/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

This 'Back to the Future' tech is closer than you think

"Back to the Future II" makes bold predictions about Oct. 21, 2015, the exact date Marty McFly time travels to. Surprisingly, much of the future tech imagined in the movie is within our grasp.

foxvanallen-1
Fox Van Allen
screen-shot-2015-10-06-at-2-20-39-pm.png
1 of 18 NBC Universal

Power-lacing sneakers

In "Back to the Future II," the 1985 version of Marty McFly marvels at all the futuristic technology available on October 21, 2015. Now that the future is here, a surprising number of the movie's predictions have come true -- or are about to.

The auto-lacing Nike Mag shoes that Marty McFly wears in "Back to the Future II" have yet to arrive, but they're definitely on their way. Nike has said that it is working on power laces, and last we heard, the company is still planning to release a mass-market version of the Mag by the end of the year.

terrafugiatf-xrendering39cropped1.jpg
2 of 18 Terrafugia

Flying cars

In the 2015 Hill Valley of "Back to the Future II," flying cars are everywhere and motorists can convert standard automobiles into fliers for the low price of just $39,999.95.

Here in the real world, flying cars aren't quite a reality, but the tech is under development. Massachusetts-based Terrafugia is designing the TF-X, a flying car that takes off vertically, has a range of 500 miles, and reaches speeds of 200 miles per hour.

Terrafugia projects the vehicle will launch in the next 8 to 12 years.

screen-shot-2015-10-06-at-2-51-10-pm.png
3 of 18 NBC Universal

Holograms!

Holograms are everywhere in 2015 Hill Valley. Holographic billboards project advertisements in three dimensions, right down to a life-size version of the "Jaws"shark.

Holograms aren't all that common in the real world, but they're definitely in use; just a few years ago, a hologram of the late rapper Tupac Shakur took the stage at the Coachella music festival in California. Austrian startup TriLite Technologies, meanwhile, is studying how to build this kind of hologram tech into billboards, just like in the movie.

barcode-license-plate.jpg
4 of 18 NBC Universal

Barcode license plates

Cars in "Back to the Future II" have barcoded license plates, allowing police to quickly identify vehicles using optical scanners.

Barcoded plates don't exist in the real world, in part because OCR technology can read and analyze alphanumeric plates. Some states are using these plate readers in place of traditional toll collectors, and parking facilities already can locate a hard-to-find car based on its tag number. More controversially, police in the US use OCR to instantly spot stolen vehicles, parking ticket evaders, and other lawbreakers.

luna-dog-walker.jpg
5 of 18 SchultzeWorks designstudio

Automatic dog walkers

It's not unusual to see dog-walking drones floating above the streets of Hill Valley. Drones can't do the job in our version of 2015, but automated dog-walking tech does exist. In 2011, telepresencing company RoboDynamics and designer SchultzeWorks created a 5-foot-tall humanoid Luna dog-walking robot.

Sadly, a 2015 Kickstarter effort to bring Luna to life fell short of its goals, leaving us stuck walking our dogs manually.

screen-shot-2015-10-07-at-5-27-16-pm.png
6 of 18 NBC Universal

Energy from trash

During his initial trip into the future, Doc Brown has a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor installed on the DeLorean. The tech converts standard household garbage into energy for the time machine. Waste-to-energy power plants are nothing new, but you can't buy an in-home version at your local home supply store.

You can, however, build your own rudimentary "Fusion Jr." device to generate small amounts of electricity from your household trash by following the directions at DIY site Instructables.

lily-drone-cnet.jpg
7 of 18 Sarah Tew/CNET

Hovercams

In "Back to the Future II," cameras are everywhere, capturing live news when it happens, wherever it happens. Here in the real world, drones aren't quite so omnipresent yet. Still, realty firms, filmmakers, news agencies and the police do regularly use drones -- to significant controversy.

texaco-automatic-gas-station.jpg
8 of 18 NBC Universal

Automated gas stations

Shortly after arriving in the future, Marty McFly marvels at a Texaco station that refuels and services cars without need for humans. Outside of the movie, the companies Husky and Fuelmatics are are creating pretty much the same thing, topping off your gas tank so you won't have to. It may be a couple of years (or longer) before you see such an automated service station in your neighborhood, however.

plastic-surgery-in-a-pool.jpg
9 of 18 Evan Hurd/Getty Images North America/Corbis

Coming soon: A cure for aging

In the 2015 Hill Valley of "Back to the Future II," regaining your lost youth is as simple as heading to the "cosmetic factory," where surgery can erase 30 years of aging.

In the real world, Beverly Hills plastic surgeons aren't that good, but perhaps they soon will be: Google is spending billions to support its life sciences arm, Calico, which is researching tech to fight age-related diseases.

back-to-the-future-sleep-inducing-alpha-wave-generator.jpg
10 of 18 NBC Universal

Instant sleep devices

Can a flash from a light really induce a deep, pleasant sleep? It's possible in the world of "Back to the Future II."

