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Explainer: Dude, where's my flying car and jetpack?

  • A look at 11 venerated visions of future technology, from the Jetsons to taxis shown in "the Fifth Element" that totally missed the reality mark.

  • Visions of the future from the past

    Courtesy of PCWorld

    From Jules Verne to Stanley Kubrick and beyond, writers and artists have imagined what the future would be like. Their visions range from the comically bizarre to the uncannily accurate to the wildly optimistic (where are those jet packs they promised us?!). Here's a quick collection of our favorite examples.

  • Monsanto house of the future

    Image: Monsanto house of the future
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    Collaboratively designed by Monsanto, MIT, and Walt Disney Imagineering, and a Disneyland staple for a decade (1957 to 1967), the House of the Future attempted to show what a home would look like in 1986 — and it got some of its prognostications right, such as predicting the advent of the microwave oven.

    But if the contoured, space-age seating is so comfortable, why is the lady standing up to read a book? And what's that thing in front of her — a levitating ironing board?

  • Time machine

    Courtesy of PCWorld

    H.G. Wells's dark 1895 novel about a Victorian-era scientist's journey into a dystopian future first made the transition to film in 1960 (though a British version videotaped for television appeared in 1949), with Rod Taylor playing a time-traveling academic named "H. George Wells."

    Director George Pal's vision of the clock-confounding machine seems remarkably low-tech: It looks like a stripped-down Santa's sleigh with a satellite dish mounted on the back — and not even a windshield to protect the traveler from collisions with time-warping bugs.

  • 2001 space travel

    Image: Scene from "2001: A Space Odyssey"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    Everyone remembers the menacing red eye of HAL, the rogue supercomputer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." But the film had some subtler pleasures, too, such as this airport lounge scene. Note the prominence of brand names like Bell Telephone and Howard Johnson's, and the prescient use of easy-to-remove footwear.

  • 'The Jetsons'

    Image: "The Jetsons"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    Created by Hanna-Barbera Studios as a futuristic followup to their hit animated series "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons" chronicled the humorous adventures of a middle-class family in the year 2062. Its vision of everyday life, including flying cars and robotic servants, infused with a '60s aesthetic sensibility, have become so iconic that the series is frequently cited today in design descriptions. Whether we'll have flying cars in 50 years remains to be seen.

  • Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot

    Image: "Forbidden Planet"
    Courtey of PCWorld

    Considered one of the best science-fiction films of the 1950s, "Forbidden Planet" essentially transposes Shakespeare's "The Tempest" into a futuristic era of space travel with Anne Francis (shown) as the Miranda figure and Robby as a (relatively lead-footed) Ariel substitute.

    Robby looks after his human charges (think Sarah in the TV series "Eureka") with such benign diligence that he ranks as perhaps the most appealing movie robot of the pre-"Star Wars" era.

  • Flash Gordon

    Image: "Flash Gordon"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    One of the first comic-book heroes to appear in a live-action film, Flash Gordon was played by a dyed-blond Buster Crabbe (who also did time as Buck Rogers, as a brunet) in a series of movies released between 1936 and 1940.

    Though the cockpit and costumes don't look terribly futuristic, audiences obviously thought highly of them in the era before computer graphics. This and other still photos from the series are included in a coffee-table book, "The Flash Gordon Serials, 1936-1940: A Heavily Illustrated Guide," by Roy Kinnard, Tony Crnkovich and R.J. Vitone.

  • Rick Deckard's Los Angeles

    Image: "Blade Runner"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    The 1982 Ridley Scott classic "Blade Runner" had everything going for it, including a great story based loosely on Philip Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," a superior cast headed by Harrison Ford, and fabulous design by Lawrence G. Paull and David Snyder, based on sketches by conceptual artist Syd Mead.

    This view of Los Angeles circa 2062 perfectly reflects the film's vision of a well-lit, technologically advanced, yet decayed future.

  • UFO: A classic overestimation

    Image: Scene from "UFO"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    The British sci-fi series "UFO" ran for one season in 1970, presenting a richly produced future where people in shiny outfits ran a well-equipped secret organization dedicated to fending off alien invasions of the Earth.

    The lavishly produced show featured lots of computers and futuristic design elements — but it was supposed to take place in the early 1980s, making it far too optimistic about how technologically advanced human beings would be by then. Still, there's no denying that sideburn implants were achievable in the '80s, as anticipated.

  • 'Total Recall's' Airport X-Ray

    Image: From "Total Recall"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    The 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster "Total Recall" presented a lot of futurist technology, but its airport X-ray system — which displayed the skeletons (and weaponry) of passengers passing through security checks — seems close to becoming a reality.

  • 'Back to the Future Part II' Hoverboard

    Image: "Back to the Future Part II"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    Never mind the time-traveling DeLorean — what about the hoverboard? Although we recently reported on an artist's creation of a non-weight-bearing hoverboard, no one has yet to create the real thing.

  • 'Fifth Element' Taxis

    Image: "The Fifth Element"
    Courtesy of PCWorld

    Unless you are Onion News Network's Brandon Armstrong, the notion of a flying car probably seems as fanciful to you as the ornithopter was to Leonard da Vinci — a dream to be realized only in the distant future.

    We end this collection of future visions with one of the best flying car scenes in recent memory, from director Luc Besson's 1997 blockbuster "The Fifth Element." As this image shows, Besson has anticipated the need of billboard advertisers to go vertical in an aerocar future.

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