Blast from the Past

Since Back to the Future II, Hollywood has become an unlikely prophet for the shape of things to come. Which cinematic toys have made the jump from science fiction to reality?

by Miguel Ortega, photo by Vincent Aseo

On October 21, 2015, Marty McFly arrives from 1985, welcomed by a bright and shiny future of hoverboards and flying cars. Since Back to the Future II, Hollywood has become an unlikely prophet for the shape of things to come. Which cinematic toys have made the jump from science fiction to reality?

BTFF hovrerboard-1

1. Lexus Hoverboard

Science fiction counterpart: Back to the Future’s Hoverboard

The actual science: Magnetic levitation tech uses superconductors cooled to a freezing 197°C to create incredibly powerful magnets, enough to lift and “slide” a man for a solid 10 minutes—after which a liquid nitrogen refuel is required.

Reality drawback: As magnets go, you need two for it to work. The hoverboard only functions in a custom made skate park created by Lexus ( that’s lined with thousands of magnets. Also, it doesn’t come in pink.

BTFF 3d printer from amazon-1

Image from Amazon.

2. 3D Printers

Science fiction counterpart: Star Trek’s Replicator

The actual science: Additive manufacturing, the fancy science name for 3D printing, creates objects by laying down successive layers of material. Able to create any three-dimensional object, its uses range from crafting small trinkets to, believe it or not, building houses.

Reality drawback: Since the Replicator rearranges matter, it can synthesize almost everything, even a glass of martini for example. On the other hand, 3D printing can make the glass but not the martini.

BTTF robotaxis from popularmechanics-1

Image from Popular Mechanics.

3. 2GetThere Robotaxis

Science fiction counterpart: Total Recall’s Johnny Cab

The actual science: Since 2010, the Masdar City PTR in Abu Dhabi has made use of robotaxis to transport people through a dedicated network of guideways. Powered by a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, the cars have a range of 60 km, more if not for the air-conditioning needs in the UAE.

Reality drawbacks: Despite being automated, robotaxis travel from fixed points, making it more like small buses rather than taxicabs.

BTTF nike MAG from amazon-1

Image from Amazon.

4. Nike MAG Shoes

Science fiction counterpart: Back to the Future’s Nike MAG with Power Laces

The actual science: Tech involving self-tying shoes is pretty hush-hush. Nike released limited editions of the MAG shoes back in 2011. But in 2010, Blake Bevin launched a Kickstarter campaign showing off her power laces invention. Both are expected to be released this month.

Reality drawbacks: Two words: copyright infringement. While Nike is coming out with the actual Marty McFly shoes, Bevin’s work is applicable to non-MAG shoes—in her videos she used Converse.

BTTF terrafugia from orbitnetwork-1

Image from Orbit Network.

5. Terrafugia TF-X

Science fiction counterpart: The Fifth Element’s Flying Cars

The actual science: The TF-X is a prototype fixed wing street-legal aircraft. It can drive on road but, more importantly, can also take off vertically, fly at distance of 500 miles, and operates easier than an actual aircraft.

Reality drawbacks: Expect it 12 years from now. And, unlike the Luc Besson flying cars, they’re still limited to flight physics, meaning no fast sharp turns or stops mid-air. Still, it should be cool enough to land you a half naked supermodel in the backseat.

BTTF roomba from wikimedia-1

Image from Wikimedia.

6. Roomba

Science fiction counterpart: The Jetsons’ Robot Vacuum Cleaner

The actual science: The Roomba is smarter than it looks. It uses sensors to map out your home as it cleans, so it knows where it is and where it needs to go. On top of this, it also creates visual landmarks, making cleaning time faster.

Reality drawbacks: The Roomba is actually better because it doesn’t talk. On top of that, you can take a cue from Parks and Recreation—slap your iPhone on it and turn it into DJ Roomba. Party in every room.

BTTF voyce from voyce official web-1

7. Voyce

Science fiction counterpart: Up’s Charles Muntz Dog Collar

The actual science: Voyce is basically a fitness band for dogs, collecting resting heart respiratory rate, heart rate, quality of rest, pet activity, calories burned, and distance travelled. The data can be accessed through the Voyce Wellness Management Center, and together with advice from pet experts, is said to extend your dog’s longevity.

Reality drawbacks: Even if your dog has a Voyce, it won’t actually have a voice. Sadly, we’re still—squirrel!—miles away from translating thought into an actual speech pattern.

BTTF google self driving car-1

8. Google Self-Driving Car

Science fiction counterpart: Minority Report’s Self Driving Cars

The actual science: Google Self-Driving Car Project (that wasn’t a command) uses sensors that can detect objects, from pedestrians to birds, as far as 720 feet. The software then determines the best course of action, leaving the car occupant free to do whatever.

Reality drawback: Minority Report cars function at high speed because all cars are self-driven cars. With other humans at the steering wheel, Google’s cars won’t perform as well.

This article first appeared in Rogue’s 2015 Design Issue, now available on newsstands and digitally on Get immediate access every month to intelligent storytelling, world-class photography, and in-depth profiles on the country’s influencers for $1 less per issue by subscribing now to Rogue Magazine for iPad, now available on Apple’s App Store.