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Star Trek is commonly cited as a chief inspiration for things that didn't exist in the late '60s when the show originally aired, but do exist now.  Captain Kirk's communicator inspired the flip phone,which then went on to become a powerful computer in our pockets that does a lot more than just communicate.  It can actually do some of what tricorders could do.  For example it tells me how many steps I have taken each day, and I have a thermometer that connects to my phone to tell me whether or not I have a fever.  Food replicators inspired 3-D printers, presumably including the one I read about last year that was being developed to print a pizza in the International Space Station.  I recently talked to someone who used a translation app on a smart phone that was inspired by the universal translator.  They used tablet computers in 'The Next Generation' -- I can't explain how we have them now, they didn't have them in the 23rd century, then they had them again in the 24th.  And of course, talking to computers.  Right, Alexa?  Right Siri?

So I was curious to see what inspired heat pumps, the heating and cooling technology that appears poised to take over from oil and natural gas heaters.  The concept was developed in 1852, and the first one was built in the 1850s.  So it's not new technology.  And i can't find evidence that it was inspired by science fiction, though it certainly seems like a nifty scifi concept to me. The idea is to condense a refrigerant substance in a coil at one end, and evaporate it on the other end.  The evaporation coil extracts heat, and the condensation coil releases it.

This is the kind of science that seems like magic, like wireless charging, which uses coils in the charger and the device it is charging to turn electricity in the charger to a magnetic field, then turn the magnetic field in the device back into electricity.  This concept, called magnetic induction, was invented in 1831.  So, also not new technology, though I did see an example of it in a Netflix show (made in Russia) called 'Better Than Us', about a sentient robot that occasionally had to find a charging strip built into a wall at about waist level, and stand there until she finally recharged.  But I can't find any examples of heat pumps in science fiction, so this is an example of science tht was inspired by science.

Heat pumps are a kind of scientific magic that sucks heat out of the air and transfers it somewhere else.  Your refrigerator has a heat pump in it.  The cooling (evaporation) coil is placed in the freezer compartment of a well insulated box, and the heating coil (condensing) behind or below the box.  That's why it's warm behind your refrigerator.  Because the heat has to go somewhere.

That's why science fiction doesn't like heat pumps.  Can you imagine the heat signature of heat expelled from the condenser coil?  It would be like shouting "Here I am, torpedo me!" to the Klingons performing a simple infrared scan!

Here on Earth, though, they are a good idea.  You might even say a cool idea, because even though they are called heat pumps they can be used to cool by reversing the output.  Aside from refrigerators, that's what air conditioners also do.  So one device for heating and cooling.  And you don't have to worry about a mouse getting into your central air conditioning unit in the winter and eating through the wire so when summer comes your air conditioner doesn't work.

The key to making the magic work is a reliable power source.  Even a space ship powered by dilithium crystals needs a reliable delivery system.  Presumably torpedo hits on the cables are what explains the sparking control panels when the Enterprise was under attack.  Although nothing really explains the Styrofoam rocks that fell from the ceiling of the ship's bridge every time someone shot at them.

That power delivery system, was patented by Thomas Edison in 1892.  He called it electric conductor.  We call it wire.  Going to technologies like heat pumps and wireless chargers only works if you can count on the electric wire to reliably deliver the energy needed to run them.  Not to mention charging our communicators, tablets, and tricorders.  So all these things, whether invented in the 19th century or inspired by a 20th century space drama, rely on a 19th century technology.  You'd think they'd have figured out how to make power delivery more reliable in 127 years since Edison patented electrical wire.

By the way, if you are a Star Trek fan you can make Alexa, who also relies on reliable electricity, more trekky by changing the wake word 'Alexa' to 'Computer'.  You can then say, 'Alexa, make me a cup of hot coffee" and if you happen to have an Alexa-enabled coffeemaker, she will.

I just asked Alexa what inspired talking computers.  Maybe she is embarrassed that she was inspired by a TV series from the 1960s, because she told me, "Hmm, I don't know that."

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