Today, October 21, 2015, is the very day Marty McFly and Doc Brown appear in the famous DeLorean time-traveling machine from the year 1985. Back in the 80s, when the second installment of the Back to the Future trilogy was released, the year 2015 must have seemed like the distant future, full of technology that would be have appeared completely unrealistic at the time. Naturally, as the day approaches, and the fictional timeline and our own merge, picking apart the hugely popular film and working out what it may or may not have correctly predicted about 2015 is a geeky necessity.
The most memorable image of the film – the 80s-clothed youngster flying through the future on a hoverboard – is fiction no more. Just this year, three different hoverboards have been demonstrated to be practically viable, albeit with some very different technologies.
First off, Lexus – with considerable pomp and circumstance – has premiered the Slide, a hoverboard that uses superconducting magnets, which are cooled by liquid nitrogen to imbue them with their super repelling powers. This allows the user to genuinely glide almost frictionlessly through the air, hovering a good few inches off the ground. It looks the part, it certainly works – the one slight problem is that without a custom-built magnetic track, it won’t work.
Hendo Hover, a hoverboard that also does what it says on the tin, is a slightly cheaper alternative, using a series of conductors and electromagnets to levitate the rider above the ground. You’ll need your own bespoke copper skate park again, though, so unless we suddenly decide to infuse the tarmac outside with copper, this won’t be available for everyday use.
Oddly, the only hoverboard currently available that actually works without any of this custom skate park tomfoolery also happens to be the cheapest: Mr Hoverboard, which definitely sounds like it would fit within the Back to the Future aesthetic, is only $420 (£270), and it definitely hovers above the ground. Perhaps disappointingly, there isn’t anything futuristic about it – it is powered by four large leaf blowers, illuminated underneath by LEDs. To be fair, though, it does work anywhere outside.
Either way, hoverboards do exist, so I’m going to give the film series a point here.
2. Self-tying shoelaces
Back to the Future II exhibited a Nike shoe that, apart from a glowing base that features in the film, also had power laces that tied themselves. Although Nike is actively working on making this a reality, these wonderful creations don’t really exist yet. Sorry, Marty.
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Holograms are definitely real, that’s for sure. They’re everywhere in the fictional 2015, but in our world this isn’t so much the case. They do exist, though, and although we don’t see them when walking into bars or coffee shops, the real-life holograms are even more advanced than their Back to the Future counterparts.
Researchers at the Digital Nature Group have invented holograms that, far from just being projections you can ogle, react to being touched. That’s right: in 2015, we have the capability to produce holograms that we can touch and physically feel. These magical fairy lights are generated by a series of lasers that “excite,” or ionize, the air particles, generating something called a plasma. Not only does this process cause the emission of light, but the suspension of plasma (a mixture of positive and negative particles) in the air interacts with anything it touches, including human skin.
As it turns out, these holograms feel like sandpaper. They might not use artificial intelligence to interact with us, but they are technically more advanced than even the film could have foreseen.
4. Interactive screen technology
Between punters using video chat to communicate with each other, having paper-thin televisions that could stream all kinds of content on demand, ordering things on tablet computers, and seeing advertisements blared gregariously on screens of all shapes and sizes in every part of society, Back to the Future II really nailed this one on the head. What it didn’t get right was that we can do all of these things, and far more, using a device that can fit into our pockets: the smartphone.
5. Biometric security
Speaking of interactive technology, there are a fair few examples in the film where fingerprint recognition technology is used, which is commonplace today. Not only that, but retinal scans, and even scans which recognize the user from their unique brain activity are also genuine technologies; another example where the real world 2015 is more bizarre than the fictional one Doc Brown was waltzing around.
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We do have robots, but for the most part they are relegated to laboratory testing areas for now. Although they can perform some complex tasks when controlled by a human, autonomous robots currently have trouble walking through doors or falling over without faceplanting. Drones, personal or otherwise, are ubiquitous these days, so perhaps they should be walking dogs instead of clumsy bipedal machine men.
7. 3D movies
Yep, these exist in both the fictional and real worlds. Unfortunately, they are just as irritating in each.
8. Augmented Reality
Another hit: this technology has been brewing away as a workable concept for some time, but has recently made headlines with the briefly publically available Google Glass. Its optical head-mounted display feeds additional information about the world, such as the weather forecast, traffic patterns, social networking updates, directions and nearby friend locations straight into the eyes of the user, “augmenting” reality. It can film, take photographs, play music and translate signs in front of the user from one language into another within an instant. Meanwhile, the Oculus Rift, another modern contraption, is a virtual reality headset which effectively creates the illusion of being able to directly interact with a virtual environment.
The Back to the Future II variant is the offspring of both. Good work, Doc!
9. Flying cars
Sadly, this has not yet come to pass. Tantalizingly, a prototype flying car has been developed and shown to work: developed by AeroMobil, it can reach speeds of 160 kilometers per hour (99.5 miles per hour) as a car and 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour) as a plane. At the flick of a switch, it transforms between the two in only two minutes. However, it uses the same technology found in small planes to fly, not some antigravitational wizardry as seen in the film. Marty and Doc get another point here as the flying car technically does exist, but unfortunately it isn't for sale to the public just yet. For now, where we’re going, we still need roads.
10. Pepsi Perfect
Image credit: MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/Shutterstock.
Pepsi has jumped on the populist bandwagon here, manufacturing a limited edition bottle of its flagship beverage – Pepsi Perfect – identical to the prop used in the film. I can’t give the film a point here for correctly predicting the future Pepsi bottle design: the soft drinks giant clearly looked back at the film and released this rare collectible version of its fizzy stalwart to cash in on the anniversary.
Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey
So, Back to the Future II scores a remarkable 8/10 in its predictions of the future. Great Scott! That’s pretty good going. Hoverboard race, anyone?
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