Back to Blog • Posted on November 7, 2014 by admin
Ever since the creation of the modern film industry, filmmakers have used advancements in special effects to depict their visions of future technology in dozens of blockbuster science fiction films. And as consumers, watching these films has frequently blown our minds when we see technology that we couldn’t possibly see in real life.
Frequently though, science has proven us wrong, borrowing from film concepts in research to come up with modern day real-life advancements that meet and even sometimes exceed the expectations created by the films. Star Trek preempted smartphones, The Jetsons robot vacuum paved the way for Zoomba, 2001: A Space Odyssey showed us video-calling before Skype ever existed.
So what other real-life tech existed on-screen before it did in real life?
Let’s take a look:
Back to the Future Part II – Hologram Entertainment
Even if you haven’t seen the Back to the Future films, images of a young Michael J. Fox sporting a jacket-vest, skateboarding behind cars, and destroying a giant amp with his electric guitar are as iconic as they come. The second film in the trilogy depicts the franchise’s vision of what the future would be like (the year in that film, btw, was 2015; unless something drastic happens, we don’t think this will be in fashion by next year:
Many of the things present in the film are in existence today though, such as instant food, wireless video games, and those ridiculous shoes.
However, the latest Back to the Future reality has come in the form of holograms.
In recent years, holograms have become a fad in the music industry, with the technology being used mostly to bring deceased artists back to life for one final encore performance. Taking the stage in front of millions of adoring fans in the crowd and at home, we’ve been witness to surreal acts such as Michael Jackson at this year’s Billboard Music Awards, Tupac Shakur at Coachella in 2012, and Elvis Presley performing with Celine Dion on American Idol in 2007. With modern (and very much alive) artists like Beyonce, M.I.A., Janelle Monae, Mariah Carey, and The Gorillaz utilizing the technology for some of their performances, it’s safe to say holograms aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Though many fans admitted to being a little creeped out by the realistic appearances of people we all know are dead, there’s almost unanimous agreement that this is one of the coolest sci-fi fantasies to ever become a reality.
I, Robot – Google’s Self-driving car
We’ve all been there. You’re driving through rush hour traffic and you think to yourself, “I wish I could just watch some TV right now.” Or read. Or do anything but stare at the brake lights of the car in front of you.
Though the concept of self-driving cars isn’t a recent one–the notion having been around since Isaac Asimov wrote the short story collection I, Robot back in 1950–no other movie partnered with Audi to make the concept look so good.
However, having a car drive itself in a film carries a totally different level of difficulty than having it happen in real life, even if the director does have to simultaneously tackle the issue of having Will Smith surfing an automated vehicle that’s going 200+ miles per hour.
So it’s only fitting that the tech giant Google took it upon themselves to tackle the real-life issue.
Still in in the testing phase, Google’s self-driving car technology probably won’t be on the market for a few years, but techs at the company believe it will be commonplace at some point in our lifetime.
They’re even taking it one step further and made the car controllable from a mobile app.
It’s one of the most iconic moments in cinema history [Spoiler Alert, though we’re pretty confident we don’t actually need to say that]:
Luke Skywalker, hanging on to a platform for dear life, arguing with his arch-nemesis Darth Vader about Jedi matters right before Vader floors Luke with one of the greatest movie twists of all time: “I am your father.”
That moment blew theater-goers away in 1980, almost as much as the innovative technology in the film. Probably the most critical moment for both the plot and the visual effect of the film though took place after Luke and Vader’s penultimate fight, when Luke’s hand (chopped off by Vader right before his revelation; obviously not his most fatherly moment) is replaced by a bionic appendage that both looks like a human hand and functions as one too, to the point that Luke sort of shrugs off the entire incident as just one of those things that happen when your father is a sadistic psychopath with Jedi superpowers.
In real life though, this visual effect got many scientists thinking about how to recreate the effect in real life. And while artificial appendages aren’t a new concept–various iterations have existed in the medical field for years–none could really claim to be anything more than a cosmetic replacement. Looking at someone’s prosthetic hand in the past, it’s always been obvious that’s exactly what it was: a prosthetic. Simply because of the obvious: it didn’t move, didn’t feel, didn’t function as anything other than a placeholder.
