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Future Tech: 

Back to the Future: Fact vs Fiction

Tomorrow, the future arrives. At least, it does if you go by Back to the Future 2. In the film, Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled forward to October 21, 2015 – which is tomorrow – where they were confronted with flying cars, hover boards, holographic films and more.

We may not have all of those things, but the film was quite accurate in some predictions. Let’s find out which by lining up the film’s technology and innovation with their real-life equivalents.

Back to the Future: Fact Vs Fiction

1. The Hoverboard


Marty McFly’s hoverboard prop sold for £26,000 at a UK auction / Photo by C. Villemain, REX

In the film: Marty gets a chance to show off his skateboarding skills on possibly the film’s most iconic innovation – a hover board. Like the flying cars, these are a common mode of transport in the film’s vision of 2015.

In real life: Magnetics firm Arx Pax announced its hover board on Kickstarter last year, and will launch a second model tomorrow. While the purpose was mostly to drum up interest in its hover technology, the hover board will be sold to those bidding $10,000 or more in the Kickstarter campaign. According to Arx Pax, a number of these high bidders were companies interested in going into the hover board business themselves – in fact, they predict we’ll see hover board skate parks springing up in the next few years. Until then, we’ll have to make do with self-balancing scooters.

2. Flying cars


In the film: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” Doc Brown says at the end of the first film. And indeed they don’t, as the car takes off and flies into a future where the skies are clogged with traffic.

In real life: It hasn’t been quite as simple as we would’ve hoped. There’s a tangle of regulatory issues that mean even relatively harmless aircrafts like drones now have to be registered, so you can imagine the chaos that would ensue if everyone was suddenly gifted their own flying car. And that’s before you consider the massive technological problems. The closest we’ve come is the Terrafugia TF-X, but that’s still years away.

3. Self-drying jacket

In the film: After jumping into the pond in front of the clock tower, Marty’s jacket automatically activates its self-drying mode, blowing him with hot air and drying him in seconds. And that’s after it’s adjusted itself to fit him. Very smart.

In real life: Sadly, despite the current craze for wearable tech, our outerwear can’t yet talk to us, dry us or adjust to fit. Instead, we’ll have to make do with the Lyle and Scott contactless coat, which has a chip in the sleeve for making contactless payments. Just touch your cuff against the reader, and you’re done. That’s one thing Back to the Future didn’t predict, though Biff does pay for a cab journey with his fingerprint, which is pretty close to Apple Pay we suppose.

4. Power laces

In the film: It seems everything in the future is automated, even your trainers. Marty pulls on a pair of Nike Mags complete with light-up Swoosh and power laces – that’s right, they tighten themselves so you don’t have to.

In real life: Nike actually produced a limited run of Mags in 2011, with proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease research. Last month, an art director at an advertising agency in Portland teased the trainers with the release date of tomorrow. So we could see them go on general sale then! They’re sure to be expensive, but cheaper options are available.

5. JVC video glasses


In the film: Marty’s son slaps on a pair of video glasses and sits in isolation, watching TV that no one else can see. That may have seemed fanciful in 1989 when the film was made, but it could soon become the norm.

In real life: Due for release next year, Oculus Rift is leading the virtual reality revolution. It will be followed by Microsoft’s Hololens, the HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, and of course more versions of Google Glass. So maybe it wasn’t quite as fanciful as first thought. Don’t expect JVC to make them anytime soon though – nowadays the once big-hitter concentrates on headphones, projectors, camcorders and car audio.

6. Jaws 19 in Holomax


In the film: Marty is walking around the square in Hill Valley when a holographic shark rears its head out of the cinema and chomps down on him while he screams. The shark disappears into thin air. Marty, trying to style it out, quips “The Shark still looked fake,” a reference to what critics said about the model shark used in the original Jaws.

In real life: 3D is still alive in some cinemas. The latest innovation is a laser projection system that shows 3D films at the same brightness as the 2D version. This makes for crisper and clearer images. Universal actually made a spoof trailer for Jaws 19, though sadly the advertising industry hasn’t caught up and made sharks that attack passersby yet. Back to the Future was spot on about the number of film sequels around nowadays too, as evidenced by the Terminator and Fast and Furious franchises.

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