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Happy Back to the Future Day

“Two thousand fifteen? You mean we’re in the future?”

Today is the day Doc Brown and Marty McFly entered “The Future” in Back to the Future Part II.
If you haven’t watched this movie, what are you doing on this site? No, really, log into Netflix, Amazon, drive out to the store, and watch it. Many movie theaters are also showing the movies in honor of 30 years from the original movie’s release. Go see it. I’ll wait. …
While today this movie goes from the present to completely in the past, back when it first came out 26 years ago it was their idea of what 2015 might just look like. It was innovative. Now not everything came true, but we sure tried to make it happen. It’s not much different than the Popular science and “Home of Tomorrow” kinds of stories about what the future would be like. Most were wrong, but they helped shape what technology was invented. Every kid who left this movie wanted a hoverboard. Talk about viral marketing. Just about everyone knows what a hoverboard is, and had they existed the could have sold every one they made the day the movie came out. Alas, we would have to wait over 20 years to get anything close.

Some people are upset the future did not live up to the hype of the movie. They like to point out the shortcomings, but there is plenty it got right.

In honor of this day I’m going to take a look back and compare some of my favorite pieces of technology in the movie, versus what we have today.

Mr. Fusion (2/10 – still a ways away)

Let’s start with Mr. Fusion. The small portable fusion reactor that runs on garbage that sends Marty, Jennifer, and Doc to the future. Today in 2015 we do not have small coffee maker sized fusion reactors in every home and able to power vehicles. Small fusion reactors are being researched at Lockheed Martin.


There are even kids not even old enough to drive making fusion reactors in their garage.

While the garbage interface is still quite a ways away, fusion is being worked on in smaller and smaller scales.

Self Tying Shoes (8/10 – do we really need electronic shoes?)

While Nike has a patent on self tying shoes the idea has never made it into widely available consumer grade shoes. What has made a large impact are shoes that just don’t have laces and depend on elastic or fit to stay on. Not completely new, but more widely available in a variety of shoe styles.

Elastic laces have been introduced in a variety of shapes as well for instant lacing.


Auto Sizing/drying Jackets (8/10 – do we really need electronic jackets?)

Auto sizing and drying jackets have not made their way to the market. The ability is there I’m sure, but the cost to use case just aren’t. Wearable and washable technology is a possibility. Sadly buying a jacket the right size is cheaper than making one that fits everyone. Advancements in drying have been made without built in blow dryers. Moisture-wicking clothes are now used for all sorts of sports gear to make clothes dry faster. However, Air conditioned jackets are a thing.

 Jaws 19 Hologram (4/10 – improvements, but more to come)

While Jaws 19 has not yet been produced and greatly overestimated the popularity of the movie. With all the remakes and prequels and sequels, would we really be surprised? 3D movies themselves have taken off once again from their blue/red counterparts but are once again slowly fading into the background.

Now, as for the 3D hologram that chomps at Marty that is marketing Jaws 19. While not as interactive and large, we have 3D viewable displays that do not require special glasses. These are used in the Nintendo 3DS as well as some televisions and monitors. While still a bit of a fad, the final word on if this will catch on in useful ways remains to be seen.

“Holograph” performers have even made news in the past few years. Though mostly a bit of old school smoke and mirror trickery, the added digital graphics makes them more realistic and able to interact with the audience.

Not to be outdone, real 3D displays made of lasers have been developed but they pale in comparison to the large animated shark.

Pepsi (10/10 – ?)

There’s not much we can say about Pepsi. It’s still around. So is Classic Coca Cola. New Coke didn’t even make it out of the 80’s. Even in the movie this was a futuristic rendering of a retro 80’s drink. There’s not much more we can say about this.

The table shows a Pepsi showing up from within the table. While this is certainly possible, this is one where I’d say we took it a step further. Many stadium vendors now how cups that fill from the bottom.


Robotic waiters (8/10 – Possible but still too rigid)

Max headroom stayed in the 80’s but automated staff has only blossomed since the 80’s. One good example is a hotel front desk managed by a variety of robots.

Video games without controllers (10/10 – look ma, no controllers)

Though only briefly mentioned in the movie. Today the Xbox Kinect has enabled many to enjoy hands free video game play.

Flying cars (5/10 – never took off)

Flying cars are still just an idea that never really took off (Pun totally intended). There have been plenty of concepts and prototypes, the biggest issues still remain. Logistics of taking people who can’t reliably drive on the ground and have them worry about traveling in the air with others. Then there is the whole running out of gas and falling out of the sky scenario. Perhaps automation in driving cars, transferred into flying cars could make this a reality someday, it still leaves a lot to figure out before you let your 16 year old take your car to the sky.

Video Phones/Glasses Phones (11/10 – the future is now)

Video phones are everywhere today, from Skype to Facetime. The advances in cell phones have made video an everyday thing, and sharing it even more possible. Google glass, Microsoft Hololens and similar devices have also made glasses style communication possible and taking them one step farther.


Food Dehydrators (5/10 – lost cause)

Food dehydrators are possible, but the hardly give the results as seen in the movie. Even much of the food that was dehydrated in the early space program days is now just prepackaged for reheating or mixing as you would in a normal kitchen. The consistency of most dried foods just doesn’t match that of freshly made.

Hoverboard (5/10 – wishful dreams)

Oh the elusive hoverboard. Always imitated, never repeated. Many have tried, but the technology is still unable to match the movie magic.

This one requires a special metal surface, but was perhaps one of the first magnetically driven hoverboards.

Not to be out done, Lexus came out with their own brand which is the closest to date. Though keeping a supply of liquid nitrogen around to keep it running may be a bit of a detractor for a casual hoverboarder. It does work on similar principals.

While we still look to these technologies and see the dreams of the 80’s, there is still plenty of things that were never even touched. Commercial space travel may soon be available. Being able to carry complete computers that can access endless information all in our pocket. Car tires that don’t need air but still provide a quality ride. The potential of hyperloops for high speed travel. The list is endless, and in 30 more years we will have even more great technologies. Let’s just hope one of them is a consumer grade hoverboard or a flying car.

Maybe the fact that Doc Brown left our timeline in 1985 is one of the biggest reasons we don’t have some of these technologies completed. 🙂

Always remember as we progress into the future and develop new innovations, we need not be held to the roads built by the predictors of the past. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

(Some images and video are the property of Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, U-Drive Productions and others)

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