Star Trek and Captain Kirk Inspired Mobile Phone Inventor

Fads | March 6, 2018

Star Trek...LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 29: William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. Original Air Date: 29 December 1967. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Star Trek and Captain Kirk Inspired the mobile/cellular phone inventor

Martin Cooper invented the mobile/cellular phone in 1973.

Techy geek, Martin Cooper, invented the original mobile/cellular phone in 1973. He drew on inspiration from his technological breakthrough resulting from the iconic television series, “Star Trek.”

On March 10,1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the historic first telephone call that gave birth to the cultural breakthrough that changed the world. Communication had taken on an entirely new medium. In addition to personal, face to face, conversation and the written word, “remote” communication had been born!

A mere 97 years later, in 1973, the Motorola company installed a base station to handle the first public demonstration of a phone call over a cellular network. April the 3, 1973, the cellular phone’s inventor, Martin Cooper, took his cellular phone technology to the big city, of New York, to demonstrate it to news reporters and the public where a call was made while standing on Sixth Avenue.

An entire worldwide telecommunication industry has, since, sprung up. Along with a wide variety of technologies, developments in basic and advanced mobile phones have materialized. In addition to that, mobile phone technology, has come a long way amid the years of development. Newer and younger inventors have come onboard to share their knowledge. to what we know as the smartphone today.

In 1973, there wasn’t an Internet, digital camera, or personal computer. Surprisingly, though, there was the cellular phone. The prototype version that would soon become the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, weighed 2.5 lbs., and had a single-line, text-only LED screen (GASP!). It was at least 10 years before Motorola’s, Dyna TAC finally reached consumer’s hands.

Martin Cooper, the inventor of the first cellular phone, was a general manager of Motorola’s Communications Systems Division, at the time. He called Joel Engel, an AT&T general manager, to tell him that the “race” to perfect cellular technology was over, and that Motorola had actually won the race! His exact words were, “Joel, this is Marty Cooper, I’d like you to know that I’m calling you from a cellular phone.” You GO Marty!

On September 21, 1983, Motorola made history when the company manufactured and produced the world’s first commercial, portable cellular phone. It cost consumers a whopping $3,995 at the time. Yikes!

The “communicator” was a “tele-communication” device used for voice communication in the fictional universe of “Star Trek.” The communicator was seen in at least two instances in the original “Star Trek” series episodes, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" and "Day of the Dove." The communicator also served as an emergency signaling device/beacon, similar to a transponder; DEEP, right? The communicator allowed direct, human, contact between individuals, via a ship's communication system.

There were no worries of the dangers of cellular phone radiation as a result of these devices.

The communicator, in the “Star Trek” universe, surpassed the known and acceptable capabilities of (then) modern, cellular phone technology, including the prototypes of which it inspired. It allowed Starship Enterprise crew members to contact other starships in orbit without relying on an artificial satellite to relay the signal. Communicators used subspace transmissions that did not conform to normal rules of physics, as we know them. What was known was that signals could bypass EM interference. Additionally, those devices allowed almost instantaneous communication at distances that would otherwise require more time to pass through.

In, “Star Trek: The Original Series” (TOS), communicators functioned as a “plot” device, trapping characters in challenging situations when they malfunctioned, were lost, stolen or went out of range. (Otherwise, the trasporter would have allowed characters to return to the ship at the first sign of trouble, ending the storyline prematurely.

Throughout “Star Trek: Enterprise and TOS,” on-ship communication was accomplished by communicator panels on the desks and the walls. At times communication was depicted through the use of videophones, which were state of the art. While on far away missions, the crew of the Enterprise carried hand-held communicators that flip open; like an old-fashioned flip phone. The top section contained a transceiver antenna and the bottom section contained user controls, a speaker and a microphone. The prop device was designed and built by Wah Chang, who also built many of the other props used in the series.