In the real 2015, the tech is still science fiction, but researchers are probing brain patterns associated with unconsciousness. That data could one day be used to make sedation safer in hospitals, according to the MIT Technology Review.

ekey-fs-wm2-e-2012.png
11 of 18 eKey

Fingerprint-controlled doors

Instead of a traditional lock and key, Marty McFly's 2015 home is secured by a fingerprint scanner. Few homes in the real world have this tech, though it is available -- biometrics firm eKey says that its door-access fingerprint scanners have been installed in more than 200,000 locations across 70 different countries.

mobile-payments.jpg
12 of 18 NBC Universal

Mobile payments

In "Back to the Future II," an elderly Biff Tannen uses his thumbprint to settle up a $174.50 taxi bill. Writer Robert Zemeckis was pretty accurate at predicting the future here: A number of Apple and Android devices now feature fingerprint verification support for mobile payments. You can even use your thumbprint to pay for New York City cab rides via Apple Pay.

samsung-transparent-smart-window.jpg
13 of 18 CNET

Smart windows

In 2015 Hill Valley, regular windows are routinely replaced with "scene screens" -- a video projection that shows a more scenic view than the window would otherwise provide.

In the real world, electric privacy glass can turn a clear window opaque with the flip of a switch. Further, images can be projected onto these smart glass windows, meaning you really could have a beach-front view from every window of your home, no matter where you actually live.

screen-shot-2015-10-08-at-1-26-08-pm.png
14 of 18 NBC Universal

Video calling

Video-based calling has been around for decades in the real world, but it didn't catch on until the advent of Skype and FaceTime. More recently, companies have been building video conferencing into smart TVs, not unlike the massive flat-screen television in Marty McFly's 2015 living room.

screen-shot-2015-10-07-at-5-32-40-pm.png
15 of 18 NBC Universal

Waiter-free restaurants

When Marty McFly visits the 80s Cafe in 2015 Hill Valley, he's greeted by a Max Headroom-ized version of Ronald Reagan, who serves as his virtual waiter.

Sadly, there's no real world version of the 80s Cafe to patronize, but restaurant chains including Applebee's, Chili's and Chevy's Fresh Mex have placed hundreds of thousands of tablet-based ordering systems in US locations. Fast-food chains such as McDonald's also are experimenting with computerized ordering kiosks.

screen-shot-2015-10-07-at-5-44-41-pm.png
16 of 18 NBC Universal

Robo-reporters

When Griff Tannen and his gang go crashing through the Hill Valley Courthouse windows, the news is reported by USA Today's Compu-fax, an automated system. In our version of 2015, artificial intelligence company Automated Insights has created a script, currently in use by the Associated Press, that similarly writes and files news stories without human input. The stories are basic for now -- AI is commonly used to write dry stories on company earnings reports -- but the tech is advancing quickly.

screen-shot-2015-10-08-at-1-01-25-pm.png
17 of 18 Megan Wollerton/CNET

Kitchen bots

To help with family mealtimes, homes in "Back to the Future II" have full-service kitchen robots called Master-cooks. Most real-world cooking is still happening manually, though many kitchen appliance makers are researching ways to make a similar concept work.

At CES 2015 in Las Vegas, for example, Whirlpool showcased a computer-assisted kitchen that turns your cooking surface into a display monitor. And Moley Robotics is working on the kitchen bot itself, complete with robotic hands and fingers.

voice-command-garden-center.jpg
18 of 18 NBC Universal

Voice-controlled everything

Voice commands are everywhere in 2015 Hill Valley, whether they're used to summon floating bowls of fruit or robotic trash cans on the street. We may not have access to flying fruit (one can only dream), but voice commands are ubiquitous. Home automation systems such as the new Apple Homekit, while currently a bit wonky, do allow you to turn on lights, adjust your home's temperature and more, all via voice command.

More Galleries

The best Nintendo Switch games to play in 2021

More Galleries

The best Nintendo Switch games to play in 2021

40 Photos
Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more

More Galleries

Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more

67 Photos
2022 GMC Sierra puts on its fancy pants

More Galleries

2022 GMC Sierra puts on its fancy pants

20 Photos
Meet the new 2022 Honda Civic Si sedan

More Galleries

Meet the new 2022 Honda Civic Si sedan

25 Photos
2021 best new TV shows to watch, stream, obsess about

More Galleries

2021 best new TV shows to watch, stream, obsess about

63 Photos
The 51 best VR games

More Galleries

The 51 best VR games

53 Photos
2022 Kia Sportage is a seriously stylish SUV

More Galleries

2022 Kia Sportage is a seriously stylish SUV

7 Photos