Here’s the bad news up front: we still don’t have the hoverboards that the movies of the 1980s promised us. (What’s taking so long? Get on it, people.)
Despite this unconscionable failure of the entire profession, scientists have otherwise been doing a pretty good job of whipping up even the most absurd technology we imagined when we were kids. On a future trip, who knows? You might hop in your automated flying car, get a hotel room for the night, shower off behind the privacy of an invisibility curtain, schedule time with the expert robot masseuse, and then dial up a gourmet meal on your portable 3D Food Printer. Anything's possible.
We partnered with Marriott Hotels, a travel brand focused on the future of travel, to gaze back at what pop culture predicted about cutting edge technology. So put some gas in the Delorean and get ready to go back to the future, because we found ten ways that science has actually caught up with science fiction.
Well, it turns out that both engineering challenges and a tangle of regulations have conspired to keep your car grounded. Still, a few brave pioneers -- like Massachusetts company Terrafugia -- have made it aloft. Their car/plane "Transition" goes on sale in 2016 for a cool $279,000.
Bonus: it fits in a single car garage.
Faster-Than-Light Speed Engines
NASA made headlines when its scientists announced that warp drives, though lightyears away from development, were actually feasible. While this seeming violation of that pesky nothing-is-faster-than-light rule may have shocked Einstein, we were prepared. After all, Space Balls proved to us that humans can reach LUDICROUS SPEED.
Instead of moving a craft through space, scientists now believe they can stretch and condense space itself. Or something. Our heads hurt. Let's just all look at this nerd-pleasing mockup.
Of all the advances foreseen in Star Trek, from nascent tractor beams and warp drives to PDAs and virtual reality decks, the most intriguing, perhaps, was the food replicator in The Next Generation.
While our tech hasn't quite reached that level yet, in 2014 NASA contractors printed their first, sort-of-delicious-looking pizza. In-room versions can't be far behind.
An Exoskeletal Assist
Imagine a day when even the largest luggage can be hoisted into a trunk without breaking a sweat or slipping a disk! When helping your friend move their oversized sleeper sofa is truthfully not a big deal!
That day is closer than you think.
Ever since we saw Aliens, we yearned for a big metal suit that would let us lift heavy stuff. (And fight the occasional xenomorph queen, but that’s besides the point.) Scientists were apparently also fans, because exoskeletal suits are no longer fiction. In current tech, motors and hydraulics provide energy to assist soldiers, the elderly and paraplegics move their limbs.
Devotees of 80s television will remember K.I.T.T., the genius Trans-Am on Knight Rider. Despite being saddled with bumbling human sidekick David Hasselhoff, K.I.T.T. managed to defeat entire caravans of criminals.
(At least that’s how we remember it.)
Roughly thirty years after the show’s heyday, the driverless Google Car sped out of the lab and into the public consciousness. Since its inception, Google's vehicle has logged over 700,000 miles of road testing without a single accident.
Your Own Personal Helicopter
Well, we looked for a helicopter that could emerge from your fedora with the press of a button -- Inspector Gadget-style -- but you’re probably going to have to settle for this.
It’s the Gen H-4, the world’s first (and possibly last) personal helicopter, cursed with a $75,000 price tag and a 155-pound weight limit. But at least it can go gadget go to speeds of 90 mph.
And before you ask: yes, it comes with a parachute.
If you’re anything like us, you’ve pined for an invisibility cloak since watching Harry Potter. Thankfully, science is performing a little magic with a class of synthetic substances called “metamaterials.” Their patterns scatter light waves in ways that natural materials can’t. Using them as fabric, scientists have unveiled at least 10 prototypes for invisibility cloaks in the last decade.
Since they still only work at certain fixed angles though, you'll probably want to wait before showering behind one. Check it out below:
A Robot Companion
In film and TV history, there are good robots. (See Wall-E.) There are bad-turned-good robots. (See Terminator, then see Terminator 2.) And there are the extremely frightening evil robot children. (See the above .gif of TV’s Small Wonder.)
In real life, scientists have developed military transport bots, tele-operated surgery bots and even adorable buddy bots like the Paro (pictured below) that have been demonstrated to aid patients with dementia.
Our prediction? Soon we'll have bell-bots to help with our bags.
Cult classic They Live has a lot of things going for it:
- A fight scene starring wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper that's so long it may still be going, decades later
- Incredibly quotable lines about kicking rears and chewing bubblegum
- A pair of X-Ray glasses that reveal that aliens have infiltrated all levels of American society
While we certainly support a They Live-inspired alien defense program, we’re also glad that X-ray glasses have found a more down-to-Earth purpose -- saving lives in the medical field. The recently released Eyes-On Glasses allow doctors and nurses to see veins underneath their patients' skin, ensuring less pain when giving IVs.
Another model gives the user the ability to see through walls -- perfect for seeing if that's really room service at your door.
By now, you’re probably thinking: “Bet they’re never going to get to that way-ahead-of-its-time classic Clueless, are they?”
And we’re all, like, “as if.”
It delights us to report that technology first seen in Clueless (two decades ago!) is now available to society at large. All of those who drooled over Cher Horowitz’s digital wardrobe should immediately click on this link to Metail, the latest, most successful attempt to capture the Clueless closet. The site allows users to enter their height, weight, bra size, and skin color to create their own 3D avatar, which they can dress in actual inventory taken from clothing retailers.
Whether it was a virtual reality headset or just the lowly Power Glove, leave us a comment and tell us what movie tech you fantasized about as a kid. Chances are it might be coming soon.