Science Interviews


Tue, 27th Oct 2015

Sci-fi inspired technology

Peter Cowley, Tech Investor

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Does the date October 21, 2015 mean anything to you? Well, if youíre a fan of Smart WatchBack to the Future, then it should do: it was the date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to in the movie, thirty years ago. Peter Cowley and Chris Smith discussed which of the technologies that the duo experienced in their futuristic 2015 have actually been invented, they started with wearable technology.

Peter - Let me first say that the last time I saw this film was in 1986 so I can't remember the film. I should have watched it again recently. He was talking into his jacket so some of microphone and speaker system,  which as youíve probably seen people wandering around streets at the moment with their new watches, actually talking to their wrists. So wearable technology built into clothes fibre which is a conductor. There's huge amounts of work going on there. Nothing thatís yet sort of a killer application for it, but lots of interesting stuff, a bit like internet things, lots of new ideas, but haven't yet been adopted.

Chris - The other thing thatís quite big in the film is video conferencing. They make a really big thing of that and that of course has come to pass, the idea of sort of talking to each other on a big screen.

Peter - Yes. You could do that using PC. In fact, you can do that using video conferencing probably 20 years ago. You could do it on our own laptops and PCs probably 10 or 15 years ago. But itís when the smartphone came out about 8, 9 years ago, as it made a big difference. Of course, with facilities on there such as Skype and then FaceTime, itís made it very easy to do that.

Chris - The other thing that Marty gets ripped up about by a bunch of people in the shopping mall is he goes into an arcade and wants to play a game using a joystick. They were going, how 20th century is that because itís all about just moving your hands around to move things. Thatís just basically the Wii, isn't it?

Peter - Yes. In fact, itís more than that. You may not know but some cars now are starting to get gesture control so that you donít have to take your fingers off the steering wheel in order to move your fingers around.

Chris - I thought you're going to say, you didnít have to have your hands on the steering wheel.

Peter - I was watching some Teslaís 7.0 software came out and people donít need to. There are some really quite frightening videos on the internet at the moment about that.

Chris - So you can drive hands free.

Peter - You can let go. You can press a button like you could do with cruise control and then a steering control effectively.

Chris - Because everything that Tesla have got is a charging robot, which comes up to their car and then connects itself to charge the car up and that was something that was made a big thing of in Back to the Future because they drive into a fuelling station and there's this robot that comes along and fills your car with fuel. Itís very, very similar although Teslaís one is slightly smaller. So, thatís something thatís come to pass.

Peter - Yeah. It doesnít seem necessary that really because the induction loops will be available before long. In fact, I think you can get an option for Tesla or other cars possibly where you just park it in the garage, it will charge it without any form of contact.

Chris - What about these self-tying shoelaces? That would be wouldnít it?

Peter - Would  it be good?

Chris - Iím quite intrigued by that one.

Peter - I donít know. I'm getting older. In fact, it turns out actually that I wasÖ

Chris - Well, you use this as an index of your own ability like, ďI could still tie my shoelace therefore, I'm okay.Ē

Peter - Itís like Google glasses. If that ever gets adopted, Iíd be able to recognise people in the street then when I get older.

Chris - Well actually, Nike have said that they are going to bring out some kind of self-tying shoe fixer by the end of this year.

Peter - There's a patent thatís beenÖ

Chris - Is it going to get realised?

Peter - What is the point to this?

Chris - For people who can't tie up their shoelaces, one presumes.

Peter - Then why donít they just have slip-ons? What's special? I mean, if youíve got special shoes personally for running or for mountain climbing, one hopes you're subtle enough to get to your feet.

Chris - So, you donít think thatís going to catch on.

Peter - I donít see the reasons to catch.

Chris - Even if it does tie itself up.

Peter - I donít know Chris, honestly.

Chris - What about other films and things that have had a sort of a look and theyíve been based in the future?

Peter - The film I really enjoyed the most was 2001: A Space Odyssey in a very geeky way which came out in the late Ď60s. There were things in there that Arthur C. Clarke had sort of made some futuristic guesses at. Things like the tablets. Have you seen the film, Chris?

Chris - Well, a long time ago.

Peter - Yeah. There's a point where he seems to be eating a variety of different sorts of mustards or something and heís got a tablet in front of him - heís watching some sort of movie or something on there. What's interesting is that Arthur C. Clarke had not foreseen the fact that touchscreens would be around, which is about right because touchscreens only were patented in the late í60s, early í70, and he wrote the book in í68. So, itís still got buttons on it. Clearly, that's come about though only in the last 10 years.

Chris - The interesting thing about Back to the Future is that they totally missed the boat on smart telephones, didnít they? In the film, everyoneís got a fax machine. They seem to think that fax machines were going to be ubiquitous. Everyone was going to have one of those, almost a fax machine on your wrist and I donít know why they went down that route.

Peter - No. It was strange because it late enough that the personal computer have started to come around. The Apples were produced in volume and lots of other manufacturers, the IBM PC of course have come out as well. So, who knows why they didnít. An email was around as well for academics. They're not for the general consumer.


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