What Did Back To The Future Part II Get Right And Wrong About 2015?

21 October 2015 is of course ‘Back To The Future’ day. It’s the exact date that Marty McFly visited in the classic 80s comedy ‘Back To The Future Part II’. 

Sadly there’s no sign of any flying cars zooming past our windows but there is some hope for us futureheads though, with a surprising number of innovations predicted in the film now almost a reality.

2015 has arrived so let’s see the technology of ‘Back To The Future II’ that came true…

The gadget: Hover technology

The reality: Researching anti-gravity/electromagnetic technology is nothing new (even the Nazis had a go), but high speed Maglev trains are as far as we’ve come. Tech firm Arx Pax successfully raised $500,000 on Kickstarter last year to launch the Hendo, which it claims is the first Hoverboard. Using electromagnets, it actually DOES hover. However it will only float over a special conducting surface. Ditto a rival version made by Lexus that also requires constant intake of liquid nitrogen to cool it’s superconductors. Lets just say neither will hit the mass market any time soon.

Otherwise, the dream of a flying car is kept alive with more traditional rotor engines (see the crazy Terrafugia TF-X). 

The gadget: Portable Thumb Unit

The reality: Biometric payment (linking your body to your bank account) has been around for more than ten years, with BTTFII’s idea of “thumbing” cash spot on. US company Pay By Touch used fingerprints to authenticate $8 billion of transactions in 2006, and though they’ve now gone bust, the technology is being better developed elsewhere.

The gadget: Holobillboard

The reality: Advertisers are already using massive digital billboards to push their products, and whilst we haven’t had holographic sharks leaping out to eat us just yet, British Airways recently unveiled two incredible interactive billboards in London that showed children chasing passing flights. Digital posters meanwhile, are everywhere.

The gadget: Griff’s Bionic implants

The reality: Bionic implants were illegal in BTTF’s 2015 (you can spot posters to “Legalise bionics”), but in reality they’re already vital to medicine. From advanced prosthetic legs to pacemakers and cochlear implants, bionics actually change lives. Powered strength-boosting exoskeleton suits, and bionic legs for the paralysed are a hot research topic, and the US Military are developing nano implants that’ll “kill” diseases.

The gadget: Barcode license plates

The reality: Actual barcodes probably won’t replace numeric license, as we still need to visually identify cars. The idea of “scanning” a plate though has been around since the 90s. Police cars worldwide carry Automatic Number Plate Recognition (or ANPR) devices, while Average-speed Cameras and fancy car parks utilised the technology too.

The gadget: TV/Computer glasses

The reality: Wearable TV glasses have been around since the 90s, and never really took off (because they were a bit rubbish). However, still-experimental Google Glass or Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR tech looks like it could be exactly the hybrid entertainment/information headset the filmmakers predicted. Something else producers got right though: just how antisocial personal technology could become.

The gadget: USA Today Hovercam

The reality: Using unmanned aerial drones to obtain difficult to get news footage is fast becoming common practice in current affairs broadcasting. From the recent violent protests that tore through Ukraine, to showing the vast scale the UK’s currently flooded South, we saw it first capturing Griff’s arrest outside the Hill Valley courthouse.

The gadget: Wireless videogames

The reality: When Marty aces the Wild Gunman arcade game in Hill Valley’s retro-themed Café 80s, two tikes (one played by a tiny Elijah Wood) aren’t impressed: ‘You mean you have to use your hands!’ These days, Nintendo’s Wii and the Xbox Kinect have revolutionised home entertainment, and Apple’s Siri software has made voice recognition a widespread reality, though they still haven’t replaced the humble controller quite yet.

The gadget: The Jaws 19 hologram ad

The reality: Alright we don’t have holographic marine monsters stalking our streets, but “behavioural targeting advertising” is definitely a thing. Our digital lifestyle choices are constantly clocked by web services to sling personalised (and sometimes interactive) advertising experiences/pop-outs our way. There’s no reason a more 3-D experience couldn’t be next.

The gadget: Multi-channel video screens

The reality: In 1989 UK terrestrial TV had just four channels, and cable/satellite was rare. Some Smart TVs now front picture-in-picture features, swathes of channels and thousands of shows on-demand. A few years back US providers DirectTV debuted the Game Mix feature, allowing audiences to watch eight NFL games side-by-side, if they really wanted to. Another thing BTTF got right.

The gadget: Auto-adjusting/self-drying jacket

The reality: “Intelligent clothing” is already here, with everything from temperature-regulating jackets to heart rate bras and motion-detecting trousers (for exercise) either on sale, or in development. As for self-drying clothes, “water-wicking” fabrics seem more sensible to us than that hairdryer effect.

The gadget: Video conferencing

The reality: Video conferencing might not seem like a big deal, but that’s because we all got over the webcam a decade ago. Video calls, Apple’s FaceTime and of course Skype have changed the way we talk to each other for good – making everything from board meetings to long-distance relationships that little more possible.

The gadget: 3D movies (and their sequels)

The reality: The Holomax hasn’t arrived yet, but Hollywood’s current 3D trend has now gone beyond a gimmick, becoming a staple of modern cinemas and constantly advancing.

So-called 4D films (wind, rain, tilting seats) are now theme park regulars too. Unsurprisingly though, ‘Jaws 19’ hasn’t happened (we couldn’t get past ‘Jaws 5’), but countless sequels? We can believe that.

And, the gadgets the movie got wrong…

The gadget: Marty’s “power lacing” Nike MAGs

The reality: After Nike producing a limited look-a-like range in 2011, designer Tinker Hatfield announced the company would put out real-life “automatic lacing trainers” in 2015, just in time for the anniversary. Sadly we’ve seen no signs of them so far, though they might arrive on the big day.

The gadget: Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor

The reality: In theory Mr. Fusion could vanquish our environmental problems: Clean, instant energy, and efficient waste disposal in one. Unfortunately it is just a theory. So-called waste-to-energy (or WtE) systems do exist, for instance farms that cap manure pits to harness methane (but farms aren’t that portable). Otherwise, they’re known as furnaces.

The gadget: Black & Decker Food Hydrator

The reality: You’ve eaten a Pot Noodle? Then you’ve eaten dehydrated food – and home dehydrators are already easy to come by. The power to rehydrate entire pizzas in seconds though – using a voice controlled, microwave-like, device – just doesn’t exist. Never mind, they got the half-n-half pizza toppings right, and we’re all over that.

The gadget: The Weather Service

The reality: One of the most mind blowing aspects of ‘Back To The Future II’ (at least to our British minds) is the ability of the weather service to predict and control the climate down to the second. Unsurprisingly, the science of meteorology is slightly more difficult to master than that, and for all the hardwork the Met Office might do, chances are it’s still going to rain on your BBQ.

Read more
- Zemeckis: BTTF wouldn’t get made now
- The Sad Story Behind Back To The Future Bully Biff
- Great Scott! Marty and Doc finally reunited

Image credits: Universal Pictures