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Back To The Future II - Which Tech Advances Did It Predict?

Source: BBC
Images: Universal Pictures

It's Back to the Future Day - the date Marty and Doc crashed the future in the second of the three time-hopping sci-fi adventure films.

The sequel was released in November 1989.


And watching it back nearly 26 years later, it's impressive to note how many tech trends it predicted, even if it also contained its fair share of misfires.

 

Getting Around

"Where we're going, we don't need roads..." - well, that's one promise that didn't work out.

Flying cars have always seemed to be just over the horizon. Boston-based Terrafugia, for example, promised to start selling a model in 2012, but is still trying to get its business off the ground.

But while BTTF was overly optimistic about vertical take-offs becoming the norm, it did nail one detail.

Listen to the sound effects used for its automobiles as they pass, and you hear the near-silent hum that's become associated with Toyota's Prius and other electric-powered four-wheelers.

Throwing your rubbish into a car's Mr Fusion energy converter to provide it with power remains fanciful.

But there have been moves towards powering vehicles with waste.

 


Bristol and Bath recently started running buses powered by treated thrown-away food and sewage, and there are efforts elsewhere to convert agricultural waste into a petrol supplement.

 

Furthermore, Biff's payment of his taxi ride with a thumb-print isn't totally dissimilar to how we now hail cars and cashlessly pay for them using Uber, Hailo, Lyft and innumerable other pick-up services.

Even the film's iconic hoverboard chase scene is no longer totally outlandish.

 

Lexus showed off a working hoverboard of its own in August, albeit one that relied on a hidden metal track being buried into the ground. More recently, skateboarder Tony Hawk was filmed tryin g out a rival version, called Hendo, based on similar magnet-based technology.

Looking Good

The tech world's current fascination with wearable tech was foreshadowed by Marty's talking jacket.

And while today's clothes can't yet blow-dry us when we get wet, some fashion pioneers are experimenting with weaving electronics into their fabrics.

 

So, BTTF's message-flashing police hats have a parallel in CuteCircuit's tweet-displaying dresses, and Nike has even filed a patent for self-lacing shoes similar to those featured in the film.

Rise of the Robots

 


BTTF's drones may only make fleeting appearances, but feel very "of the moment".

Media organisations, including the BBC, have started deploying camera-enabled aircraft to get new perspectives on the news - even if they might not be comfortable sending them into the kind of crowded situation USA Today's model films in the movie.

 

Dog-walking drones are also a real thing - at least if you believe everything you see on Vimeo and YouTube.

 

Another type of robot featured in the film is a mechanical car fuel attendant.

The Netherlands has already tested such a device a few years back, with the TankPitstop project, and Tesla is developing something similar for its electric vehicles.

Entertainment

 


We've, thankfully, been spared Holomax sequels to Jaws.

But the film industry hasn't given up on the idea of 3D technologies - its latest pitch is a laser-projection system said to deliver "brighter, crisper and clearer" images.

neatly, the innovation premiered in London earlier this month with Robert Zemeckis' latest film The Walk - he is, of course, also the director of the BTTF trilogy.

Back to the Future II was closer to the mark when it came to home entertainment.

 

A roll-up flatscreen shown in the McFlys' home is reminiscent of the flexible panels LG recently showed off at trade shows, which are rumoured to be featuring in commercial products soon.

Smartglasses, but no smartphones

 


We get little hint at what Marty Jr sees via his hi-tech specs in the film, and their brand, JVC, is a much smaller force in consumer electronics than it once was.

 

But several of today's bigger names are betting on various forms of the tech, whether it's Microsoft's Hololens, Facebook's Oculus Rift virtual reality headset or version two of Google Glass.

The film's biggest miss, however, is arguably its lack of a smartphone.

Marty Jr is even seen using an AT&T payphone at one point - all the more ironic since the company was first to offer the iPhone.

It's not that BTTF's filmmakers didn't envision a data-connected world - a Skype-like video chat program features at one point showing off not only the caller but also private details about them - but repeatedly communication occurs via a TV rather than a handheld display.

 

Likewise, it's hard not to feel the film missed a trick by using a newspaper to warn of Marty Jr's impending arrest, instead of a touchscreen.

And a campaigner trying to restore Hill Valley's clock tower even seems to be using a tablet in one of Back to the Future II's other scenes.