Hoverboards, smartwatches and virtual reality - The tech that proved 2015 really was the future

It may not have seemed like it, but 2015 was the year we finally arrived in the future

Doug Bolton
Thursday 24 December 2015 15:28

2015 was a big year for technology, but we're still far way from the mid-90s dream of owning flying cars and living on the moon.

The real world may have failed to live up to the past's utopian futurism, but there were a few tech devices released throughout the year that would have seemed mind-boggling a few decades ago.

Just to prove the present isn't so bad, here's a list of all the tech that made 2015 the actual future.


Hoverboards were arguably both 2015's biggest gadget and the most major letdown of the year.

First of all, they don't actually hover, and lots of the newer models have a nasty habit of blowing up at a moment's notice.

From the ill-fated Sinclair C5 to the Segway, innovative modes of personal transport haven't really progressed that much since the invention of the bicycle.

However, 2015 was the year that futuristic, high-tech self-balancing scooters actually hit the mainstream. Few people have ever seen a Segway in the wild, but it was impossible to walk down any high street across the country this year without seeing an obnoxious flashing hoverboard.

Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for our politicians to catch up with the future - hoverboards remain illegal to use on public pavements in the UK.

Actual hoverboards

All the hoverboard pedants got what they asked for this year when a couple of real hoverboards were developed - hoverboard startup Hendo released a new model of their device, a fairly clunky-looking skateboard that suspends the rider a few centimetres above the ground.

Lexus also revealed a hoverboard they had developed, a much slicker-looking device that spews steam out the side.

Unfortunately, both of these hoverboards only work when travelling over metal surfaces, since they work through the principles of magnetic repulsion.

We're still far away from the dream of gliding down an ordinary street on a real-life hoverboard, but we can dream.


Almost every mobile company worth its salt brought out a smartwatch this year, with most of them boasting fitness tracking, internet and phone features in surprisingly tiny packages.

Smartwatches still aren't too widely used - most people are content just to use their phone to do all the things that smartwatches can do.

But the idea of having a mini-computer on your wrist that allows you to talk to anyone in the world has been a staple of sci-fi movies for decades. It actually exists now, and it works well. It's just no-one uses it.

Virtual reality

Games companies and film studios have tried to create virtual reality for ages, but 2015 was the year that the tech actually made it possible.

Samsung's Gear VR brought seriously impressive virtual reality to the masses for a low price, and huge leaps were made with devices like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

By tracking the user's head movements, VR headsets can replicate those movements inside a game or a film, showing the image to the user on the headset's built-in screens.

They look very odd, but the dream of full immersion in a game or a film is coming even closer.

Most leading headsets are still in the late development stages, with many scheduled for release in early 2016 - so next year should be an even bigger one for this new technology.

Back to the Future Day

What greater proof is there that we're living in the future than a two-second shot from a 1985 sci-fi film?

Back to the Future burned the vision of hoverboards, self-lacing shoes and wearing two ties into the minds of a generation of moviegoers, and the date that Doc Brown and Marty McFly travelled to in Back to the Future Part II actually rolled around on 21 October this year.

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo didn't get a huge amount of attention this year, and it's not yet officially available in the UK. That's a shame because it's a fairly amazing piece of tech, acting like a slightly more benevolent version of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If you need to search the internet for something, solve a difficult sum or make a reminder, all you need to do is call out across the room to Alexa (the Echo's digital assistant) and she'll do the rest for you.

The Echo actually works pretty well, and there's nothing more futuristic than having an omnipresent virtual butler to keep track of your life sat on your mantlepiece.

Self-driving cars

Autonomous cars, the kind that are being developed by Google (and possibly Apple), have been a topic of research for a while.

But in 2015, they reached a new stage - in November, Google's autonomous car became the first to be pulled over by a police officer, Switzerland announced that a self-driving bus would take to the roads, and Tesla released an 'autopilot' feature on all their cars that actually brought semi-autonomy into the mainstream.

It'll still be years until the dangerous task of driving is taken out of the hands of clumsy humans, but some huge advances towards a more robot-filled future were made this year.

Vertical-landing rockets made it back safely

Development in rocket technology always seem like a fairly dry topic, but the recent safe landings of rocket boosters by companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX were huge steps forward for space travel.

Usually, once they run out of fuel, space rocket boosters detatch and either crash into the ocean or burn up in the atmosphere.

Imagine how expensive flying would be if your passenger jet was unusable after a single trip - that's been the reality of space travel since Yuri Gagarin went into orbit.

Now, these two successful gentle landings have proved that it can be done - the boosters can be used multiple times, potentially cutting the cost of a trip to space by a factor of 100.

With space exploration higher on the agenda than it has been in decades, with the maiden flight of the first British astronaut and planned manned missions to asteroids and Mars in the works, a cheaper and more efficient system of sending rockets to space is a huge development.

It's also significant that these major breakthroughs have been made by private companies - SpaceX is owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk and Blue Origin is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Space travel has been taken out of the hands of government agencies and put into those of ambitious private companies - we'll see where this shift takes us in 2016.

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