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I know it is almost April Fool’s Day here in the United States, and the tech industry has a history of issuing fake news stories about technology. This post is not about fake tech, but about throwback future tech we have seen for decades in films, TV shows and science fiction books.
Before you read further, which, if any, of these technologies do you think actually exist?
If you guessed that all four exist in some form, good job.
Let’s start with the most commonly mentioned tech unicorn, the flying car. Ever since the early 20th century, when flight was first achieved and the first mass-produced cars hit the roads, people have been predicting the age of the flying car. Many fiction stories include flying personal vehicles that fueled the imagination, including “The Jetsons,” “Star Wars,” “The Fifth Element,” “Blade Runner” and many others.
So where is our flying car?
The problem is less about possibility than it is about economics, efficiency and social rules. There are multiple flying vehicles that have been tested and tout the flying car moniker, including the Aeromobil 3.0, Terrafugia Transition, and Moller Skycar.
None are in mass production yet—and all will cost between $250,000 and $500,000. While all three can drive on the ground and fly in the air, a flying car is neither going to be the best driving experience nor the best flying experience. Though this promotional video from Aeromobil certainly makes it look pretty darn cool.
Most importantly though, there are very specific rules for air travel, which in the United States is already under strain due to unmanned drone traffic. The technology will likely exist well before the political will to make the necessary practical changes.
Ah, the dream of every 12-year-old boy. Or maybe it’s just me.
Jetpacks have been in public consciousness at least since 1928, when Phillip Francis Nolan published the novella “Armageddon 2419 AD.” Since then depictions of a jetpack in “Return of the Jedi,” the James Bond film “Thunderbolt” and “The Rocketeer” have only added fuel to the raging fire of desire for this tech.
Well, jetpacks do exist.
Just ask Jetman Yves Rossy, though his pack is more of a small jet-propelled wing. You want your own pack, though? Try Martin Jetpack, though you will need to put down a $5,000 deposit on your $150,000 pack, due in 2017. At least it’s cheaper than the flying car.
There is also a much cheaper way to at least experience the feeling of a jetpack. A water-powered jetpack, or flyboard, has been available since 2011 and can be either purchased or rented at major vacation spots. It works with pressurized water jets, but its capacity for travel is significantly limited by the length of a hose tethered to a jetski. And occasionally by user error.
Half skateboard, half harrier jet. Anyone who saw “Back to the Future II” knows immediately about this technology, which appeared in the future year of … 2015. Wait a minute. Where is my hoverboard?
For only $10,000, you could have been one of the first 10 hoverboard owners. Unfortunately these boards can only be used on ramps composed of specific metals, like copper. So unfortunately, you won’t be zooming around Hill Valley anytime soon, but you can easily pull off an ollie at your local metal skate park.
Never fear though, for the minds behind the flyboard are also releasing a water-powered hoverboard, which looks way cooler than the jetpack.
Food replacement has dated back to the late 19th century, when suffragette Mary Elizabeth Lease proclaimed that in a century that food would be in pill form, freeing all people from the chains of the kitchen. Science fiction followed suit, whether it was the nutrition porridge of “The Matrix,” the three-course meal gum in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” lembas bread from “Lord of the Rings” or “The Jetsons” food pills.
While vitamins and minerals are easier to replicate, the body also requires calories for energy. While we have progressed in many ways towards this goal with dehydrated foods, Pemmican, space ice cream and powdered drinks, complete food replacement has eluded us.
Robert Rhinehart, engineer and CEO of Rosa Labs, thinks he has found a possibility with his product Soylent. While he admits the possibility of it not working on all people, Soylent is a food product shake that combines all of the elemental nutrition needed by an adult human, without any actual food. Appetizing.
Oh and speaking of the Wonka three-course meal gum? Yeah, that concept has seriously been worked on as well.
Laser guns, invisibility and more
While this blog is not an exhaustive list of science fiction technologies we thought would be commercially available by now, this is an entry into the topic. In a future post I will delve into a variety of other potential technologies, including laser guns, invisibility cloaks and 3D holograms.