On Back to the Future Day, yes, we’re definitely living in the Home Automation Future!

While we might not have fax machines in every room or hydrators in the kitchen, we do have most of the home automation technology featured in Marty McFly’s house in Back to the Future Part II.


“You shouldn’t enter without lights on.” —police officer to Jennifer in the fictional 2015.

“Lights on?” —Jennifer.

(House lights turn on, responding to her voice.)


“Hey Siri, turn on the lights.” —person living in the real 2015.

“The lights are turned on.” (Siri turns on the lights.)


Or, if you’re in the Amazon Echo camp…

“Alexa, turn on the lights.” —another person living in the real 2015.

“OK.” (Alexa turns on the lights.)

Wearables, voice control, proximity detection, motion detection, multi-protocol home automation controls running simultaneously…we’ve absolutely made it into the future!

Back in 1989, when the movie was released, the most affordable and advanced home automation devices available were based on X10—a rudimentary, fairly unreliable technology from the 1970s. Today’s wearable technologies, systems like Z-Wave and Zigbee, smart LED light bulbs, and smartphones were distant possibilities.

Watching a movie like Back to the Future Part II allowed us to get a glimpse of what the future might have been. When when I watched the film, I was convinced that we’d have most of its tech and gadgets by 2015—and, of course, flying cars! But time, and change, is slower than the movies. Instead of today’s home automation technologies all hitting us at once, they’ve slowly rolled out and become integrated into our lives…ok, for some of us.

While I like to complain how the different home automation ecosystems don’t all cross-connect with each other or how how certain LED bulbs still don’t dim very well on widely-available dimmers, the world of connected devices and how they interoperate today is absolutely incredible. Multiple home automation technologies can now be (relatively) easily cross-connected, LED bulbs have remote control tech built-in, and there’s battery-powered Bluetooth smart locks for our doors. Heck, when I come and go from my home, I don’t even have to use light switches or press my “old” “Away Mode” physical button. The connected devices in my home all respond automatically based on my proximity to my home based on GPS positioning.

But like I said, real change is slow. What would happen if we took a DeLorean time machine to the year 2045? Would every single home in the world be connected in some way? Would there be smart light bulbs, thermostats and door locks across the planet? Maybe. But maybe not. The lowest common denominator always determines the speed of change across civilization. Those who can’t afford or don’t need smart home tech won’t buy it, unless apartments and homes come with it by default. And what kind of smart home tech will there be, by default? I can make some wild predictions, but I’d probably be wrong.

At least the writers of Back to the Future Part II, and the future electronics engineers who watched the film, made home automation in both the fictional and real 2015 nearly one in the same.

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