For pure ‘80s charm, you can’t do much better than the Back to the Future series, which saw Marty McFly and Emmett Brown ping-ponging from the 1980s to the 1950s, before heading on to the future and back to the wild west. However, there’s nothing quite as retro as what people dreamed the future would be like in the past. In fact, a lot of the inventions that the film makers imagined might populate the world of 2015 already exist today. Here are 10 inventions that became real and another 5 that are on their way!
10. TV video phones
In the 1980s, nothing said science fiction so much as a gigantic wall mounted videophone. While we’ve spent two decades attempting to make communication devices smaller and more versatile, the flat-screen videophone has indeed come to pass, care of Skype enabled sets. Feel free to shout at the wall like it’s 1989/2015!
Doc Brown might be able to chuck a can of beer and a banana into a Mr Fusion Home Energy Reactor to kick start the DeLorean, but you really can run a car on household waste. Using a gasifier, any solid, dry organic matter can essentially be converted into gaseous fuel (see below).
To add to that, biodiesel is increasingly being considered as an alternative fuel source, while most cars in Brazil already run on ethanol, derived from sugar cane. However, even courtesy of a ‘Will it blend?’ test, beer cans are probably best left out.
8. Digital binoculars
You want digital zoom, facial recognition and viewing data? The future is now! Facial recognition software is already available on the iPhone, which can emulate much of these binoculars’ sci-fi functionality. If you’ll settle for a zoom lens, 3D mapping software, universal wi-fi and a top of the range hand held processor, then the iPhone really is the device of the future!
7. Holographic TV
IMAX 3D, anyone? We might be safe from a holographic Jaws 19 jumping out of the screen, but with the new era of full color 3D we are soon going to be exposed to such horrors as Piranha 3-D. Furthermore, there are suggestions that home sets will be able to carry 3D which won’t require glasses at some point in the very near future.
6. Split screen TV
In the movie, Marty Jr uses a TV to watch six different channels at once – which is more split screen than even Jack Bauer needed. If there’s one thing we like it’s television, so what could be better than watching half a dozen different shows at once? While it might not be the most useful invention, it really does already exist.
Above is the Toshiba Cell TV in action.
5. Social networking
While Marty is conniving to short change his employer before getting fired by his boss, Ito ‘Jitz’ Fujitsu, the screen throws up information such as the caller’s hobbies, favorite drinks, occupation and least favorite foods (Ito hates beer). While this might have seemed more game show than social media when the film was made 20 years ago, this is precisely the kind of thing we really do have today on applications such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. If you are unlucky enough to get sacked on online, you’re going to get sacked with friend recommendations and Farmville gifts floating in the background.
4. Remote credit payments
Imagine moving money to someone else’s bank account while you’re on the phone – already here! You can use online banking or PayPal to transfer cash, you can use a home card reader or, in the future, you might be able to use Jack Dorsey’s Square to authorise credit payments.
3. Self–fastening shoes
Apparently in the world of tomorrow our clothes will self-fasten. This is an idea that we can’t see soon enough, but lo and behold, it’s already here.
Step 1: In the summer of 2008, Nike realized that after 19 years they should darn well get around to releasing Marty’s shoes from the movie. The Nike Hyperdunks aren’t exact replicas (they glow in the dark and have ‘2015’ written on the tongue) but they’re the next best thing (see above).
Step 2: This clever fellow has attached a motor to the back of a shoe, allowing the laces to auto-tighten. Combine the two and the future is ready made in your hands.
2. Thumb print reading door locks
Though they might not be ubiquitous, thumb print entry systems aren’t that rare either. It’s not unusual to see them in secure access areas, while many companies are now adding thumb readers to company laptops – so every time you log onto your company computer you have to use the fingerprint scanner.
1. Dayglo hats
This is one invention that we definitely made happen – though we wish we hadn’t, because it’s ugly as sin. In fact, as is often the case with science fiction speculation, this is more retro than futuristic. See also the horrible fashion trend known as nu-rave.
Now, here are 5 inventions that are nearly in the shops – just not quite.
5. Self service gas stations
With the rise of self service in shops and eateries, can it really be long before we’re robo-serving ourselves at the gas station? We suspect not.
During an interview at the time of the film’s release, director Robert Zemeckis claimed that the hoverboards were real but not released to the public due to ‘parental safety concerns’. This was a lie. While larger hoverbikes, floating bars and a prototype hoverboard all exist (though that prototype only works if no one stands on the board). we’re still a few years away from anything like the flying skateboard depicted in the film.
3. Controller-less computer games
While playing Wild Gunman in the Café 80, the companion of a young Elijah Wood (who even then looked hobbit-y) tells Marty, “You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy.” It’s not totally clear if he’s upset because the game requires a controller or because it requires you to move – but we’re actually very close to games that require neither. Kinect for the Xbox 360 is a controller-less gaming system which will be launched later this year (and isn’t entirely unlike the PlayStation EyeToy which was released in 2003). Meanwhile, scientists have been working on games which can be controlled using only the power of your mind. They’re not in stores just yet – but they might be very soon.
2. Intelligent microwaves/Hydrating ovens
Okay, so we can’t hydrate pizzas, but we can hydrate mashed potatoes – and they’re awful. Also, while today’s microwaves can be set to intelligently cook food based on factors such as its weight, they really shouldn’t be left to their own devices. Soon, though, very soon…
1. Michael Jackson Robo-Waiters
While the makers of Back To The Future couldn’t have dreamed of the course that Michael Jackson’s later life would take, the Michael Jackson robo-waiter in the Café 80 could in fact be rather prescient. The King of Pop has so far earned at least $1bn since his death – can a future of Wacko Cyber Waiters really be that far away?
On a closing note, flying cars still aren’t available for purchase. We’ve checked. We do have an equivalent though. They’re called helicopters.