In Depth

Back to the Future today, what the film predicted about 2015

From hoverboards to flying cars and videoglasses, Marty McFly's future is almost here

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Back to the Future Day on 21 October 2015 marks the date Marty and Doc landed in the future in their time-travelling 1980s adventure film, prompting many to consider what the film got right, and wrong, about life in the twenty-tens.

In the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, the sequel to director Robert Zemeckis's original 1985 sci-fi comedy classic, teenage time traveller Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) and Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), leap forward in time to the futuristic world of 2015.

So how does the movie's conception of futuristic life and technology match up to our current reality?

Flying cars

Watching the film 26 years later, "it's impressive to note how many tech trends it predicted, even if it also contained its fair share of misfires", says Leo Kelion of the BBC. Examples of misfires include the prediction that we weren't going to need roads, he says, but while Doc drives a tricked-out flying DeLorean in the movie, flying cars have always seemed to be just over the horizon. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's spin-off company, Terrafugia, has built the Transition – a light, street-legal airplane – but plans to start selling the vehicles commercially have yet to materialise.

Bio-fuels

In Back to the Future, Doc powers his time-travelling DeLorean with household rubbish, which is converted directly into fuel via the Mr Fusion Home Energy Reactor. While this isn't quite a reality yet, Bristol and Bath have recently started running buses powered by treated sewerage and waste foodstuffs. Elsewhere there are efforts to convert agricultural waste into petrol supplements.

Hoverboards

Marty McFly zooms around on a skateboard-style device with no wheels that floats freely over most surfaces. Now, with the backing of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, the Hendo Hoverboard will be showcased by Arx Pax on 21 October, reports Digital Spy. The device uses electromagnets to float above specially prepared metallic surfaces, so sadly it won't float across the street or water.

Holographic advertising

In the movie, Marty comes across an advertising marquee promoting the latest instalment of a long-running film franchise – Jaws 19 (directed by "Max Spielberg") – which comes to life in the form of a giant shark hologram. Austrian company TriLite Technologies is currently testing "autostereoscopic" video billboards, which it says will enable outdoor 3D displays.  

Pepsi Perfect

Product placement is "a cosmic force that knows no boundaries of time or space", says Glenn McDonald of Yahoo. In Back to the Future, Marty orders a Pepsi Perfect, a vitamin-enriched formula in a space-age bottle with built-in robo-straw. Always eager to take advantage of marketing opportunities, Pepsi has created a limited edition Pepsi Perfect bottle that will be available online for (wait for it) $20.15.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow

Some of the film's other ideas, like self-tying shoes and roving rubbish robots, may still be far off, while others may seem dated, like the use of fax machines and paper newspapers instead of touchpads. Still the film features a lot of technology, such as biometric identification and video glasses, that has left the realm of science fiction to become reality. Many smartphones have fingerprint ID, and cameras have built-in face recognition algorithms. As for video-glasses – which Marty and his sister use to watch TV and take video calls – these resemble the new wave of virtual reality headsets, such as Oculus Rift, which are expected to hit the shop shelves early next year.

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