'Real Steel' Features Technology of the Future With the Help of HP


HP consulted on the DreamWorks for Disney film, which showcases flexible displays, augmented reality and next-gen interaction that could exist in the year 2020.

Sci-fi films from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Minority Report have provided audiences with a glimpse at the future of technology, and to bring some technical vision to Real Steel, DreamWorks turned to HP for a look at the not-too-distant future.

Real Steel—which just spent its second weekend atop the domestic box office—is set in 2020, where robot boxing has become a popular form of entertainment.

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“They wanted us to look ahead one or two generations of technology,” explained Mark Solomon, principal designer at HP’s Innovation Program Office. “What was the next generation laptop or mobile device? What does our TouchSmart (touch screen technology) look like? There was a plethora of things we showed to DreamWorks. It ranged from large rooms that were all technology controlled with sensors to the next-gen laptop or mobile device.”

The result of the collaboration was designs for some fictitious technology used in the film. One, referred to as ‘Flex,’ is a flexible and transparent display that appears in the handheld remote control for the robot Noisy Boy. “One of the (future) trends will be integration of flexible and transparent displays, and putting those together in one form factor is what we did here. (Future displays) will fold and bend.

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“(Another) thing that has been trending is augmented reality,” Solomon noted, adding that the Noisy Boy controller underscored this area with a transparent display “that enables the user to hold up the remote and look into the ring … but then add graphics and data about how the robot is handling itself.”

Early flexible display and transparent technologies has already been introduced, but Solomon projected that consumer electronics products that combine both features are at least five years away.

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Another design used in Real Steel was a curved interactive and collaborative surface. “It is the next generation of interactive surfacing,” Solomon said. “It also plays up on the trend of devices having more and more screen and augmenting touch with gestures—so it is layering next generation interaction.”

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While it was cut from the final film, a future 3D printer was also part of HP’s design work. “Right now, if I push the button (on 3D printing technology), you would get a plastic thing that looks (for instance) like a phone. In ten years, maybe a little longer, you could hit that button and that phone will work.”

Solomon summed up: “Especially with the (quality of) visual effects that we have today, I think the movies will always be able foreshadow (future technologies). You can even go back and read books from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and they talk about things we are doing today—or haven’t even built yet.”

For a closer look at HP's designs for Real Steel, go here.

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