From Fiction to Reality: Back to the Future
In the movie Back to the Future II, a young Marty McFly travels to the future and lands in 2015, discovering the world has changed with flying cars, people walking around with pocket computers, hoverboards, and cars powered by banana peels.
Though the movie depicted a wildly imaginative future, in reality we're not too far off from some of the gadgets seen in the movie. Sure, we may not be hovering around on anti-gravity hoverboards anytime soon, but there are some cool technologies out there that are making movie magic come true.
Portable Thumb Unit
In the movie: Portable thumb units were used in 2015 by Doc to collect donations and other funds by just scanning a person's thumbprint.
In reality: You may not be able to make donations just using your thumbprint, but there's something that comes close to it. A US-based company called Square has created an add-on that turns your mobile smartphone into a device that can accept credit card transactions. All you need to do is attach a square-like credit card scanner to the iPhone, and you can accept credit card payments to your personal account just by swiping it on the spot.
In the movie: The DeLorean car, which is also the time machine, could convert into a flying car. The idea of flying cars is nothing new, having been around in dozens of sci-fi movies and books since the turn of the century, but we still haven't seen anything like it in real life... yet.
In reality: Given the years since the idea of the flying car floated around, it's been disappointing to find out that our cars are still firmly rooted to the road. In 2010, however, it was reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the US is looking to develop a flying car about the size of two Humvees by the year 2015 (coincidence?).
“The Government's envisioned concept consists of a robust ground vehicle that is capable of configuring into a VTOL [Vertical Take Off and Landing] air vehicle with a maximum payload capability of approximately 1,000 lbs,” the report from DARPA stated, adding that the car would be able to lift-off like a helicopter, and reach an altitude of 10,000 feet.
In the movie: Bionic implants were used to replace certain body parts with robotic pieces. Some implants had the capability to make people stronger, taller, and enhance other physical capabilities.
In reality: Bionics have been mostly used in the military and the healthcare sector, where it has helped the disabled regain their functions like walking, seeing, and using their hands again. In 2010, for instance, Miikka Terho, a man with an inherited form of blindness could perceive certain shapes after being fitted with an experimental chip behind his retina.
The chip, which is placed in front of the retina, works by converting light that enters the eye into electrical impulses which are fed into the optic nerve behind the eye. So far, it has enabled people like Terho to make out items like a mug on a table, a clock face and differentiate between several shades of grey.
Another form of bionic enhancement comes in the form of exoskeletons, like the eLEGS Professional device, an exoskeleton for those who have difficulty walking. Developed by Berkeley Bionics, eLEGS was made using technology from the military-grade Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC), which is used by soldiers to carry a load of up to 200 pounds and run up to 10 miles per hour. eLEGS is expected to be available in rehabilitation centres in the US by January 2012, with a personal exoskeleton version available for use in the home by 2013.
Watch a demo of eLEGS here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcM0ruq28dc
In the movie: The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor was the power source used by the DeLorean car by instantly converting everyday garbage like banana skins and leftover canned drinks into fuel through nuclear fusion.
In reality: We may never see a nuclear reactor the size of a coffee pot, but the potential is out there to power a mobile phone using Coca-Cola. Last year, Daizi Zheng created a concept Nokia mobile phone that could run on soft drinks. “The concept is using bio battery to replace the traditional battery to create a pollution free environment,” she wrote.
“Bio battery is an ecologically friendly energy generates electricity from carbohydrates (currently sugar) and utilizes enzymes as the catalyst. By using bio battery as the power source of the phone, it only needs a pack of sugary drink and it generates water and oxygen while the battery dies out.”
The resulting bio battery has enough juice to operate the phone three to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium batteries. It may take several years – if ever – before we see bio batteries replacing conventional, nickel-cadmium or lithium-ion batteries, but they do have a bright future in medicine, where implants within human bodies can utilise the sugars in human fluids to keep functioning.