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Star Trek Technology Mini-FAQ 3/4
HOLODECK AND COMPUTERS MINI-FAQ
Updated June 17, 1994
Maintained by: Joshua Bell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Archive site: ftp://ftp.cc.umanitoba.ca/startrek/minifaqs/holodeck-faq
Answers to common questions as theorized by me, and based on canonical
and quasi-canonical information.
Comments, additions, suggestions, flames, etc. are welcomed.
* 1. How real is real? - Mechanics of the Holodeck
* 2. Where does it all end? - The Holodeck and troublemakers
* 3. What if...? - Limitations and possibilities of the Holodeck
* 4. Will it run Windows? - The Enterprise computers
* 5. Credits
* 6. References
1. How real is real?
"How does it work?"
The Holodeck uses 5 levels of simulation:
1) Things in the distance are holograms projected on the walls. (Like
the wall in "Encounter at Farpoint" or "Ship In A Bottle".)
2) Nearby things are holograms projected into space. An example would
be a tree or lamppost.
3) A fixed object that requires interaction is a combination of a
projected hologram and shaped forcebeams. A good example might be
steps or a wall.
4) A _static_ object which may be picked up, eaten, etc, is physically
replicated onto the Holodeck. An example would be food, paper, a
snowball, etc. These objects are independent once created, and may be
carried off Holodeck intact.
5) An _animated_ object is comprised of a partially stable form of
matter created by the transporter-based replicators for use in the
holodeck. This material is stable only within a holodeck or holosuite,
and degrades into energy if removed. (Encyclopedia). This is matter
held in place by forcebeams operating at a molecular level, as opposed
to actually replicating the object down to the molecular bonds.
Without the forcebeams, the object disintigrates. Examples would be
the gangsters in "The Big Goodbye", Picard's horse in "Pen Pals", or
Minuet in "11001001".
Note that levels 1-4 are relatively trivial for the ship, while level
5 requires more computation time... which could explain Riker's
surprise at Minuet (though he hadn't experienced her charms at that
point). It may also have not been possible prior to the enhancements
made by the Bynars in "11001001". This is supported by the
Note that if an object's status changes, the simulation type will
change seamlessly as well. For example, someone sees a distant tree
(hologram), approaches it and leans on it (forcebeams), breaks off a
branch (holodeck matter), then picks and eats an apple (replicated).
"What about eating on the Holodeck? Does Troi do it to keep thin with
all that chocolate she eats?"
Any food consumed on the Holodeck would be of level 4 simulation - it
will be as real as replicated food from a replication terminal.
"What is this 'meat puppet' description I've heard used?"
A 'meat puppet' is a old term resurrected to describe a replicated
humanoid form created on the Holodeck, and dragged around by
forcebeams. If the forcebeams failed, you'd be left with a limp,
"So can you take things off of the Holodeck?"
Yes. Any object replicated on the Holodeck may leave. Unfortunately,
it is sometimes hard to tell what is replicated, and what is not.
Snow, such as the snowball thrown by Wesley in "The Naked Now" is
easily replicated, and dampness is hard to simulate. The book thrown
by Picard in "Ship In A Bottle" would be easily simulated by force
beams and thus was not replicated.
The paper in "Elementary, Dear Data" was likely simulated until the
computer realized that it was going to be carried off the Holodeck, at
which point it would have been seamlessly replaced with a replicated
"Didn't Picard lie to Moriarty (in "Elementary, Dear Data")?"
According to various reliable sources, that was Gene Roddenberry's
intention. If the paper could have left, Moriarty should have been
able to, goes the logic. Fortunately, this scene was cut, and as
always, canon is what we see on the screen, big or small. This means
the whole argument against replicating people holds - that the
computer cannot store that much information.
"What about beaming things off the Holodeck (ala "Ship in a Bottle")?"
This has never been tried, as explained in the episode, which is why
the computer was unable to simulate the results. Replicated objects
should be able to be transported out of the Holodeck, but anything
relying on the forcebeams would instantly collapse.
As for uncoupling the Heisenberg Compensators - that would give a
random quantum state to each element of the transported object. It
would be akin to a molecular-resolution transport - probably deadly
for any living being.
"Now wait a second. How come something simple like the chair in TNG
"Ship In A Bottle" wasn't replicated?"
