Future Now – Back to the Future – Where are we today?

I was recently watching the Back to the Future trilogy with my 10 and 8 year olds and thought it would be interesting to see where we are with the future that was predicted in the second film.

In 1989 the second of the Back to the Future trilogy was released, in this film Doc, Marty and Jennifer travel to 21st October 2015 to see what happens to their children. In that future we see a number of interesting technologies, in this article we are going to explore those technologies and see how close they are today.

We will explore each technology in the order they were first seen in the film.

Mr. Fusion

We first see this at the end of the first film just after the Doc arrives from the future. In the first film we learned that the power requirements for the Flux Capacity is 1.21 Gigawatts, therefore for this article we are going to assume that hasn’t changed. In the film the device is powered by trash and is small enough to fit on the back of the car.

A lot of research is going on today in to Fusion power generation, Lockheed Martin’s skunk works recently announced a “High Beta Fusion Reactor” that is expected to produce 100 Megawatts with the first prototype ready by 2017 which would “fit in the back of a truck”. They expect it to be ready for regular operation by 2022. The general reaction from other scientists to this news was negative with many doubting anything could be ready that soon or be that small.

While there is progress on this it is clear that we are no where near producing 1.21 Gigawatts today and it seems highly unlikely we will have that ability for a number of years to come.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 0%

Flying Car

Again we see this first at the end of the first film and then throughout the second film.

A lot of progress has been made towards flying cars however at present there are none that are commercially available, the companies that are working on them include Terrafugia, Moller International, Urban Aeronautics, MACRO Industries, Inc and French Government sponsored project called Xploriar.

Several of the designs make use of rotor’s to help elevate the car these would allow them to hover as well as perform Vertical Take Off and Landing.

There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed before commercial use of flying cars has a chance of succeeding, including Safety, FAA regulation, fuel efficiency etc. At the present time it is difficult to estimate when they will be available commercially.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 5%

Driving Glasses

Doc Brown wore these when flying the car, based on dialog during the film we can conclude that these provide camera views around the vehicle while driving.

We are going to assume of this article that the glasses also use other inputs to provide additional data.

Wearable devices are a big buzz word today with many vendors including Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, etc coming out with new devices all the time. Google Glass is probably the closest we have today to the glasses that Doc wore, however at present there is no direct interface to camera’s on cars that can be projected on Google Glass.

A number of car companies already provide technology that can warn you if you are too close to a car, or if you are swerving out of your lane, or a car is in your blind spot, etc. Again none of these today are linked to any wearable devices.

It is possible that some of this information could be linked with a wearable device in the next year, however it seems highly unlikely that the government would approve the use of glasses as an alternate to using real vision for quite some time.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 5%

Weather Control

Just after arriving in 2015 it is raining heavily, after they land Doc looks at his watch and counts down to when the rain stops. He then comments “Too bad the post office isn’t as efficient as the weather service.”

There are ways to control the weather today, in recent times China has launched rockets and aircraft to ensure that clouds stayed away from big events, This is achieved by load the clouds with silver iodide or liquid nitrogen — dry ice — to induce precipitation above reservoirs and rivers. In addition they currently have 50,000 people working on rain creation infrastructure to alleviate droughts.

While the technology does exist it hasn’t been widely adopted and most of the world has to deal with whatever nature throws at us. Whether that will change in the next year is unknown, we suspect that there will some who will be against it and other who will welcome it.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 5%

Self-tying shoes, Self-Sizing and Auto Drying Clothes

After they arrive in 2015 Doc gives Marty clothes and shoes which are clearly too big, once he puts them on the automatically re-size to fit him.

It is rumored that Nike are scheduled to release a self-tying shoe next year, however there is very little detail or substance to this. One of the biggest challenges with any of these is power requirements, while self-tying or self-sizing may not need much power it will still be needed and therefore need to be re-charged. Auto drying is a bigger challenge as you would need fans or a heat source and more power.

It seems unlikely that these will be common in the near future, only time will tell.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 10%

Floating Robotic Waiters

Inside the 80’s diner the customers are served by a floating robotic waiter.

While robotic waiters are starting to appear (see Quantum of the Seas Bartender), and robots are becoming increasingly complex the combination of a flying drone and robot to server customers is not quite a practical just yet.

The challenge here is the fact that at present floating drones require some form of rotor blade to produce the down draft needed, this would make them impractical for indoor use on a large scale. With that being said we will see in the next section Hoverboards that the technology does exists today in special locations, a restaurant could well be setup to utilize this technology, however the cost would seem to be prohibitive at this time.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 15%

Hoverboards

While escaping from Griff and his gang Marty commandeers a hoverboard.
Hendo Hover recently announced a working Hoverboard Kickerstarter campaign that can hold the average human, at present the technology only works over metal, however they are working to support other surfaces in the future. There are some skeptics to this project stating that it is all a publicity stunt, only time will tell, so far it has been fully funded and is still active on Kickstarter.

Others have tried to create similar technology but none have been successful or have been restricted by where they are able to operate.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 15%

Floating News Drones

After Griff and his gang crash into the courthouse we see a floating news drone watching the action. While drones are becoming more and more popular today and most are fitted with camera’s due to FAA regulations Is it doubtful that these will be common place this year.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 15%

Floating Robotic Pet Walkers

As Doc and Marty arrive on Hilldale, the future home of the McFly’s we see a dog being walked by a robotic flying drone.

This doesn’t seem to be too un-realistic given the current progress on Drone’s today, however we can see several challenges with this.

  1. Having a drone walking a pet would require software that could detected the environment around the drone to ensure that the pet wasn’t in danger from moving cars, dangerous terrain etc.
  2. Pets especially big dogs are strong, the drone would have to be very strong to be able to resists the pull of the dog if it wanted to chase something.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 15%

Fingerprint Entry to Property

When Jennifer is returned to her house by the police, they used her fingerprint to access the house.

This technology is available today on Cell phones, Laptop computers, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for it to be made available for access to properties.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 75%

Voice Activation

Once inside the house the police mention that the lights should be programmed to come on when entering the house. Jennifer says lights on and they turn on.

This technology is available today and can be seen in many different technologies from Cell phones, Microsoft Kinect, etc. Home automation is a growing business with multiple companies already providing or planning to provide products to allow this.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 100%

Flat Screen TV & Multiple Channel Viewing

When in the house Marty Jr tells the TV to show him multiple channels at the same time on a large flat screen TV.

Flat Screen TV’s are common place today and being able to show multiple channels at the same time is also possible on most devices.

Chance will be in common use by end of 2015: 100%

3 thoughts on “Future Now – Back to the Future – Where are we today?”

  1. Interesting post Chris. Speaking personally I think that the things that come into common use will be the things that improve on what we currently have. Things that are gimmicks will fade away ~ I Google glass and hover boards probably fall into that category.
    Flying cars are something that I don’t think can be implemented safely. If you think how people drive anchored by gravity, imagine the carnage they could unleash in the air. It might work if everything was automated and the only input the driver/pilot had was to set the destination.
    Fusion power will come eventually. It may be that all we are waiting for is one big breakthrough, but I think it is more likely to be one small step at a time.

    1. Thanks John, yes I agree on the automation part of cars it is needed on the ground and more and more companies are adding tech that is making cars safer.

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