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Smart Clothes and Shoes

Technologies in the Film

Image credit: Back to the Future II (1985)

When Marty first reaches 2015, the Doc gives him a change of futuristic clothes so Marty can pose as his own son as he wanders around the future. Among the items are Nike shoes that can tighten themselves and clothes that can self-fit to the wearer's body. We also find out later the clothes are capable of drying themselves when wet.

Smart shoes

Nike has actually recently been awarded a patent on such Back to the Future-inspired self-fitting shoes. The concept itself, as outlined in the patent, is relatively simple. Once the shoe detects the pressure of the user's foot, the laces tighten until they detect a certain threshold force and then lock the laces. However, only 1,500 of these shoes will be made and sold, as the proceeds will be given to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for funding research on Parkinson's Disease -- although Nike owns this patent, it is currently only using self-tightening shoes as promotional material and is not making them widely available [1]. The technology is available today to make this a reality, however, and it is even possible to make your own cheaply.

Smart clothes

Although self-fitting and self-drying clothes as seen in the movie are not available, other smart technologies, such as flexible liquid crystals and solar panels, have begun to be integrated into clothes today. So-called 'smart clothing' actually began in the 19th century with using artificial fibers to make clothes stronger, lighter, wind-resistant, and water-resistant using materials such as rayon or extra-light nylon [2]. Marty's clothes in the movie dry themselves by blowing air, but it is more likely that clothes in the future will simply be made of some type of superhydrophobic coating which simply won't get wet in the first place, similar to the NeverWet spray-on coating technology available today [3].

Existing wearable technologies today

On the other hand, electronics have recently begun to be integrated into clothing and accessories, as well. For example, some hiking backpacks exist today with solar panels to charge devices such as GPS systems and cellphones and Arduino sells a microcontroller which is designed to be sewn into clothes to bring additional functionality, such as sound detection and LED lighting, to clothes as well [4]. These devices fit into the growing category of "wearable technologies," which has grown recently to include popular devices from large companies such as Google's Glass and Samsung's Gear smartwatch, which feature smartphone-type apps and internet connectivity. The purpose of most of these devices is more for health-monitoring and simple communication rather than full-on web browsing and computing. Other devices in the category include health-tracking wireless headphones, GPS bracelets, rings for controlling home appliances, shirts with GPS tracking, socks that pair themselves with only one other sock through radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, baby health-monitoring smart diapers, and glucose-monitoring contact lenses [5]. However, as of yet, no clothes exist that are capable of self-adjusting the way Marty McFly's do.