They were testing beaming something composed of the 5th type of
simulation; an object made of holodeck matter, just like Moriarty and
the Countess. Obviously a purely replicated chair wouldn't do for this
experiment, so Geordi probably tweaked the chair to be the right kind
of simulation to use for the test.
"Whats this about 'HoloSex'?"
If current trends are a pattern for the future to follow, then Virtual
Reality Sex will be alive and well long into the 24th century. Quark's
bar on DS9 has personal holosuites on the second floor. Various
stimulating programs are available.
In "The Perfect Mate", Riker manages to croak out something about
"I'll be in Holodeck 4..." after an encounter with the metamorph. No
proof that he did anything, true. Minuet (in "11001001") was "As real
as you need me to be." Uh-huh. Geordi doesn't seem to have much luck
off the 'deck, it seems, nor does Reg Barclay.
Draw what conclusions you will.
"What if you urinate/defecate/excrete whatever on the Holodeck?"
One would hope the Holodeck is smart enough to clean up after you. It
probably gets transmuted into some form the bulk matter stores can
use, and saved for later use by replicators or the Holodeck again. The
ultimate in recycling.
"Can you get hurt on the Holodeck?"
Yes. Even when it isn't malfunctioning, the simulation can't protect
you from your own stupidity. Broken ribs and arms from cliff diving
and other sports practiced on the holodeck are often seen treated in
"But the replicators can't even make unhealthy food!"
Replicators can (within limits of technology and energy) produce
anything for which they have a pattern. Certain objects may need
security clearance. But you can have the replicator make a glass of
water, and use the glass as a weapon - it may be smart, but it's not
"What happened to the "arch" they used in the first season?"
Its intended use was as a way to program the Holodeck and access the
ship's computer, as well as a virtual reality safeword. In later
episodes, they just used the "exit" and programmed the computer by
voice. It is still around, recently seen in "Ship In A Bottle". The
arch was how Moriarty first learned that he was a simulation, and
gained control of the ship in "Elementary, Dear Data".
2. Where does it all end?
"How do they manage to keep walking for hours and hours?"
The Holodeck has a forcefield treadmill. If its occupants get too
close to the walls, they are shifted away. Since the Holodeck can
modify its gravity in 3 dimensions, the occupants won't notice any
"But what about the walls seen in "Encounter at Farpoint" and "Ship In
A Bottle", demonstrated by Data?"
In "Encounter at Farpoint", Data threw a Holodeck-generated rock at
the wall. There are a few possibilities. Either the computer realized
the intent of the demonstration, and didn't replace the rock with an
image on the Holodeck wall; or the "simple pattern" of that simulation
didn't allow for treadmill-scrolling; or the Holodeck computer wasn't
quite powerful enough, pre-Bynar intervention.
In "Ship In A Bottle", Data throws his own communicator at the wall.
The Holodeck must have safeguards not to summarily destroy things it
didn't create, so it didn't do anything to affect the communicator.
"What happens if two real people enter a Holodeck and start running
away from each other?"
The simplest answer is that the Holodeck "compartmentalizes", in
effect becoming a separate Holodeck for each person within it. In
reality, the two people would probably be only a few meters apart, but
would be separated by a Holodeck-projected "wall". If they turned to
look at each other, they would see an image of the other projected on
"What if they take a real rock in with them, walk away from each other
(past the physical limits of the Holodeck) and then toss the rock back
This one is too easy. Assume the rock is sentient. When it leaves the
hand of the thrower, the holodeck "wraps" it in its own miniature
simulation, and hides it from the two people, who (in their own
mini-Holodeck) see only an image of the rock. The rock is then moved
(with forcebeams) from the thrower to the catcher, given the
appropriate kinetic energy along the way. From the rock's point of
view nothing out of the ordinary happens.
"So what if two people take a long rope, and start walking away from
The answer in this instance could be that the Holodeck hides part of
the rope, and projects an image of a tightening rope along with
In general, though, the answer to these "boggle the Holodeck"
questions is that no, it's not perfect. You will encounter limitations
to the technology, and gaps in the 'reality' will become apparent.
However, you really do have to be looking for problems to find them.
3. What if...?
"Can you go swimming on the Holodeck?"
Yes. Cliff diving has been mentioned as a recreation sport aboard the
Holodeck (in "Conundrum"), as has kayaking ("Transfigurations").
