Back To The Future II technology that came true

By Mark Lankester

The Internet nearly broke this week when a short film fronted by ‘Back To The Future’ star Christopher Lloyd claimed to have invented the Hoverboard – probably the coolest movie gadget ever. It’s up there with the Lightsaber.

Sadly, the ad was a spoof. And we’re still years away from the gravity-defying gadget that made us yearn for 2015 – the year the sci-fi sequences in ‘Back to the Future II’ were set.

[Back To The Future hoverboard promoted by Christopher Lloyd in spoof ad]

There is some hope for us Futureheads though, with a surprising number of innovations predicted in the film now almost a reality.

2015 is just nine months away, let’s see the technology of ‘Back To The Future II’ that came true...

The gadget: Marty’s “power lacing” Nike MAGs
The reality: After Nike producing a limited look-a-like range in 2011, designer Tinker Hatfield recently announced the company would put out real-life “automatic lacing trainers” in 2015, just in time for the anniversary. We can’t wait.

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 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 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 utilized 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 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 tykes (one played by a tiny Elijah Wood) aren’t impressed: ‘You mean you have to use your hands!’ These days, Nintendo’s Wii Fit (or similar consoles) have revolutionised home entertainment, and Apple’s Siri software has made voice recognition a widespread reality.

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.

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: 3-D movies (and their sequels)
The reality: The Holomax hasn’t arrived yet, but Hollywood’s current 3-D trend has now gone beyond a gimmick, becoming a staple of modern cinemas and constantly advancing. So-called 4-D 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.

[Back to the Future 2 power laces could arrive in 2015]

And, the gadgets the movie got wrong…

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.

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. Otherwise, the dream of a flying car is kept alive with more traditional rotor engines (see the crazy Terrafugia TF-X). Maybe there will be a breakthrough soon – sadly though, sticking it on a skateboard is probably a low priority.

What ‘Back To The Future II’ tech would you like to see become a reality? Let us know in the comments below. You can also watch the brilliant spoof Hoverboard ad, featuring Christopher Lloyd, here...