As of October 21, we are officially living at the same time as the future depicted in the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II. With news of hoverboards in development and Nike releasing self-tying shoes, it seems like the fantastic future depicted in the film is coming ever closer to a potential reality.
Since the early 2000s, there have been many attempts to create hoverboards. Independent inventors, companies and entertainers (including the hosts of Mythbusters and The Gadget Show) have produced blueprints, prototypes and even commercial models of hoverboards with varying degrees of success. The boards have ranged from being unsuccessful, to having the ability to hover but not being able to support much weight, to supporting weight but not hovering far or high, to actually functioning quite effectively.
The three most viable hoverboards at the moment are Lexus’ SLIDE, Greg Henderson’s Hendo Hoverboard, and Catalin Alexandru Duru’s hoverboard, which he designed and built himself.
The Lexus “SLIDE” has proven to be one of the most effective hoverboards, with solid performance and stability. However, the only downside to the SLIDE is that it only works on a specific specialized track, and cannot be ridden on normal terrain, so its practicality for consumer or regular use is limited. However, despite the fact that the SLIDE cannot function outside of a specialized track, the technology involved in making it is sophisticated and innovative, and may lead to a more versatile product in the future.
“The hoverboard is constructed from an insulated core, containing HTSLs (high temperature superconducting blocks). These are housed in cryostats – reservoirs of liquid nitrogen that cool the superconductors to -197°C” according to Lexus. “The board is then placed above a track containing permanent magnets. When the board is cooled to its operating temperature the track’s magnetic flux lines are ‘pinned’ into place, maintaining the hover height of the board.”
For anyone interested in a hoverboard that does not require a particularly specialized track, the Hendo Hoverboard has recently finished a successful kickstarter campaign that has raised over $500,000. Hendo currently has several prototypes and designs in production, and hopes to release to the public soon. They also offer a “whitebox” developers kit, which contains the required materials if somebody wants to try and build their own hoverboard using the technology included in the box.
The Hendo board still requires a special surface to function, but this surface is less advanced and complicated than Lexus’ permanent magnet track, making it easier to produce and use. The company is also working to make their surface even more accessible.
“Right now we use commonly available metals in simple sheets to give the hoverboard ‘flight,’” say official communications. “We are working on new compounds and new configurations to maximize our technology and minimize costs.”
Breaking outside the bounds of specialized surfaces, Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru has developed his own hoverboard that he claims can function in any environment. The hoverboard is propellor-powered, and he has proven its effectiveness by setting a Guinness World Record. In May, he travelled 275.9 meters at a height of five metres in a little over a minute. Duru’s hoverboard is currently at the stage of a functional prototype, which he has flown himself, and he is currently in the process of continuing to develop and refine his design with his company Omni Hoverboards.
In addition to hoverboards, there have been some other Back to the Future technologies that have come to be a reality. In 2011, Nike released a limited number of shoes that were modeled after the self-tying Nike shoes in the film called the Nike Mag, with proceeds from sales going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. While these shoes looked the same as the ones in the film, they were not actually self-lacing.
However, in 2015, Nike has confirmed on their website that they will be releasing the 2015 Nike Mag, which will actually function as seen in the film and tie its own laces. The first pair was given to Michael J. Fox, and other pairs are available through an auction, with proceeds also going to the Foundation. While they are currently only on limited release via auction, the Nike Mag shoes are part of research that Nike is conducting in attempt to produce viable shoes for athletes that may have a more practical, widespread future.
“This innovation advances what was coined the Nike Mag’s ‘power laces,’ combining the archetype invention with digital technology. The result is an individually responsive system that senses the wearer’s motion to provide adaptive on-demand comfort and support. But this is just the first iteration” says an official release from Nike. “Nike continues to test this technology across multiple sports, incorporating feedback into future game-changing footware with unprecedented performance features that have the potential to impact athletes around the world.”
In addition to the more specialized technologies such as hoverboards and self-tying shoes, there are also many everyday technologies that have been incorporated into our culture that were foreseen in Back to the Future II. The film features media drones, video calls, something resembling the Google Glass, tablets, hands-free gaming, and wall-mounted widescreen TVs.
The choice to set Back to the Future II in such a near future to the time in which it was produced means that contemporary audiences get the chance to look back and see how much science fiction has been able to predict (and in some cases even influence) later technological developments and advancements. Living in a year that a previous generation represented as the future introduces an interesting opportunity for reflection on the relationship between fiction and reality, and especially the relationship between science fiction and science.