Great Scott! These tech predictions from 1985 actually came true!
On October 26th, 1985 at 1:20am, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown and his sidekick Marty McFly hopped into a time-traveling DeLorean DMC-12 (powered by a flux capacitor and Mr. Fusion generator to produce the required 1.21 jigawatts of electricity) and arrived in their hometown of Hill Valley on October 21st, 2015. It was an era full of embedded gadgetry, from home appliances to cars to even clothing. Sound familiar?
While it may have only been a 30-year gap, at the time, 2015 seemed like an entire lifetime away. Throughout the last three decades, the world has experienced plenty of advancements in technology, some of which would even put Back to the Future’s foresight to shame. But in other ways, the movie’s creators made some astonishingly correct predictions about the state of modern electronics — with pretty darn good accuracy, too! When it comes to making, innovating and engineering, who’s better than good ol’ Doc Brown?
Safe to say, today’s world is certainly reminiscent of 2015’s Hill Valley. Here’s how…
What was surely one of, if not, the most iconic pieces of equipment to arise from the movie, we’ve always wondered as to whether the hoverboard would actually to fruition. And it looks like you may be able to hop on one relatively soon. While it may not be a Mattel or Pit Bull, Lexus has unveiled a real, ridable prototype. Additionally, Los Gatos, Caifornia-based Arx Pax has also been developing one of their own, which recently launched a Kickstarter campaign that garnered over $510,000. Unfortunately, they both rely on magnets so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fly over water like Marty. And who could forget Canadian Maker Catalin Alexandru Duru who broke the world record for the longest hoverboard flight back in May? The inventor designed and built an actual machine that could lift off the ground a fairly decent distance, using propellers much like a drone.
In the flick, Marty and his sister spend their time at the dinner table behind a pair of digital glasses, watching TV and answering the phone through their shades. Nowadays, Google Glass more or less allows people to do all the same things, without the clunkiness. Then there’s the advent of VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and head-mounted graphical displays like Microsoft’s Hololens, which happens to have an uncanny resemblance to McFly’s.
Voice-controlled interfaces are now ubiquitous in mobile devices, computers and even several appliances. Heck, just ask Siri. Or Amazon Echo. Or several other alternatives including Homey and Mycroft that are undoubtedly ushering in a new wave of services that’ll listen to you and talk to each of the gizmos throughout your home.
When Marty Sr. is fired by his boss, the ousting occurs via a two-way video call. Not only are these calls commonplace these days on all sorts of devices thanks to apps like Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangout, but some newer smart TVs are even equipped built-in cameras. In fact, this medium has evolved from a mere business tool to an essential facet of everyday life.
“Alright! Self-tying laces!” Though Nike announced that it was actually going to manufacture auto-lacing high-tops in 2015, several do-it-yourselfers have already taken a stab at creating futuristic footwear. (You’ll want to check out Maker Hunter Scott’s latest project.)
“Size adjusting – Fit… Drying mode on. Jacket drying. Your jacket is now dry.” Complementing those automated kicks nicely, BttF II had projected a much more convenient age, one in which our clothes would automatically adjust to your body shape. (Talk about one size fits all!) These kinds of things are quite likely, just yet to be invented. We’re already seeing everything from heated coats to smart garments capable of providing their own cleaning instructions to Google’s Project Jacquard that can weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile. Also, it appears that the time-bending sequel may not have been too far off, as intelligent clothing is expected to explode in 2016.
“You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy!” Kids at Cafe 80s mock Marty for having to use his hands to play an arcade game, implying that Xbox Kinect-style gaming is the norm. And guess what? Today it is!
During the flick, a USA TODAY drone captures footage of young Biff being arrested. Today, small unmanned aerial vehicles are enabling photographers and journalists alike to catch footage that would otherwise have been unobtainable — which is not only appealing to cash-strapped news stations but those looking to report on dangerous situations. Take the Occupy Movement, for example, which used Parrot AR Drones to feed real-time events to the masses or CNN, who earlier the year signed an agreement with the FAA.
Wall-Mounted, Multi-Screen TVs
While it’s safe to assume that maybe not everyone has a wall-sized TV like McFly’s family, mounted flat (and even curved) high-def units are ubiquitous to say the least.
Perhaps Apple engineers turned to BttF II for inspiration when devising its Apple Pay fingerprint payment system?
As the movie revealed, those of the future are able to sign petitions (to save the clock tower) by pressing a finger on what looks an awful lot like an iPad or Kindle. Surely enough, over 233 million tablets are expected to be sold in 2015 — an 8% rise from 2014.
In our digital-savvy society, computers are here, there and practically everywhere — more so than ever thanks to the burgeoning IoT. For instance, our homes are now crammed with intelligence and connected to the web, enabling us to control everything from our lights to our thermostats to our ovens.
Looks like BttF was right once again, as entering your house, protecting your data and locating your belongings can all be accomplished through biometrics and contactless technologies, namely fingerprints and RFID.
Who could ever miss the vibrantly-colored raised pavement around Hill Valley? While we may not be seeing lit curbing in every neighborhood anytime soon, various efforts have been made to implement such technology to enhance traffic safety and promote traffic flow, as well as increase visibility for roundabouts, speed ramps, tunnels and dangerous corners. Plus, LED sidewalks have already emerged in places like the UK and Korea, and Virgin Media has even begun embedding the ground we walk on with Wi-Fi. The future is bright!
Since the film hit theaters, great strides have been made in identifying alternative fuel sources and smaller-scale fusion reactors; however, we have yet to arrive at a device like Mr. Fusion, which was able to transform household waste into energy for Doc’s infamous DeLorean. Though automakers have been focusing more on electricity than banana peels, there has been plenty of work done in the trash-as-gas realm. Environmentalists were driving cars powered by used vegetable oil a while back, while in a newer twist, the UK began running routes on a Bio-Bus that was fuel by food and human waste.
According to BttF, barcode license plates employed used to identify cars. It is assumed that they could reveal much more information once scanned than a standard plate which only previously displayed a six or seven alphanumeric digit combination. Well, it would appear that the filmmakers weren’t that off. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication and enhanced scanning technologies has even made way for lawmakers to petition futuristic identification on license plates.
Marty was able to order a Pepsi from an automated countertop the Cafe 80s, not too unlike today where robots can sell you coffee, brew you a cup of tea, whip up a perfect cocktail or even check you into a hotel.
Mrs. McFly throws a tiny Pizza Hut pizza into the family’s Black & Decker Food Hydrator and, in a few seconds, comes out as a full-size pie. While we may not yet have this impressive hydrator, we are inching closer to the day we can 3D print an entire pizza in just 20 minutes.
Upon landing in the future, Doc utilizes his specially-designed binoculars to spot Marty Jr. on the street. Not surprisingly, facial recognition is being used constantly today, from tagging people in Facebook photos to keeping away intruders at home.
For the most part, filling a car up is still practically the same as it was in 1985, but that could be about to change soon. One Dutch company debuted an automated fueling robot (TankPitstop) a few years ago, while another hands-free system is being developed in the U.S. by Husky. Then there’s Tesla, who has even unveiled a snake-like contraption for its electric cars to recharge when inside a garage.
Flying Cars and Skyways
Driverless, autonomous and connected cars are starting to hit the roadways, but flying vehicles? Not quite yet. However, projects like Terrafugia’s TF-X and AeroMobil 3.0 are hoping to change that.
[Images: Back to the Future Wiki; Universal Pictures]