Back to the Future 2: what did it get right about 2015?

Digital windows

“Broadcasting beautiful views 24 hours a day, you’re tuned to the Scenery Channel.”

Those are the words echoing in the 2015 residence of the McFly’s as the digital window shows a lovely garden to take away from the hum-drum life typically seen outside.

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These windows were obviously not windows and were, in fact, screens capable of playing back video on a rotating basis to show you a different world, possibly one much nicer than your regular backyard.

In 2015 — the real one — these don’t exist, though you can always buy a big TV, mount it to a windowless room, and play back a landscape that doesn’t change if you really need to.

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About the closest concept we can think of may be coming in the form of a commercial aeroplane.

Last year, the UK’s Centre for Process Innovation devised a way to get aircraft to be lighter: remove the windows.

That might sound crazy, but the organisation figured that if you could replace the windows with OLED screens which are light and energy efficient, you could display the outside world as the aircraft flew through the OLED screens.

We’re not sure how many people would feel comfortable with a view of the sky as they travelled to their destination, especially one quite as large as this — acrophobics, try not to look down — but the idea is about as close as we’ve seen to BTTF2’s digital windows.

Beyond this, one could argue that a TV is a digital window to a world beyond your own. You know, if you wanted to take that argument.

Digital doors

One of the things people don’t see quite as clearly in Back to the Future 2 are the digital doors, or more specifically the knob-less and handle-less doors.

In a 2015 world painted by BTTF2, doors are controlled by a small panel found next to the door where you press your finger against.

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As you’re probably aware, most doors today still come with door knobs, but digital door knobs do exist, with Bluetooth locks produced that can be installed on your door at home.

Right now, the panel to open these isn’t installed as a fingerprint reader by your door, but has more in common with your smartphone.

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If you have one of these gadgets, you can upgrade your door lock and wave your phone in front to unlock the door, with the lock able to pick up information from your phone and verify your identity.

In case you have friends coming over, you can give them a temporary pass code that the lock can withdraw later on, too, meaning you don’t have to make a key for a friend staying over.

Biometric scanning

It may not look exactly like how it does in the movie, but it’s 2015 and you can essentially pay with your thumbprint thanks to biometrics.

In real life, you won’t be scanning your thumb- or fingerprint on a dedicated scanner when it comes to pay, but if you have an app and a fingerprint-scanning phone, you may be able to pay using this technology to unlock your bank account.

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That said, biometric payments aren’t exactly commonplace, and we don’t expect it will be that way for another few years, but we’re close, with phones able to pay thanks to the various contactless payment technologies rolling to smartphones across the planet.

This will get better with time, merchant adoption, and ongoing support in the various operating systems, but right now, we can sort of do this, so this one wasn’t a bad bet.

Self-adjusting, self-drying jackets

When you buy clothes today, you’re probably buying a fit that’s at least close if not spot on to what you’re wearing. You might have a bit of legroom, sure, but most of the clothing being bought has to match your measurements.

Not in the future painted by the film, however, which offered up a vision of self-adjusting clothes and self-drying clothes.

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We haven’t heard of anything matching the former in reality, so you’re still going to need to buy your clothes to match you, but self-drying does exist in some form: heating clothes.

Not quite the same as a blowdryer built into a jacket or pair of pants, New Scientist last year reported on a development that relies on silver nanowire being used to create clothing that could heat your skin.

Only one volt is needed to bring it up to 40 degrees Celsius which could definitely keep you warm if you were cold, though it probably wouldn’t be useful to dry you.

Nanowire won't do the exact same thing, but it's a good start.
Nanowire won’t do the exact same thing, but it’s a good start.

Power lace shoes

A dream of anyone who has ever seen Back to the Future 2, the idea of Nike’s Power Lace shoes has provided tremendous inspiration to people who love shoes, hoping upon hope that one day these could be a reality.

Good news: it’s coming, and it may even arrive this year.

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According to shoe website Nice Kicks, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield has been working with engineers to get Nike’s power lacing shoes to exist for real, and given that this is the guy that designed them for the Back to the Future 2 movie as well, that’s a big deal.

Outside of Nike, there have been a few other inventors try to come up with the power lacing mechanism, and there’s even a tutorial to try and set it up yourself, but these are coming.

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UPDATE (October 22, 2015): On “Back to the Future Day” in America, a day after this article was published, Nike announced it had power lace shoes working and would be releasing them with a charity drive next year. Awesome, and you can read more about it here. 

Hoverboards

The classic “how close are we to Back to the Future” example, the hoverboard is one kids have been asking for ever since they saw the Mattel stamp on the back of the hoverboard Michael J. Fox used in Back to the Future 2.

You know Mattel, even if you can’t quite remember what they make: Barbie is its main bread and butter, but the company has been responsible for a ton of toys, and competes quite hard with Hasbro, which is probably among its biggest competitor.

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Unfortunately, the science and mechanics of how a hoverboard would work haven’t quite been nailed yet, but Lexus — the car maker — thinks it might have gotten the closest.

Earlier this year, the company teased that it might finally have something that works, with Lexus calling it a “a highly advanced design that features liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors and permanent magnets”.

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We’ve heard reports that this highly advanced design requires a specific magnet-based skate park, however, so it’s not quite the hover board technology Back to the Future is talking up.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and a step above anything else. Pun intended.

Close, Lexus. Very close. Now all we need is magnets in every freakin' surface on the planet. Go.
Close, Lexus. Very close. Now all we need is magnets in every freakin’ surface on the planet. Go.