It's almost here, guys! Flying cars! Jetpacks! Hoverboards! Or so we've been promised. It seems these technologies are always just two years away. At least that's what the media keeps telling us.
Today we're looking at promises for the near-future that haven't quite arrived yet. We want so desperately to believe that they're just over the horizon! But we really wish that the horizon would stop moving on us.
Every six months or so, the media run stories about how YOUR FLYING CAR IS ALMOST HERE! Just two more years, they promise. Just two more years and you'll be flying like George Jetson. Except those two years keeps getting pushed back.
Flying cars have been a futurist staple since the 1920s. And we've even had real "flying cars" since the 1950s. Over the last half decade people like Paul Moller and companies like Terrafugia have kept promising that soon they will become a mainstream reality. But until half of America has a Flying DeLorean in the garage, we're not ready to call this one realized.
We're living in 2015 — the year Marty and Doc traveled to in Back to the Future Part II. And last year was a big year for hoverboards. We had the Funny or Die hoverboard hoax. And then a company in California promised that their Hendo hoverboard was coming soon.
The only problem? The Hendo hoverboard is little more than a PR stunt for the inventors to raise money for their real goal: Levitation in architecture for earthquake-proofing. That's right. Even if the Hendo wasn't incredibly noisy, difficult to control, and only worked on special surfaces, we'd still be waiting for quite a while for that hoverboard to become mainstream. Don't get your hopes up just yet.
The promise that we'd one day have a humanoid robot butler is older than the word robot itself. Who wouldn't want their very own Rosey the Robot to cook meals for them or pick up their dirty socks? I know I would! But humanoid robots are hard work. They still have incredible obstacles ranging from battery life to problems with just general dexterity.
Agencies like DARPA and companies like Google have made tremendous strides in humanoid robot technology. But before we invite robots into our homes to help feed us salty snacks, we're going to have to make sure they're a bit more delicate than the robot pictured above.
The jetpack is one of those technologies that, much like the flying car, we've had since midcentury. The only problem? Just like the flying car, it's tremendously wasteful.
Sure, you can zip around for about 30 seconds. And it looks really really cool! But we have yet to devise an energy source to propel a person into the air that won't run out after a mere minute. Oh, not to mention that whole safety thing.
There's no technology that ebbs and flows quite like virtual reality. Unlike the flying car, various versions of VR headsets have actually come to market in a semi-serious way. But can they achieve mainstream success?
Facebook's purchase of Oculus gives many hope that ubiquitous VR is just around the corner. And I hope they're right! But consider me a skeptic until we have a way to make those headsets a bit more... compact.
The driverless car has a long, painful history. We've been waiting on this one since at least the 1930s. But making a fully autonomous driverless car that's safe and reliable is incredibly difficult. Just ask the people at DARPA who were trying to make one at a secret government facility back in the 1980s.
Thanks to companies like Google, the DARPA Challenge, and just about every car company in the world, the fully automated driverless car feels as close as ever. But promises of "just two more years" feel a bit premature. We've nearly cracked this nut. But sadly we have quite a while before the completely driverless car becomes mainstream. Until then the only thing we can say for sure is that we'll see plenty of articles promising that the driverless car is "just two years away!"
I legitimately hope I'm wrong about every single one of these. I'd love a robot butler right now! And driverless cars really would be neat! But despite our popular conception of technological development, progress is painfully slow. That's just the way things work.
Tech's march through history is incremental and rarely materializes precisely as it was envisioned. That's the fun of the future! But it's also what makes it so incredibly frustrating.