Wrist-worn communicators were used in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and continued to be used by certain Starfleet installations and vessels during the time of “The Wrath of Khan.” The traditional handheld communicator, however, returned in later movies. The reason for the switch was ever explained in the film. The non-canon source Mister Scott's Guide to the Enterprise, however, offered the explanation that Starfleet discontinued use of the wrist-worn communicators when they were determined to be prone to repeated failures after suffering minor impacts. How funny is it that they could travel through space and time but couldn’t work the bugs out of the wrist-worn communicators!

In “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG) and later series, Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel wore small communicator badges on the left side of their shirts. These devices are in the shape of the Starfleet insignia and are activated with a light tap; how convenient. They also utilize the universal translator. There have been two versions of the communicator badge. The first was used throughout the TNG series and during the first two seasons of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (DS9). The second was used in the last five seasons of DS9, “Star Trek: Voyager,” and the TNG films. Use of the badges dates back at least as far as the time of the “Enterprise-C.” wherein Lt. Richard Castillo is shown wearing a communicator badge on one of the TNG episodes.

According to the episode, "Time's Arrow, Part One," in a poker game in 1893, the badge was made out of a composite material of silicon, beryllium, carbon 70 and gold.

In “Deep Space Nine,” Bajoran officers and enlisted personnel also wear a small communicator badge that functions much like their Starfleet counterparts. Bajorans, however, wear their communicator badges on the right breast of their uniform tunics.

While wall and desk panels are still present, officers and crew consider them a secondary system, relying primarily on the badges. Viewscreens are used for visual communications. In Starfleet vessels and installations, communication can also be accomplished by verbally directing the computer to initiate communications with another person.

It is interesting to note that “Star Trek” predicted technology and inventions that came to fruition.

The “Star Trek” communicator actually relates to real and current technology. The tables have turned, however, in that in the beginning, “Star Trek” predicted this technology and now the world is able to purchase an iPhone application called the Star Trek Communicator. It is a replicated design of the “Star Trek” communicator, complete with that iconic chirp sound!

Other companies have also jumped on the bandwagon releasing their own versions of the communicator. They are highly, historically accurate with Bluetooth capabilities allowing it to be used exactly how it was used on “Star Trek.” Advances in voice recognition and cloud-based intelligence of today, would have been mind blowing to all involved back in the early days of “Star Trek.” Siri and Cortana were probably not on the radar of the communicator’s creators; although, they were very forward thinking.

A digital personal assistant was on call through the communicator. Crew members of the Enterprise could connect with the ship’s computer to gather much needed information. On “Star Trek,” the communicator was summoned to check on the status of a mission or to locate a lost crewmember. Siri, on the other hand, can order a pizza or make dinner reservations.

No real-world equivalent to subspace communication has been developed, proposed, or even theorized, to date. Many other aspects of Starfleet communications technology, however, are now known to be commonplace.

Traditional telephone booths are almost an oddity in this day and age. At one time, they could be found on every street corner. They have since been outdated due to the fact that most people, now, carry their own personal phone and have no use for a phone booth; unless they need to transform into a super hero or something like that!

A very substantial part of the first cellular phone was the battery, which weighed four or five times more than an entire rest if the cellphone and had a battery lifetime of only 20 minutes.

Cooper, the inventor of the cellular phone, had hoped that one day everyone would have their own handset. He even joked, “In fact, we had a joke that said, in the future, when you were born you would be assigned a telephone number and if you didn’t answer the phone, you were dead.”

Cooper is co-founder of many communications companies with his wife and business partner Arlene Harris who is also known as the "first lady of wireless." He is co-founder and current Chairman of Dyna LLC, in Del Mar, California. Cooper is also a member of several committees supporting the U.S. FCC and the US Department of Commerce.

Martin Cooper, had hoped, but didn’t actually think that in his lifetime, more than half the people in the world would have cellular telephones. Nowadays, Cooper’s brainchild is so widely utilized that people don’t go anywhere without their personal cell phone. Cellular phones started out as a modest prop for science fiction films and shows but have since become an invaluable tool in the modern day. Cellular phones give people access to unlimited communication, freedom and a sense of security.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Martin Cooper | Remember This?... | Star Trek | Technology | Telephones | William Shatner

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.