In another example of Star Trek influencing real-life technology/research, NASA is spending $100,000 to analyze tractor beam techniques at its Goddard Space Flight center. The article referenced discusses past research and intial successes with "optical tweezers" that can trap objects in small lasers. Near-future applications could include installation of such devices on rovers to be sent to other worlds or deep space probes - allowing them to collect samples that otherwise would not be obtainable. Personally, I like the idea of the "optical tweezers." This could be a good term/technology for writers to use, especially if they want a credible tech basis for their writing. When I first heard it, I was thinkinging mainly about healthcare applications - like optical surgery, but you make your own decisions.
Speaking of healthcare, Roomba owners might find this interesting. Toyota and iRobot has developed a home-use "robot nurse" named Ava which could be available for purchase as early as 2013. I must admit that the video attached to the article isn't exactly something to ooh and ah about. Ava looks like a mobile broomstick/post with a tablet computer on top. That tablet would seem to be the key as the iRobot CEO mentions can show the face of a doctor or actually connect to a real physician. What isn't really mentioned is that this device could probably be easily adapted for healthcare monitoring. I mean basic vitals could be taken with attachments (automatic blood pressure cuff, pulse sensor, pulse/ox meter, respiration...) that are currently used by medical professionals.
The robot article also shows an example of another device attached to a patient's leg from the knee to the foot. The caption shows the device as something that could help patients walk, but not just by giving support and possible muscle enhancements. Patients who undergo knee surgery could use this device as part of their rehab and reduce the time needed with a physical therapist.
I've discussed bigger examples of this type of technology in my Iron Man 1/2 post last year. One thing I find interesting is the size difference between the device shown in the post developed last year and the picture of the device on the person's leg. While there are obvious differences in functionality, it's still interesting how much more streamline the medical device is and it's technology is only one year newer.