Flying cars are coming soon and hoverboards are real, so how far did Back to the Future Part II get 2015 right?
As movie fans celebrate Back to the Future day on October 21, the Post takes a quick look at how much of the futuristic tech shown in the movie sequel in the late 80s has made it into the real world.
Fans of one of the most famous Hollywood movie franchises involving time travel celebrated Back to the Future day on Wednesday, with comical winks appearing in all manner of places such as railway timetable boards in some Western countries.
October 21, 2015 is the date Marty McFly and Dr Emmett Brown fast forward to in the second instalment of the series, thus entering a world populated by futuristic sci-fi gadgets like hoverboards (not to mention their flying car, the DeLorean time machine).
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” Doc Brown says at the beginning of the movie as they set the dials for an imagined future where cars are airborne.
While the world today may be a far cry from how the movie imagined it, some of the technology shown in the movie has become a reality, while some is just around the corner.
While you may not have seen them, hover boards have really been invented. They are slightly different from the one McFly uses to chase and evade his on-screen foes, but they are capable of lifting their rider off the ground.
The Hendo hoverboard, developed by US company Arc Pax, deploys similar technology to the one used for maglev trains but adapts it. Instead of hovering above a fixed track, the board “floats” above a specially made metal floor.
In contrast, similar boards that are capable of hovering over most surfaces use fan propellers to get airborne.
Meanwhile, in May the Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru set a new world record in terms of the longest recorded hoverboard flight by covering 250 meters in 90 seconds on a device featuring eight propellers.
Hoverboards are usually referred to commercially nowadays as “rideables”. They come in different shapes: some look like skateboards with motors attached; and some are one- or two-wheeled devices with a built-in gyroscope to help maintain balance.
The technology has been in commercial use for several years but only became popular recently when prices dropped and the gadgets were downsized.
Doc Brown somehow manages to convert a DeLorean sports car into a time machine, then takes McFly to a future where skyways replace highways and road signs float in the air.
A number of auto makers are reportedly making prototypes of flying cars, with some apparently due for pre-order next year. Production is slated for two to three years later.
Slovakian start-up AeroMobil unveiled its first flying car last year. The streamlined vehicle had a propeller at its rear and foldable wings on the side. The prototype is already working and it can fly as far as 700 kilometres per second, the company claims.
In the movie, bully Griff Tannen attacks Marty with a “fist of steel” in a “nostalgic” 80s bar. In this case, technology has only served to make a bad person worse - with the aid of a bionic implant.
The concept of a bionic exoskeleton is a popular one in the sci-fi genre and also in video games. From the Power Loader that helped Ellen Ripley crush those acid-hissing ETs in Alien 2 to the Metal Suit that US soldiers of the future wear to knock open walls in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, metal frames like these have been long shown in pop culture to make people faster, stronger and generally more invincible.
Defence technology company Lockheed Martin has already developed two bionic exoskeletons, some purposely for use by members of the armed forces.
The firm’s Fortis helps workers operate heavy machinery, while it’s HULC exoskeleton enables soldiers to carry heavier loads without losing mobility.
Virtual reality and video glasses
The movie shows an adult Marty McFly having dinner with his children, both of whom are shown wearing unusual-looking glasses that allow them to watch TV and make phone calls.
Augmented and virtual reality products are now on the verge of disrupting the technology industry, and existing products can already deliver impressive experiences.
Facebook recently snapped up Oculus Rift, a start-up that makes VR headsets, for US$2 billion. The VR company’s first headset will go on sale in the first quarter of 2016.
Meanwhile, Google released its own glasses in 2013 featuring virtual displays that appear right in front of the wearer’s eyes.
One of the biggest challenges, however, is that the audio-visual and video equipment in this field still prices out many consumers, and most people are not willing to put bulky products on their heads.
For a taste of the future on the cheap, consider buying a Google Cardboard headset, which somehow manages to combine virtual reality and cardboard for as little as US$25.
The device, which is hardly in the same league as Oculus products, hold smartphones in place in front of two lenses. When the user puts the device to their face and peers through the lenses at a particular smartphone app, virtual reality images appear.
The New York Times has said it will distribute over a million of these gadgets to its Sunday print subscribers early next month to promote one of its apps, as it tries to reel back in younger readers.
Smart homes that listen
In the movie, McFly and his girlfriend visit their home of the future and are amazed at all the smart technology. The house can be operated by oral commands, the lights turn on when ordered to you can even call for fruit to be dispensed from the ceiling.
While smart homes and smart technology is starting to feel increasingly commonplace, technology giants are pouring vast sums of money into designing “furniture” for the kind of smart home that everyone would want to live in.
Apple announced its HomeKit last year, which allows developers to make software that can control smart home devices from door locks to light bulbs.
Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi all have their smart home systems.
In fact, this is one area where fact has improved on fiction and man has one-upped the world of cinema.
The smart home technology of today not only listens to people’s commands but can also sense the humidity in the air as well as people’s movements.
One example of where we are headed is Xiaomi’s 200 yuan (US$31.50) smart home kit, which automatically turns on your bedroom light when it sense you are getting up from the bed.