Five engineering wonders in Blade Runner that now (sort of) exist

Blade Runner, a 1982 sci-fi movie directed by Ridley Scott, based on Philp K. Dick’s Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep, provided a dystopian, gritty look of a future Los Angeles. It featured Harrison Ford as an ex-cop on the hunt for rogue human-like androids. It’s also chockfull of engineering designs and technical wonders.

Unbelievably, the “future” in Blade Runner took place in 2019, only three years away.

And unlike the much-lauded, cheery Back to the Future, recently in the news being heralded for technology and engineering it unknowingly predicted, Blade Runner is darker and more menacing, thanks to rogue androids (“replicants”).

These rogue replicants, created by a mega-corporation, hunt and murder humans (as product developers and 3D CAD software users, we hope you’d agree that this isn’t exactly a great feature). Thankfully the robots of 2016 are friendly and helpful – for now. Remember, the main rogue replicant was created mere weeks ago on January 8, 2016.


So, what engineering and technical feats did the movie successfully predict? Here are five that came close.

Flying cars

Let’s start with the “almost-here” technology. Flying cars that can take off straight up off the ground, require DNA technology to start, and can repair themselves? Now? Not so much. However, some elements of smart cars are a reality and have crept into every day life. Of course, Google’s self-driving cars come to mind. Using sensors and software to sense objects like pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles, these cars are being imagined in 3D software and then built in real life to get drivers safely to their destinations. And ignition interlock systems installed in vehicles are preventing cars from igniting if the driver can’t pass an alcohol breath test. So far, we’re on the path.

Digital signage

Nailed it. Blade Runner features numerous scenes that depict massive floating signage “bots” projecting animated and video ads to those on the ground and in the air. In 1982 the closest we had to this technology was the Goodyear blimp and primitive, scrolling type. With LED technology exploding, massive signs and video clips now used at sporting events, concerts, projected on buildings and used on billboards. (Ed. Thanks in no small part to the work being done at Daktronics) It’s only a matter of time before the floating bots are hovering over a sporting event. Until then, this image is both awe-inspiring and frightening.

Voice-authentication systems

Scenes throughout the movie depict characters activating elevators and doors using their own voices with voice-recognition systems. Though we’re not quite there with voice technology (smart-cards swiped to unlock doors is the closest we have), voice-authentication technology is more real than it was 10 years ago. Of course, we’re talking about Siri and Google Command. Each listens and takes commands from us. It’s only a matter of time before AI and mechanical engineering come together to provide the technology to allow us to open a secure door recognized by our voices.

Smart room lighting

When Ford’s character walks into his apartment during a scene in the movie, the lights automatically turn on. This technology is standard in most offices these days – used mostly to turn off lights when occupants aren’t around to save energy. In fact, interior lighting technology has come even farther than the movie depicted. Advanced systems now let users remotely turn on and off lights from mobile devices, and monitor lighting, power and energy usage from afar.

Eye recognition

Eye symbolism dominates Blade Runner – the movie opens with an extreme close-up of an eye that sets the theme for the movie: how to determine who’s a replicant and who’s human. In one scene, a suspected replicant is interviewed using the Voight-Kampff machine (basically a sophisticated lie detector machine). This polygraph-like device measures bodily functions such as respiration, heart rate, blushing and the contractions of the iris muscle. Are we there yet? We’re close. The TSA is currently working on a potential expansion of the use of biometric authentication to create the “airport of the future.” Hopefully this future will be engineered to still include free water and coffee on all flights.

If one were to compare Blade Runner to Back to the Future and what each got right about future technology and engineering, Blade Runner wins the battle. Certainly the goal of each film wasn’t to predict the future, merely to illustrate it. And with rapid changes in technology, who knows what the next three years will bring before we reach 2019. Care to make a wager?

Ed. With 2019 only 3 years away, this might be a good time to download your free 30-day trial of PTC Creo Parametric. Get started now–your design might be the one save the world.

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