Flying unmanned robots to take over our work and go where we can’t? Seems like a dream, but this is one area where we’ve definitely already seen progress.
In the 2015 of the real world? Well, fuelsaving hybrid cars that run on electricity and petrol are already common, but you might be surprised to hear that technology is being developed to create energy from waste – just like in the movie. NASA has built an 80-pound trash-to-gas reactor that will hold more than three quarts (about 1.44kg) of waste and burn it at about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit – about twice the maximum temperature of your regular household oven – essentially creating a source of methane fuel for astronauts to store that could potentially power their launch home.
E-Fuel Corporation, on the other hand, is looking at converting organic waste to ethanol fuel using their portable ethanol micro-refinery system, which replaces the typical ethanol reflux column system with solid-state distillation technology that produces ethanol without the need for combustion. The unit supports a variety of organic waste as fuel, and can be used in combination with the E-Fuel Grid-Buster to produce electricity for home use.
Maybe today’s technologies don’t have a cool name like “Mr Fusion”, but our scientists are certainly coming up with alternative methods of tapping into sources of energy that would otherwise just be disposed of as trash, and that’s certainly something to look forward to.
NASA has built an 80-pound trash-togas reactor that will hold more than three quarts
of waste and burn it at about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the movie, Biff and his crew smash into City Hall when Biff loses control of his hoverboard while trying to hit Marty with a bat. Fast forward a few minutes later, and we see that the gang’s been rounded up and are being escorted out by the Hill Valley Police Department. But instead of reporters, we see these big bulky hovering machines with cameras and microphones taking pictures and reporting about the incident in real time. Whoa, far out man!
Drones are a real thing. In fact, the majority of us consider them pretty normal by now. We’ve all seen photographs taken by aerial reconnaissance drones on the news, maybe even live video of unmanned drone strikes on terrorist or military targets. Even commercial businesses are trying to find uses for them. Amazon made the news a few months back about how they’re looking to experiment with using drones to deliver packages for them.
But one area where drones haven’t seen much use is (ironically) reporting. While we see drones covering Biff’s ‘accident’ in the movie, in reality, there hasn’t been significant drone use for news coverage. Despite there being an organization in the U.S. called the Professional Society of Drone Journalists, usage of drones on a large scale in journalism is non-existent. Partly because it’s currently illegal to use drones commercially and also due to the ethical and privacy implications.
That doesn’t mean that drone journalism won’t be coming. In fact, the University of Missouri already has a drone journalism program, with two published news stories (done via drones) that have aired on TV. If anything, this just proves that drone journalism might be inevitable, despite what laws or regulations there are in place.
The University of Missouri already has a drone journalism program, with two published news stories (done via drones) that have aired on TV.
Spotting a Wild Gunman game machine in the café, Marty McFly tries to impress some kids by having a go at the game. But the kids from the future are unimpressed, and claim that using your hands to play a game means that it’s “like a baby’s toy”. There’s no mention of how games are played in the future, but we’re guessing you won’t need to hold on to a controller. So how far have we come in terms of hands-free gaming?
Gaming used to be a niche hobby, but Nintendo introduced casual gaming to the masses with its Wii console. Part of its appeal was that physical gestures could be used to control some of its games, with players swinging the remote to play baseball or tennis in Wii Sports.
With the success of the Wii, it came as no surprise when Microsoft revealed the Kinect, which was a peripheral for the Xbox 360 that allowed users to control and interact with the console without having to use a controller. You can even switch on your Xbox One console with your voice alone.
Companies are also exploring the use of brain-computer interface (BCI) for consumer products. One such company, Neurosky, has released the MindWave, which is a headset that measures your brain’s electrical activity and uses your state of mind as information for certain apps. There’s even a game (Man.Up), which uses the information gathered by the MindWave to change the game’s settings. In Man.Up, you control a man that’s jumping upwards on various platforms, but players still have to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to control the direction of the jump. Your brainwaves determine the character’s jump height and platform length.