Then Touch Bionics got involved.
With their new i-limb, the tech company has gone further than even George Lucas could have imagined, crafting a bionic hand that not only has nearly all the functions of a real hand–including individual finger movement, realistic grip and life-like artificial skin–but can also be controlled and configured from a mobile app, giving the user 14 different grip options to allow flexibility in their everyday life. While it may not be exactly like a real hand, the technology is there, and Touch Bionics has gotten us as close to replacing severed limbs as humanity’s ever been.
We just hope their test subjects didn’t lose their hand laser-sword fighting with their illegitimate father.
Minority Report – Air Touch Technology
2002’s Minority Report was another one of those multi-million dollar Stephen Spielberg blockbusters that he seems to come out every couple of years, this one starring Tom Cruise in a story straight from the late Philip K. Dick’s (Total Recall, Blade Runner) hyper-accelerated imagination. So it’s only fitting that the movie displayed a future in which many technologies existed that we didn’t have at the time.
The interesting thing about this film though–a story in which the murder rate is down to almost zero thanks to three pre-cognitive mutants who predict each capital crime so the police can arrest people before they kill–is that a lot of the tech in the film was based on realistic concepts, with most of the advancements existing publicly today.
One of the coolest pieces of technology in the film though is the touch screen computer Cruise uses when searching for future murderers.
Anybody with a smartphone knows that touch screens are nothing new. With companies like Apple and Samsung pioneering the technology, there are elementary school kids walking around with iPads as we speak, swiping left and right as fast as their sticky fingers let them.
But a Taiwanese tech company has taken the concept a bit further, patenting their brand new Air Touch technology.
Utilizing special eyeglasses with an internal camera and an air-touch interface, the company has created a machine that allows you to control a keyboard or touch screen without actually having to touch anything but the air right in front of your face.
Talk about the ultimate in hands-free.
The Matrix – Virtual Reality
[Yet another spoiler alert, though we highly recommend–if you haven’t seen The Matrix–that you promptly clear your evening and purchase a copy]
In 1999, Keanu Reeves was known mostly for starring roles in films like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Speed, and The Devil’s Advocate, among many, many others.
But the close of the 20th century saw Reeves’ stardom reach a whole new level when he decided to fill the shoes of The One–aka Neo–a computer nerd turned prophetic messiah and general superhuman within the artificial world known as The Matrix.
While The Matrix itself isn’t all that desirable–in the movie its a virtual reality system created to enslave humanity from birth so our bodies can be used as a power source for the hostile machines that have taken over the planet–the idea of virtual reality has intrigued tech scientists for decades.
Which is definitely the motivation behind the creation of the Oculus Rift.
In development from Oculus VR since 2012 as their company’s first product–expected to be available to the public sometime in 2015–the Rift boasts the latest in virtual reality technology, meant to completely immerse users in the world of their choosing. Primarily a video game system, the practical applications of the Rift are far-reaching. And unlike The Matrix, it doesn’t have to plug into the back of your skull.
The Day the Earth Stood Still – Nanobots
Our second Keanu Reeves motion picture mention (we told you the guy’s been in a lot of movies), The Day the Earth Stood Still was less successful than The Matrix, but boasted just as many unrealized technological concepts. Namely the existence of nanobots.
In the film, the tiny robots aren’t nearly as helpful as we’d like, carrying the sole purpose of destroying mankind and everything man-made. But the idea of tiny robots has been intriguing scientists since before the film was even produced.
In reality, nanobot technology is meant to function in almost exactly the opposite manner of the ones in the film. Various scientists have been developing various nano concepts for some time, with the practical applications centering around the medical field. As a matter of fact, scientists at University of California–as well as researchers in China and Germany–have already developed concepts and test models for nanobots meant to enter the body through the mouth or skin and target cancer cells, theoretically destroying them before they have the chance to grow into life-threatening tumors.
Though mostly in the conceptual phase, scientists are confident there will be an actual publicly-approved product in the near future.
