From the archives: Science fiction patents

The intersections between sci-fi and real patents: tractor beams, transparent aluminium, mid-ocean tunnels, and the prolific predictions of Hugo Gernsback.

Hugo Gernsback proposed provisional patents for inventions imagined first by sci-fi. Unsurprising, because he himself had predicted radar, television, remote controls, solar power, synthetic cloth, and videophones.


Around the same time as the Star Trek crew were introducing 1980s Earth to transparent aluminium, someone patented it for real.


A plan to tunnel through the Atlantic was earlier proposed by both Jules Verne’s son and Arthur C. Clarke.


Tractor beam
Leo Morey / Radio-Science Publications [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tractor beams were first mentioned in sci-fi in 1931. Eighty years later, we have actual working prototypes.

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