from going blind.

The little guys, about a millimeter in length and a third of a millimeter in width, can be injected directly into a person’s eye to deliver medication or remove scar tissue, according to the university’s researchers.

For fans of “Star Trek,” this sounds a lot like the nano-robots of the Borg, a hive-minded cybernetic alien race that assimilates other species using similar tiny robots.

To be clear, “Star Trek” didn’t completely invent the idea of nanotechnology – the Borg were introduced in an episode in 1989, long after scientists had discussed nano-bots in a theoretical sense.

But just now are we arguably seeing real-life applications of the idea that “Star Trek” used to make the Borg a more insidious villain than the New York Yankees.

And this isn’t the first time that some of the ideas in “Star Trek” turned out to be accurate.

For example, a handheld data tablet that officers in “Star Trek” used was called a Personal Access Display Device, or PADD. Now many of us have essentially the same thing, with a very similar name: the iPad.

Additionally, the ship computers in “Star Trek” were voice-activated and responsive before it was cool to have voice-activated and responsive computers. And the “Star Trek” computer didn’t have a strange name like Siri.

Most recently, Google Glass, though slightly ridiculous in its appearance, seems awfully familiar to the visor that “Reading Rainbow” creator and star and reader-out-loud LeVar Burton wore as Commander Geordi LaForge.

Of course, there are also plenty of items from the “Star Trek” world that are fantasy, pure and simple.

Nobody has found a way to recreate “Star Trek’s” transporter technology yet. And, as many of us are still relying on Rosetta Stone to get us ready for that trip to Europe, the universal translator of the future is still far away.

But after having at least some of its ideas come true, isn’t there a slight possibility that there’s more out there from “Star Trek” just waiting to be discovered?

Who knows, maybe somewhere in the universe there’s a planet full of people who look a lot like us, except with pointy ears, or with forehead ridges, or with nose creases, or those other ones with big and pointy ears.

Yes, clearly some of the aliens in “Star Trek” weren’t nearly as inventive as the series’ technology.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535