007’s gadgets no longer just fiction

A few years ago, I decided my cinematic education had been sadly lacking and I decided to watch all of the James Bond movies in sequence. (I was single then.)

Somewhere in the Roger Moore era I petered out, partly because I was finally running into films I had seen in theatres, partly because…well, some of those films don’t hold up all that well.

Take all that crazy spy technology. Who could believe in that stuff? It was obviously impossible.

Except, as New Scientist magazine’s Technology blog pointed out May 28 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, nowadays it isn’t. (Follow that link for more links to details on all of these gadgets, including photos, videos and more.)

New Scientist took a stroll through some of those old movies and stories and found that what once seemed like science fiction is now well on its way to becoming science fact.

Diamonds Are Forever, for example, features fake fingerprints–and in 2002 a Japanese cryptographer named Tsutomu Matsumoto showed that you really can copy a person’s fingerprints, using nothing more complicated than the gelatin used in chewy candies. Matsumoto successfully lifted a latent fingerprint from a glass and with it fooled 80 percent of the fingerprint scanners he tested.

In the relatively recent Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond remotely drives his car from the back seat, using a cell phone with a touchpad that shows him the view out of the front window. Today, free software called ShakerRacer that lets you use a mobile phone with a built-in accelerometer to control toy cars. And you don’t have to slide your fingers over the touchpad: you just hold the phone like a steering wheel and tilt it in the direction you want to go.

U.S. researchers have also demonstrated military robots controlled with the Nintendo Wii-mote, and they plan to add Apple iPhones to the mix to display the video from the robots.

Thunderball and Die Another Day both featured a cigar-sized mini-aqualung holding four minutes’ worth of air. Alas, the smallest existing emergency supplies are still the size of a fist and only last about a minute…but still, that’s in the ballpark.

Also in Die Another Day, Bond’s car becomes invisible: cameras on one side capture what someone looking at the car would see if the car weren’t there, and projectors on the other side display it.

That’s a clunky way to achieve what scientists now believe can be done by using specially designed metamaterials capable of steering light right around an object so that it will appear…er, disappear…as if it weren’t even there.

Way back in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond uses a high-tech gadget containing a cassette tape to alter his voice. Today, cheap or even free software and your computer’s own microphone lets anyone do the same thing. You can sound male if you’re female (as some female gamers like to do when playing online), female if you’re male, old if you’re young, young if you’re old, and so on.

A device of special interest to skiers would be Bond’s ski-jacket emergency pod, which surrounded Bond in a protective, air-filled sphere when he was caught in an avalanche. That particular gadget doesn’t exist, but you can buy a backpack that releases two airbags to increase buoyancy when caught in a snow slide.

Finally, New Scientist notes A View To A Kill’s wheeled snooper robot, which, at about the size of a small dog, wasn’t really all that inconspicuous.

In real life, any number of spying robots, most of which fly, are now in use. Some look like birds. In the works are “bugs” that look and move like, well, bugs.

And if you want something a bit larger, more like Bond’s Snooper, several models on the market are available to patrol your home while you’re away. You can look through their eyes and even speak to whomever you see.

It would almost be worth finding an intruder just so you could roll up to him and say, in your best English accent, “The names Bot. James Bot. And I’m licensed to kill.”

If that doesn’t leave them shaken–if not stirred–then nothing will.

Permanent link to this article: https://edwardwillett.com/2008/06/007s-gadgets-no-longer-just-fiction/

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