However, this isn’t to say that The Day the Earth Stood Still destructive bots aren’t feasible. The U.S. Defense Department has also been pouring money into micro-robotic technology in recent years with the hopes of developing swarming nanobots that can replace droids.
With two sides of the spectrum looking to develop the same technology, expect nanobots to be a thing of the not-so-far future.
Independence Day – Laser Weaponry
If it seems like Keanu Reeves and Will Smith films are dominating this list, that’s because they are. That said, in July of 1996 Smith was coming off the final episode of his hit TV show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air along with the box office success Bad Boys with Martin Lawrence. Yet nothing he did before ’96 was as successful as the highest-grossing movie that year: Independence Day.
A straightforward alien invasion story, the film was a technological masterpiece at the time, mostly due to the depiction of the aliens’ laser technology, capable of destroying entire cities with one deadly blast.
While no laser this powerful has been created in real life (nuclear bombs are a whole different story), the notion of directed-energy weapons has been keen on the minds of military scientists around the world for years. Which is probably why it will come as no surprise that they’re a lot closer to realizing that laser vision than they were when Independence Day came out:
Nicknamed LaWS (for Laser Weapon System), this laser cannon was created by the navy and has already been tested on U.S. droids flying over the mounted ship. Soundless and cheaper than guns and bullets, the Navy hopes to have these fully operational in short order.
Star Trek – 3D Printer
Star Trek fans around the world have seen a lot of the tech advances present in their favorite show/films become a reality in recent years, especially in the form of mobile technology (we could even argue that the existence of smartphones surpasses any communicator the space explorers possessed).
However, one of the more farfetched concepts in the show concerned the replicator, a machine capable of creating objects out of thin air.
Not possible in real life, right? Well…sort of. Enter: 3D printing.
3D printing has actually been consumer-ready for a couple of years now, with the technology improving considerably since 2010. The concept is close to that of a traditional printer, only instead of using paper to recreate a two-dimensional image from computer software, these printers use various materials (a lot of them recyclable) to create a three-dimensional object from your computer.
While you can’t yet create a martini glass, the range of these machines is wide, with the prices coming down to affordable levels in recent years.
Plus, it beats going out to the store to buy an actual action figure.
Iron Man – TALOS
Previously one of Marvel’s less-revered franchises, Robert Downey Jr. breathed new life into the superhero in 2008’s Iron Man. The film was also a vehicle for the display of some pretty cool technology, none as awesome as the eponymous character’s metal armor.
We can only imagine the Defense Department’s reaction when they saw this creation. We picture men in military uniforms salivating as they scramble to call up their researchers and get them down to development.
Fast forward to present day and we’ve got images of the military’s recently unveiled TALOS (aka Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit). Still in development in conjunction with various universities, labs, and tech companies, the concept consists of a robotic exoskeleton that the government claims will be bulletproof, weaponized, and have the ability to monitor vitals while also giving the user increased strength.
All we want to know is if it can fly.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Machine-to-Machine (M2M)
One of the most well-known science-fiction franchises of all time, the Terminator series utilizes robotics, time travel, and a beefed-up Arnold Schwarzenegger to create an epic fantasy tale filled with intrigue, betrayal, murder, deception, and a whole lot of shooting.
The technological concepts provided in the film are numerous, but at the most basic level the movie is about machines communicating with each other, an idea that used to be confined to the limits of our imagination.
That is, until now.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology has been taking the tech industry by storm as of late. An umbrella term for any wired or wireless technology that allows machines to communicate with each other, the overall goal of the trend is to eventually have all machines not just connected to each other at some point in the future, but actually communicating.
In other words, when your microwave finishes cooking your food it will send a signal to your refrigerator to pour you a cup of water, at which point the fridge will send a signal to your phone sitting next to you in the living room letting you know dinner’s ready.
Companies pioneering the concept (i.e. Windriver, IDC, and Kika Enterprises, amongst others) have seen a lot of growth in M2M interest in 2014 especially. With companies like Kika acting as a forerunner in the field, the hope is to have machines connected very soon.
Though Kika assures customers a Terminator-like future is not part of their business plan.