"So does it replicate all of that water?"
Probably not. What would likely happen is that a "personal space" of
water would be replicated around the person, and the rest of the water
in the pool, river, etc, would be a visual and auditory simulation.
There is no canon evidence one way or the other, however, although in
"Encounter at Farpoint", there was enough real water present to soak
"So what if someone is scuba diving, and the Holodeck door opens?"
Very likely, the forcebeams would give the sensation of a water
surface over the doorway. Depending on the simulation, it might be
possible for someone to wander onto a Holodeck, in normal duty
uniform, and walk around someone who is swimming several meters below
the "surface" of the pool. Only the swimmer would feel the sensation
of water around them. Again, no canonical evidence either way.
"How about a Holodeck within the Holodeck?"
This is done in "Ship In A Bottle". They end up with a Holodeck (in
which Picard was in control, and sent Moriarty away) inside a Holodeck
(the real one, in which Moriarty took control) by the end of the
episode. Is there a limit? Probably. No evidence for what that limit
"Can you get the Holodeck to simulate someone?"
Yes. Although done numerous times, including "Ship In A Bottle" and "A
Matter of Perspective"; "Hollow Pursuits" is the prime example of
this, and brings up the question...
"Is it ethical to simulate someone without their permission?"
Systems of ethics are by no means universal across cultural lines. Nor
can we extend our 20th century foibles to the 24th century, where such
things may be common place. In every instance, however, people thusly
simulated have reacted negatively when they find out - for example,
Troi, Riker, and Picard in "Hollow Pursuits" and Dr. Leah Brahms in
"Booby Trap" and "Galaxy's Child".
"So does the computer stop these simulations?"
Nope. Moriarty was able to do it in "Ship In A Bottle", without any
special permissions. It is amusing, however, to watch the episode
again, and see how the simulated characters appear slightly stiff.
"Could you simulate the Enterprise bridge from the Holodeck, and use
it to take over?"
The simulation would not be a problem - the Enterprise computer has
extensive files of all Federation starship layouts, as shown in
In three episodes, the Enterprise has been controlled from the
Holodeck - by Barclay in "Nth Degree", with a neural interface; in
"Elementary, Dear Data", where Moriarty somehow cracked the security
codes via the Holodeck Arch; and in "Ship In A Bottle", where Picard
inadvertantly gave Moriarty the security codes.
"Why not just have single-person Holodecks? For interaction, the
computer could just link them all together!"
According to the TNG Tech Manual, there are four primary Holodecks and
a number of personal ones. They could indeed be linked, but part of
the fun of a Holodeck is the interaction with other people, knowing
that they are real.
These do exist on Deep Space 9 in Quark's Bar, and are called
holosuites. Some are quite small (DS9 "A Man Alone"), others large
enough for a number of people (DS9 "Blood Oath").
"Why do people get dressed up before going to the Holodeck? Can't it
provide the period costumes?"
Yes. But they probably don't want to walk around the Enterprise naked.
It also allows them to get "into character" before entering the
"Wasn't there a Holodeck on the original Enterprise? I'm sure I
Not in TOS. However, in TAS the recreation deck had an environment
simulator that used holograms and "stock" effects to produce an effect
similar to the holodeck, but not as realistic or convincing. The best
example is the episode "Practical Joker", in which the computer
malfunctions, trapping Uhura, Sulu and McCoy in a series of hostile
This is probably what most people remember, and also the inspiration
for the Holodeck itself on TNG.
Sources like "Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise" mention similar
things, including rooms with hologram projectors for the walls alone,
but no canonical evidence exits.
4. Will it run Windows?
"So tell me about the computers."
According to the TNG TM, the Enterprise has three main computers. Two
reside in the Primary Hull (the saucer); they are vertical cylinders,
about 8 decks high, and located on opposite sides of the saucer,
flanking the bridge. The third computer is located in the Secondary
Hull (engineering), and is smaller than the other two cores; it
controls the Stardrive section when the ship separates.
The computers are networked with each other, and with the rest of the
ship via the ODN - the Optical Data Network. The ODN has enough
processing power on its own to take over limited control of the ship
in case of a complete computer failure.
"Why aren't the computers distributed?"