Hands-free gaming is still rudimentary though, and it might still be a while before holding a game controller is considered “playing with a baby’s toy”.
There’s even a game (Man. Up), which uses the information gathered by the MindWave to change the game’s settings.
Guess what, the Back to the Future movies weren’t all about hoverboards and flying cars. There was quite a bit of reimagining what future homes would be like. In Back to the Future II, houses greeted their owners when they came back, and Marty had a widescreen TV, complete with what looked like multi-channel and picture-in-picture functions. Heck, one could even answer phone calls right on the TV! All these seemed crazy at the time (who in the right mind needs a longish TV?), but 30 years on, many have graduated from prediction to reality.
While homes today don’t literally greet us when we come through the door, there’s no lack of interaction between both parties. For example, it’s common these days for IT devices to get onto the local area network and ‘talk’ to one another. With home appliances also getting into the act recently, we’re pushing this connected home concept beyond the usual sharing of media files or printers across the room over Wi-Fi.
In the kitchen, LG has a smart oven that you can consult for recipe recommendations; and Samsung has a Wi-Fi-enabled washing machine that lets you control and monitor it remotely through an app on your mobile device. And if you’ve an August Smart Lock that’s able to sense your approach, you can walk through the door without having to reach for either your keys or phone. And really, what’s stopping smart lock makers from adding a speaker so that it can say “Welcome home, master”?
In the living room, widescreen TVs are now commonplace. And TV makers are experimenting with more form factors, such as 21:9 ultra-widescreen TVs and curved/flexible displays. Want hundreds of channels to watch? Thanks to cable TV providers, super-fast broadband, and the Internet, we’ve realized the couch potato’s dream years ago. Along with the Skype app on a smart TV or an Xbox-Kinect-Skype setup, doing video calls on a giant screen is now as easy as pie. Say, did we just oneup the movie?
You can walk through the door without having to reach for either your keys or phone.
If we had to name one thing from the movie that captured the imagination of ours when we watched it as kids it would have to be the hoverboard. Back then, a skateboard was already the epitome of cool and style, but one that hovers? That completely takes the cake! And on the subject of hovering objects, there were also the flying cars. These flying cars offered so much more freedom and convenience and also looked infinitely more fun to drive than regular road cars.
Fortunately for us, not everything from the movie is still fantasy. Today, we already have a working prototype of a hoverboard from a company called Hendo. The Hendo hoverboard works using the same electromagnetic technology currently employed in high-speed Maglev trains. However, that also means that it can only hover above specific metals. Also, it is reportedly very tricky to ride. Still, it is a start, but the end game for Hendo is actually much larger and ambitious. Specifically, they want to work out a way to use the technology to levitate really large objects - such as entire buildings - out of harm’s way, say an earthquake.
On the other hand, we are still miles away from a flying car. But it’s not so much the technology, we have seen prototypes of flying cars in the past and one of the newer ones from a company called Aeromobil looks especially promising. The problem, however, lies with safety and legislation. Already, a plane needs to undergo a smorgasbord of pre-flight safety and security checks, and rightly so, before it is given the green light to fly. Plus, a pilot needs to undergo extensive training before he is allowed to take to the skies. Imagine doing the same for cars. We would rather take the train.
We are still miles away from a flying car but it’s not so much the technology.
In the 2015 of Back to the Future II, Marty McFly gets his hands on an auto-adjusting and auto-drying jacket. The garment had a button that made the jacket auto-adjust to the wearer’s size and it also automatically dried itself when wet. Stylishly paired with McFly’s jacket were his Nike Air Mag sneakers, which featured self-lacing power laces – just slip your feet in and the shoes do the rest.
Later in the movie, the future McFly family sits down to enjoy dinner – rehydrated pepperoni pizza naturally – and Marty’s two obnoxious teenage kids show up wearing glasses that can take video calls and also double up as mini TVs.