All right, it’s about time for a fun article. As a technology lover I just got to enjoy my favorite holiday – better than Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving put together – Back to the Future Day! That’s right, when Marty McFly and Doc Brown hopped into their flying DeLorean and gunned it to 88, they time-traveled to October 21, 2015. My wife and I celebrated this great all-American holiday by dehydrating a Pizza Hut half green pepper, half pepperoni pizza in our handy Black n’ Decker dehydrator (ok fine we picked it up from a real pizza shop) and watched Marty and Doc Brown try not to unravel the space time continuum.
All right, this may not be a real holiday, but it sure was fun to watch those old movies and consider how its version of 2015 compares to the world we really live in. Obviously, the stylistic sensibilities of the film inspire some giggles – even its fictional futurscape screams “80’s,” and some of the technological predictions are pretty far off – but a lot of it got pretty close, at least in a roundabout way.
Although it focused on somewhat silly applications, back to the Future II correctly identified one of the largest emerging tech industries – smart clothing. Fabrics and textiles woven from conductive or chemically treated fibers and embedded with batteries, sensors, and microchips, are all the rage. Smart clothing in the US is already a $35B+ industry, representing 17% of the American clothing market, and is supposed to grow at a rate of 18% in the coming years. We are talking about far more than wrinkle free shirts or water resistant pants. Do you want a shirt that monitors heart rate, temperature, muscle activity, stress levels, and energy output, transmits that data to your mobile device, and generates reports and actionable insights? Well we have that, and we’re only scratching the surface. Smart clothing will help to monitor our health at a deep level, and will synergize with the Internet of Things movement to help us further control our environment by using the data collected by our clothing to inform all of our cloud connected devices
From Google Glass, to virtual reality headsets, we are almost exactly where Back to the Future said we would be. Google Glass may have been a bit of a dud, but it’s certainly was not the end of attempts to integrate computing into devices we can wear. The Apple watch and it’s competitors are recent examples of efforts to make our mobile computing devices even more seamless and user friendly. None of these attempts have been huge successes, but rest assured, there will be continued development in this area. I imagine that the wearable device industry will ultimately merge with the smart clothing industry, and both will eventually get replaced, at least in part, by brain implants.
Yeah, we got that.
All right, so we haven’t gotten this one yet – although there are some companies that are making progress – but there have been some other extremely exciting developments in the transportation sector. Self driving cars is a technology that I have written extensively about, and although at first blush it may not seem as sexy as a car that can fly, it will have a far more radical impact on our society. Google is at the forefront, but many of the major automakers and other large companies are also hard at work at building a fully autonomous vehicle. Google claims it will have a self-driving car on the market by 2020, so chances are my kids won’t ever learn to drive a car. A car that can drive itself will increase mobility for those that can’t drive like the blind or infirmed, decrease transit times, decrease the likelihood and severity of collisions, and almost eliminate accident related deaths. This is one of the coming technologies that I am most excited about, although I have to admit, if the self-driving cars could fly they would be even cooler.
Remember that scene where Griff and his gang gets arrested for crashing through a giant window, and Marty and Doc Brown look at their picture in the paper? I bet you didn’t notice that their picture was taken by a “hovercam.”
Well we do have hovercams, except we call them drones, and they can do a whole lot more than take pictures. The drone industry is in its infancy, but Amazon’s announcment last year that it is working on a drone delivery service really made the world sit up and take notice. Startups specializing in drone hardware or related services are popping up everywhere now, and the FAA is scrambling to cobble together regulatory guidance to keep our skies safe, although many question their authority to do so. Although most drones that are currently on the market are guided by a human operator, the continued development of artificial intelligence guidance systems are what get people really excited. Although the thought of drones that can hum around the skies unguided, delivering packages and doing a host of other tasks, cause many technophiles to salivate, for some other people such a picture seems less exciting and more like a Terminator-style hellscape. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, this sector is projected to be worth $8.4B in 2019, so the next time you order a pizza it might just be delivered by a drone.
Ok, this is one that I am really glad we don’t have. I think most people are fans of freshly cooked food, and rehydrated pizza simply does not sound that appetizing. However, I did watch a lot of Star Trek growing up, and the food hydrator reminds me of one of the best parts of Star Trek – the “replicator.” Capable of making any food or drink just as fresh and delicious as its man made equivalent – although usually featured simply making “Earl Grey. Hot” for everyone’s favorite captain – the replicator is something that every fan-boy dreamed of. Well we don’t have replicators, but we do have…wait for it….3d printers! Yes, the newest tech for manufacturing has made a foray into the food industry, and we have already seen researchers eat the first 3D printed hamburger. Early reports indicate that it tastes disgusting, but maybe someday we’ll be able to print top-shelf filet mignon with the push of a button.
Finally, we get to an area where we just haven’t caught up. Hoverboards were one of my favorite parts of Back to the Future II, and we’re no closer today than we were in 1985. Ok, maybe I’m overstating, there have been soooome developments in this area. A neat product called the Hendo 2.0, which involves magnets and developed in collaboration with Tony Hawk, has been getting some attention recently, but it only works on metal surfaces. Unless we pave the world with aluminum or copper, I won’t be able to flee from a gang of cracked out, bat wielding hooligans on my Hendo 2.0. I suppose we have to leave something for the next 30 years. A boy can dream.
Back to the Future is essentially just a classic adventure tale, but it has delighted fans since its release because it’s changing settings highlights how much the world can change in thirty years. When we watch this movie we should be reminded of how much promise the future holds, and all of the opportunities it offers people that think outside the box.
So in honor of Back to the Future Day, lets all raise a glass and toast to the startups that will make our dreams a reality. I know that one of you will make a hoverboard that I can ride anywhere, so to that future genius I say: when you need legal advice, just give me a call and I will cut you a deal that would make Marty McFly proud.
Disclaimer: This blog is not legal advice and is only for general, non-specific informational purposes. It is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. If you have a legal matter, the specific facts that apply to you may require legal knowledge not addressed by this blog. If you need legal advice, consult an attorney.