The Oscars. The biggest night in Hollywood’s star-studded calendar, when the great and good of cinema hit the red carpet and a myriad of unsuccessful nominees must smile awkwardly down the lens of a camera for an excruciatingly long period of time. It’s a chance for McLaren Applied Technologies to rub shoulders with the likes of Bradley Cooper and Margot Robbie, and ask Tom Hanks just what was in that FedEx package he clung so tightly to throughout Cast Away and duly delivered at the end of the film?
Okay, who are we kidding? We’re not attending the 91st Academy Awards. We don’t have our bags packed for Los Angeles and we’re not eagerly waiting to collect our tuxedo from the dry cleaner.
Nevertheless, McLaren Applied Technologies and the silver screen have more in common than you might think. From the simulation of reality in The Matrix to the dystopian world of Blade Runner, plenty of films have explored what lies ahead for tech, it’s evolving role in society, and provided a large helping of futurology.
In some cases, creative portrayals have accurately predicted technological advancements, whereas others require a sizeable leap of faith. While the wait for a hoverboard akin to the one ridden by Marty McFly in Back to The Future Part II continues, here’s a look at some of the most thought-provoking and talked about tech from the movies.
And the nominees are…
Marvel’s Iron Man showcases Tony Stark’s truly enviable array of gadgets. The ideal toy box for anyone with a penchant for cutting-edge tech. And one of the standout "toys" has to be the Iron Man suit itself which boasts powered flight, concealed weapons, ultra-high strength armour, and built-in AI co-pilot J.A.R.V.I.S. It is the ultimate wearable technology.
Perhaps you’re a multibillionaire entrepreneur blessed with good looks, a sharp mind, and reading this thinking: "why wouldn’t I want to emulate Tony Stark?"
But can you?
Well that depends. Armoured suits that augment the strength and capability of a person don’t appear to be far off. However, when we start talking about flight, clean infinite power and repulsor beams things start to look less likely.
Nonetheless, exoskeletons are very much a reality and self-repairing composites would be ideal contenders from which to make the suit. A composite that is lightweight, highly flexible, stable and very strong could not only be the next big breakthrough in exoskeleton design, but also that of Formula 1 cars.
Speaking of design, there’s no denying the complexity of the suit donned by Tony Stark, but the same could be said of a Formula 1 car. The intricacies are mesmerising at times, and advances in 3D printing and additive manufacturing likely hold the key to creating an exquisitely designed suit. Just bear with us for a moment, while we fire up the Stratasys 3D printers here at MTC…
We’ll admit, we’ve got previous when it comes to building Iron Man-like wearable protection. It’s called Project Invincible. When Client X came to McLaren Applied Technologies in need of a device to protect vital organs after surgery, we designed and produced a fully wearable composite shield.
The multi-material shield features high-failure strain Dyneema fibres – as used in body armour – for damage containment, and a highly-toughened resin system with woven fabrics for impact resistance. It borrows Formula 1 technology, including Zylon fibres used by every car on the grid for protection against side penetration. If that wasn’t enough, stiff carbon fibres ensure flexural rigidity and load carrying capability.
Despite being set in 2054, Steven Spielberg’s neo-noir sci-fi action film Minority Report has had a remarkable hit rate when it comes to predicting new technologies. They include: retina scanners, facial recognition, personalised advertising, autonomous cars, electronic paper and crime prediction software.
But who could ever forget the multi-touch, gesture-based interface? When the film was released in 2002, jaws had to be prised off sticky cinema floors upon seeing Tom Cruise wave his hands to manipulate content, rifle through files, expand and contract windows, and select onscreen objects.
Fast-forward to the present day, and it’s child’s play. Literally, given that the technology can now be found in games consoles, for example the Microsoft Xbox One’s Kinect motion controls. Meanwhile, smart televisions have begun to use similar technology, making the remote control somewhat redundant.
This tech provides a potentially very exciting opportunity for ATLAS (Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System) – the advanced data-visualisation and analysis software from McLaren Applied Technologies which is used by every Formula 1 team. Just as it does today, ATLAS will provide engineers with powerful race-winning insights. However, in the future it could be a fully immersive data experience, enabling engineers to physically interact with virtual manifestations of the data seamlessly.
Alex Garland’s elegant sci-fi psychological thriller Ex Machina blurs the lines between humanity and programming, with an ominous sense of inevitability.
The intelligence of the film’s protagonist Ava resides in a synthetic brain. Cells within a structured gel called ‘wetware’ can rearrange on a molecular level which allows neural connections to form, providing the platform for the execution of far more dynamic and complex programmes. Ava can infer, joke and modulate her responses depending on a given situation – exhibiting human-like cognitive capability.
Although this hyperintelligent reality seems far away, developments in AI have gathered pace. As part of our concept campaign Future Grand Prix, which presented a vision of motor racing in 2050, we explored how the race to build powerful AI will intensify.
Breakthroughs in the understanding of the human brain could lead to the development of truly intelligent machines. It could reach a point where human ingenuity is codified and replaced with an AI algorithm. As machine learning sees human preferences and decisions captured, as well as domain expertise and instinct, it would enable AI to make decisions consistent with those of a human counterpart.