The three main computer cores are equipped with low level subspace
field generators. This allows signal propagation within the cores at
Faster-Than-Light (FTL) speeds, allowing the computers to perform much
faster than anything constructable given 20th century technology, even
theoretically. This cannot be applied (by 24th century technology) to
"Why do the displays and touchpads work when the computers are down?"
The displays use "nanoprocessors" - cell sized mechanical computers -
to display information. The display itself contains data polled from
the ODN, and based on user selections, displays whatever is
appropriate. So even if the computers go down, whatever information is
(1) already on the ODN (or ODN backups) or (2) in the display itself
can be selected and displayed.
"How big is a kiloquad?"
This hasn't been answered, and Michael Okuda is reported to have said
it *won't* be answered, as any number he could come up with would be
obselete before the series ends.
However, many r.a.st.tech contributors have converged on kiloquad to
mean 1000 (kilo) * 1 quadrillion bytes (or bits, but we'll stick with
bytes for the explanation), the premise being that a "quad" came into
use instead of "pet" for Petabyte, and the kilo- prefix was added as
"ex" for Exabyte was equally silly. That makes one kiloquad = 2^60
bytes ~= 1 billion gigabytes, or 1 million million megabytes. Thats a
Is this technologically feasable, given that an isolinear chip, quoted
at 2.15 kiloquad in the TNG TM is about the size of a microscope
From H. Peter Anvin:
> ...The 2.15 kqd isolinear chips [would have] a bit density of
> 2.94e+15 bits/mm^3 (I have assumed the dimensions to be
> 90x30x2.5 mm, this is probably on the high side if you exclude
> the part where you handle the chip); that means each bit could
> form a cube 7.0 nm (70 [angstrom]) to the side. The chips are
> optical, which I assume means they are read and written with
> electromagnetic radiation that behaves somewhat approximately
> like light. 7 nm is in the far ultravioled region-near X-ray
> region (visible light ends at about 200 nm) which is really
> pushing the limit. Assuming some form of multi-state encoding
> that may exist may push this down to near UV which would then be
> a bit more practical to deal with, and more "optical", but that
> is irrelevant.
> Hence, what we "know" about ST computer technology seems to
> correlate pretty well to the definition 1 quad = 1 quadrillion
> bytes. It may be bits or bytes (it is only a factor of 8,
> obviously... it changes 7 nm to 14 nm if it is bits not bytes),
> but it seems to fit pretty well.
"But a quad is a unit of energy!"
Words can have more than one meaning.
John F. Meyer Jr. <email@example.com>
H. Peter Anvin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(Pssst! Got your name in here? Have a WWW page you want your name to
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See the Reading List Mini-FAQ for full details on the volumes
mentioned above and below.
More recently presented information is considered to supercede old
information, unless the weight of the evidence supports the original
Greatest priority is placed on aired live-action material (canon) and
documents produced by or quoting the production crews for Star Trek
(quasi-canon), most notably the Technical Advisors to ST:TNG and
ST:DS9, Michael Okuda and Rick Sternbach.
Other materials are not considered reliable sources of information,
and anything gleaned from these is of questionable relevance.
* (VOY) Star Trek: Voyager
* (DS9) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
* (TNG) Star Trek: The Next Generation
* (TFS) Star Trek feature films
* (TOS) Classic Star Trek
* (Encyc) The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the
* (Chron) Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future
* (TM) Star Trek: The Next Generaion Technical Manual
Questionable (but useful) Materials:
* The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion
- contains some behind-the-scenes notes of interest
* Other episode guides (Compendium, Concordance, etc)
- useful, esp. for spellings and details
* The Making of Star Trek
- contains Roddenberry-approved TOS ship systems info
* Episode scripts
- spellings and fiddly details, except where they say [TECH]
* Trading cards (esp. Skybox)
- technical stuff often prepared by production staff
Material that is ignored (other than where it reproduces material from
the above, e.g. photographs, descriptions, etc.):
* (TAS) Star Trek: The Animated Series
* Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise
* (WoF) Worlds of the Federation
* (SFTM) Star Fleet Technical Manual
* (TJ) Starlog's Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Journal
* Other "reference" guides
* Novels, incl. novelizations of films and episodes
* Blueprints, drawings, photographs, models, etc.
Joshua Sean Bell <email@example.com>
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