6-Screen TV


When Marty Jr. gets home, he approaches the large video display in the living room, which is displaying a cropped image of “The Gold of Their Bodies (Et l’’or de Leur Corps)” by Paul Gauguin. He speaks to the screen, saying “Art off.” After a bit of static, the screen goes black. He then says, “OK, I want channels 18, 24, 63, 109, 87, and the Weather Channel.” As he says each, a sixth of the screen displays the live feed. The number for the channel appears in the upper left corner for a short while before fading. Marty Jr. then sits down to watch the six channels simultaneously.

Voice control. Perfect recognition. No modality. Spot on. It might dynamically update the screen in case he only wanted to watch 2 or 3 channels, but perhaps it is a cheaper system apropos to the McFly household.

Scenery display

BttF_096Jennifer is amazed to find a window-sized video display in the future McFly house. When Lorraine arrives at the home, she picks up a remote to change the display. We don’t see it up close, but it looks like she presses a single button to change the scene from a sculpted garden to one of a beach sunset, a city scape, and a windswept mountaintop. It’s a simple interface, though perhaps more work than necessary.

We don’t know how many scenes are available, but having to click one button to cycle through all of them could get very frustrating if there’s more than say, three. Adding a selection ring around the button would allow the display to go from a selected scene to a menu from which the next one might be selected from amongst options.

Café 80s


Following Dr. Brown’’s instructions, Marty heads to “Café 80s” where the waitstaff consists of television screens mounted on articulated arms which are suspended from the ceiling, allowing them to reach anyplace in the café. Each screen has a shelf on which small items can be delivered to a patron. Each screen features a different celebrity from the 1980s, rendered as a computer “talking head” and done in a jittery “Max Headroom” style.

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Wearable soundboard

One of Griff Tannan’’s gang, named Data, wears a sound board on his vest. When Tannan gets a rise out of Marty by asking if he’’s “chicken,” the gang member underscores the accusation by removing a protective plate over some buttons on his vest and holds one down to play a looping sound clip of a clucking chicken.


That’s pretty awesome, actually. Having all the sounds available at the touch of a button adds a layer of remix culture expressiveness with maximum speed. No modes, no menus, just remembering which sound goes with which button, and his spatial memory is perfect for that. If the buttons were labeled with the sound, or shaped informatively, it might reduce the burden on memory.


You might also reduce the time it takes to respond by removing the protective plate, but Griff is enough of a loose cannon that he might go violent if an accidental sound effect insulted him. So that extra step is probably the safest.

But if we were to really make this it’s most awesome, you’d make it agentive, such that the plate constantly listened to the conversation for keywords or keyphrases and responded with appropriate snarky sound effects. (Smartphone startup founded around this idea in 3…2…1…)


In the town square, Marty is quite surprised by a volumetric advertisement for “JAWS 19


The crude-geometry shape of a cartoon shark emerges from a projection space above the cinema, billed as “Holomax,” looms large above him, and then bends down to envelop him in its jaws before disappearing in a scattering of triangles. As a piece of interactive advertising it works well for being activated by a common urban activity, and then delivering an intense experience that is easily identified after the fact as illusory, and promising the same but more in the full volumetric moving picture experience.


Biff(2015) pays for his taxi ride to the McFly household with his thumbprint. When the ride ends, a synthesized voice gives the price “one-seven-four-point-five-zero.” The taxi driver presents him with a book-sized device with the price at the top on a red 7-segment LED display. Biff presses his thumb on a reader at the bottom that glows white as it scans. When the payment is verified, the thumbprint reader and the price go dark as a sound plays like a register.


For due diligence, let me restate: multimodal biometric or multifactor authentication is more secure.


To get Jennifer into her home, the police take her to the front door of her home. They place her thumb on a small circular reader by the door. Radial LEDs circle underneath her thumb for a moment as it reads. Then a red light above the reader turns off and a green light turns on. The door unlocks and a synthesized voice says, “Welcome home, Jennifer!”


Similarly to the Thumbdentity, a multifactor authentication would be much more secure. The McFly family is struggling, so you might expect them to have substandard technology, but that the police are using something similar casts that in doubt.


When officers Foley and Reese find the sleeping Jennifer, they thumbprint her on a wireless handheld device, and Officer Foley looks up the young girl’s information. Looking at the screen she retrieves Jennifer’(2015)’s address and age.


Thumbprint is a fine unimodal authenticator, but much better is multimodal biometric or multifactor authenticator to be certain of identity.



Doc Brown uses some specialized binoculars to verify that Marty’ Jr. is at the scene according to plan. He flips them open and puts his eyes up to them. When we see his view, a reticle of green corners is placed around the closest individual in view. In the lower right hand corner are three measurements, “DISTgamma, and “XYZ.” These numbers change continuously. A small pair of graphics at the bottom illustrate whether the reticle is to left or right of center.


As discussed in Chapter 8 of Make It So, augmented reality systems like this can have several awarenesses, and this has some sensor display and people awareness. I’m not sure what use the sensor data is to Doc, and the people detector seems unable to track a single individual consistently.


So, a throwaway interface that doesn’t help much beyond looking gee-whiz(1989).

The Jacket


Dr. Brown gives Marty some 21st century clothes in order to blend in. The first is the pair of Nike MAGs. The other item of clothing Marty must don is a jacket. It has two functions. When Marty first tries it on, the sleeves are nearly twice as long as they ought to be. After complaining that it doesn’t fit, Dr. Brown reaches and pinches a blinking and beeping red LED at the base of the jacket’’s zipper. In response, the sleeves retract to a proper length, the pocket flaps shrink, and the epaulettes flatten out as a synthesized voice states, ““Adjusting fit.”

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