1 Jan 2015

We’ve come Back to the Future: so where are the flying cars?

Cult movie Back to the Future II sees Marty McFly flung to a future 80s kids could only dream of: the year 2015. So where are all the amazing gadgets the film and other fiction promised us?

The hoverboard

In the 1989 movie, hero Marty – played by Michael J Fox – zooms around on a flying skateboard. The film’s producers even mischievously hinted that real working hoverboards had been invented for the movie, leading kids to scour toy shops in vain.

In early 2014, when skateboarding legend Tony Hawks proclaimed the invention to the world in a spoof video – bookended by none other than Christopher Lloyd, the man who played Doc Brown the Back to the Future films.

Tech companies have unsurprisingly spent a bit more time pursuing nuclear fusion, driverless cars and next gen smartphones than chasing the opulent niche that is surely the luxury skateboard market.

But the real hoverboard revolution (as someone has probably called it) might have happened when no one was looking.

Now a start-up from California (where else?) has come up with the Hendo Hoverboard, a magnetic levitation device much closer to the real thing, thanks to a married couple who have poured their life savings into the project.

Time travel

This has definitely not happened yet. Well, as far as we know.

This invention makes the film trilogy possible – and many other movies besides – but still only exists in the minds of experimental scientists and story writers.

Which is probably a good thing, given how difficult it is to understand:

The flying car

It looks great, and it flies – so has the flying car finally arrived?

It’s only at prototype stage, but the Aeromobil 3.0 holds the greatest promise at the start of 2015 for skies packed with a brand new breed of commuter traffic.

It’s not quite a Delorean, but it’s a start – where we’re going, we don’t need roads.


Yes, they definitely exist. In the air, on the road and even in the sea, machines are being left to their own devices to make life easier for us humans.

Google’s self-driving car is close to hitting the road, and a military drone can now take off from an aircraft carrier on its own and land without intervention.

So how long before they’re left to pick out targets on their own, without people making choices for them?

There’s a whole movement against it – the snappily-named Campaign Against Killer Robots – with hopes human inventiveness will come with self-applied limits.

Big Brother is watching you

Not just a celebrity-driven TV show, George Orwell’s depiction of an all-pervasive surveillance state in his book 1984 may have come to pass.

Without Edward Snowden, would we ever have known about the massive spying programmes carried out by the UK and US in the name of serving the state?

More importantly, do we care?

Some privacy campaigners fear governments are apathetic to concerns about overbearing security, and in the UK even more surveillance has been officially sanctioned with the new “Ripa” act.

Should we get a writer to devise a way out of this predicted dystopia?

Weather control

One of those things scientists assumed would come to pass sooner or later, but repeatedly pushed into the “later” column, and another feature in the future lexicon of Back to the Future.

A recent experiment in “cloud-seeding” boosted rainfall by up to 15 per cent – more than useful if you need to generate rainfall during drought – but the science is dogged by gruesome overtones.

The UN banned “military or other hostile use” of environmental modification techniques after the US tried to extend monsoon season during the Vietnam war in an attempt to block supply routes.

Beijing famously fired hundreds of rockets into the sky to maintain dry conditions for the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony. Is this another invention humankind would do well to avoid?


The lynchpin of many a Star Trek plot, but still a long way from realisation – and mostly noted for the number of red-shirted bit-part actors the technology sent to their doom when beamed to mysterious new worlds in the TV series.

A “breakthrough” was reported earlier this year in the real-life field of quantum teleportation, which moves really small things across a pretty tiny distance.

“In practice it’s extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous,” said Professor Ronald Hanson, part of the team that carried out the experiments.

“I would not rule it out because there’s no fundamental law of physics preventing it. If it ever does happen it will be far in the future.”

Not yet of practical use, nor a current threat to red-shirted spacemen – so let’s say the jury’s out.

Genetic design

Barely a month passes without a new move ahead in the science of genetic engineering – adapting the body’s basic material to override chance in how people develop.

We can’t quite pick every detail of our offspring just yet, as envisioned by sci-fi film Gattaca – but we seem to be getting closer.

Self-lacing trainers

One of those less essential futuristic ideas, but another that has captured the imagination.

Nike are set to release a version of the trainers this year to mark their appearance as predicted in Back to the Future II.

Which only raises the question, perhaps true of some of fiction’s greatest inventions – would they ever have been created if the story never existed?