How does Back to the Future’s Hill Valley 2015 compare to today’s reality? Part 2: Connected Cars and Wearable Tech

Last updated: 24 April 2015

To celebrate Mobile World Congress, we’re publishing a series of posts looking at how reality compares with the technological vision of 2015 presented by Back to the Future Part 2. Click here to read Part 1, where we assessed how identification and payment today compares to the future Marty and Doc found in the time-travelling classic.

Yesterday, we praised Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis for accurately foreseeing the practicality of biometric authentication in today’s reality, but not all of the film’s predictions have come to fruition… yet. Of course, there are some aspects of Marty and Doc’s future that we’re grateful didn’t creep into our reality, like the double-tie being the epitome of fashion and fax machines representing the most crucial method of communication, but some of the film’s more eccentric ideas might not actually be too far away in the future.

One of the film’s most obvious errors is the flying car. Yes, they do exist, but the power systems required for flying cars (and indeed, the ‘1.21 gigawatts’ needed for time travel) aren’t at the stage where we have mainstream models. Another stumbling block is that air traffic control plans have yet to be drafted which means for the time being, at least, our cars are stuck on roads!  However, a key differentiator between the cars of the future will be how connected they are. As Dieter Zetsche, Chair of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz worldwide, said earlier this year, “The car of the future [is] a smartphone on wheels.”

This highlights the importance of in-car connectivity. The market is anticipated to grow from 45 million connected cars on the road in 2013 to 420 million connected cars in the next three years. Indeed, by 2020, it is expected that 90% of cars will carry built-in connectivity, with fitted internet connections and wireless networks to allow for music streaming, internet searches and news updates. More features of the connected car are services based on data supplied from the car, like advance warning that a part needs to be replaced, and the bringing together of multiple vehicles, communicating with each other and with smart infrastructure to make traffic flow more smoothly and safely. Eventually, it is the connected car that may deliver a driverless future. However, unlike smartphones, the connected car needs to be rugged enough to ensure that a cyber-security breach doesn’t cause a risk to real-world security.

Demonstrations have already shown that hackers can access and control a vehicle’s systems, including steering, braking and acceleration, by accessing a car’s internal computer systems, known as the Controller Area Network (CAN), through a car radio or Bluetooth and wireless networks, so it’s important that we get security right. After all, as cool as NFC or Bluetooth locks might be, if someone can just stroll right up and steal your Delorean then the results could be catastrophic.

The film was also fairly accurate in anticipating how we communicate and consume entertainment, anticipating the rise of 3D Films, video telephony and even wearable technology. At the future McFly dinner table, Marty Junior and Marlene wear video glasses which have Google Glass-style capabilities, such as cameras, video calling and access to an unspecified database of information. It is reported that Google Glass failed because it was “years away from a finished product” – perhaps it was the pressure of meeting the expectation of Back to the Future fans which brought about the products downfall. More recently, however, prototypes of Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens are promising to deliver experiences unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in their immersive headsets. The wearable technology market is currently worth $22.7 billion and it is expected to rise to $173.3 billion by 2020, so there is no chance that the technological advancements will stop now.

Check back tomorrow for the final part of our blog series, where we will be looking at other predictions from Back to the Future Part 2 and consider what technological advancements our future might hold.