Wednesday, August 1, 2007

James Bond's Gadgets Busted

James Bond is the flamboyant secret agent who almost always seems to be able to dodge certain death, and always manages to find time off from saving the world to romance some of the most beautiful women on the planet! But the women, the death-defying close shaves, or the martinis—shaken, not stirred—are not the only things that constitute Bond’s aura. Most of us salivate over the gadgets he uses, perhaps even more than we do over the women in his company. Many Bond gadgets reek of convergence. They’re smart, they’re multifunctional, and they talk to other gadgets. The makers of the Bond movies do seem to have put some effort into envisaging a converged world—although, of course, it was necessary that only Bond, and no one else, had the gadgets! We plunge into the wonderland of Bond’s gadgetry, and analyze what is possible in the real world and what will remain in the reel world. We’ve rated all gadgets by a ‘Coolness Quotient’ based on how much we’d love to own one of them, and also a ‘Plausibility’ score, based on how likely it is that such gadgets can be made available. Scores are out of five.

Gadget: Briefcase
Movie: From Russia With Love
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This was the first gadget the Quartermaster—or Q— gave James Bond. The briefcase held an AR7 foldable sniper rifle, 40 rounds of ammo, a tear-gas cartridge disguised as a tin of talcum powder, some money in the form of 50 gold sovereigns, and concealed throwing knives.

Plausible?

Yes, but we need to ask: with all that equipment inside, how did Bond manage to carry it around? Ten on ten for Q’s packing skills—but we’ve got to subtract a few for the sheer craziness of lugging around something so heavy and trying to save the world while you’re at it!

Coolness Quotient: 2.75
Plausibility: 4.5

Gadget: Mini Breather
Movies: Thunderball, Die Another Day
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This gadget, slightly larger than a pen, allowed Bond to breathe underwater for about four minutes.

Plausible?

This is one of Bond’s gadgets that fall in the ‘fantastic’ category. To get to hard facts today, a four-liter scuba tank will give you 30 to 35 minutes of breathing air, and the smallest tank today is still as big as a cola can— and will provide only two minutes of breathing. Sorry Mr Bond—this doesn’t gel with reality.
Having said that, we must give credit where it is due—hats off to the guys who thought this up. When Bond’s engineers came up with this kind of portable design, portable air tanks had not yet been invented!

Coolness Quotient: 4
Plausibility: 2

Gadget: Omega Watch
Movies: Golden Eye, The World Is Not Enough
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This beautiful Omega Seamaster is a collector’s item in itself, but of course, for Q, and hence for Bond, beauty is not enough. By the time Q was done with
it, this watch boasted of a high-power laser diode that could cut through two inches of steel! It also featured a button that could arm or disarm any deployed
magnetic mines. In The World Is Not Enough, the gadgetry is enhanced, and the watch incorporates a miniature grappling hook including a 50-foot high tensile micro filament, which could support a massive 800 pounds. Q also incorporates dual high-powered lasers into the design, and the casing is made of titanium.

Plausible?

Well, a lot of Omegas do come with a titanium body, but that’s pretty much where the semblance to reality ends. Even if you could incorporate a high powered diode into the watch, where would all the power come from? And let’s believe that the wire filament can hold 800 pounds of weight, let’s also
suppose that the watch strap can withstand the same weight—we still fail to see how it's possible for a human wrist to take that much stress! Also, we think
it’s improbable that any 800-pound people would want to scale 50-foot walls!
Here, audience intelligence seems to have been ignored, and this watch, though absolutely cool, remains in the reel world.

Coolness Quotient: 3.5
Plausibility: 1

Gadget: Bell Textron Jet Pack

Movie: Thunder Ball
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The pack strapped on to the user’s back like a backpack, and was the size of about two scuba tanks, filled with propellants and a turbine thruster. With this
thing strapped on, the user could fly at extremely fast speeds to a height of 600 feet!

Plausible?

Oh yes! It sounds fantastic, but not only is it possible, it was, in fact, a working prototype on loan from the US Army. It can carry a person over nine metre-high (30 foot-high) obstacles at a speed of 11 to 16 kmph. Now that’s what we call a flight of fancy!

Coolness Quotient: 4
Plausibility: 5

Gadget: Latex Fingerprints
Movie: Diamonds Are Forever
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These false fingerprints were like latex stickers. Fingerprints were taken on hot latex, which was then allowed to cool and set in shape. You could stick it on
to your fingers and assume a whole new identity!

Plausible?

Absolutely. Details of how to fake fingerprints are easily available on the Net, and all you need is things available in your own home. Of course, it’s
illegal to fake fingerprints! Recently, a study from Yokohama National
University in Japan showed that phoney fingers concocted from gelatine, called ‘gummy dummies’, were able to trick quite a few fingerprint systems.

Coolness Quotient: 3
Plausibility: 5

Gadget: Watch/Ticker Tape
Movie: The Spy Who Loved Me
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The ultimate in faxing, this watch had an inbuilt satellite link. MI6 could send Bond short messages that would then be printed out on a spool of tape.

Plausible?

Not really. If you have ever seen a fax machine, you’ll know that if it was possible to make the unsightly device any smaller, it would already be in mass
production. But the possibilities are interesting. Imagine a news report, or stock market updates, being spat out of your watch on ticker tape. You’d have to be careful to not trip on the tape though…

Coolness Quotient: 3.5
Plausibility: 1

Gadget: Pen Grenade

Movie: Golden Eye
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Perhaps the most clich├ęd of spy gadgets—no spy is complete without one! The pen looks like any other pen, but is actually a Class 4 grenade. You click the pen thrice (careful, fidgety people!) to activate the four-second detonation timer. If, within the four seconds, you click the pen thrice again, the bomb is deactivated. Here’s one pen that’s mightier than the sword for sure! Since
Hollywood has done this gadget to death, not many people find it cool any more.

Plausible?

Well there is nothing against this really, except fo rhow much of explosive you could store in such a tiny device—which leads to the question of whether
any serious damage could be caused by such a small explosion.

Coolness Quotient:1.5
Plausibility: 1.5

Gadget: Digital Camera
Movie: Golden Eye
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Now this is a really cool gadget: a high-res camera that could send pictures directly to MI6 headquarters using a satellite link.

Plausible?

Why not? Many handhelds of today (the O2 XDA II, Treo, and more) have Wi-Fi connectivity. All a camera manufacturer needs to do is put in a Wi-Fi chip to
connect to a network. From there on, you can e-mail the image just like you do from a regular cell phone. In fact, the Nikon D2H is already Wi-Fi-enabled! The only problem might be the size of a high-resolution image. That apart, it would be cool to be able to send pictures to everyone the minute they’re clicked! In fact, you could send them to your local digital studio and pick up the prints on your way back home! Now that’s the convergence we need to see!

Coolness Quotient: 3.75
Plausibility: 5

Gadget: Ericsson Mobile Phone
Movie: Tomorrow Never Dies
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Once Q was done with this phone, it was equipped with a stun gun capable of delivering a 2,000 volt electric shock (activated by pressing ‘Recall 3’), a fingerprint scanner for breaking into safes, and a mini screwdriver that appeared when the antenna was removed. The phone opened up like a book to reveal a small LCD screen and disc-tapping the disc twice would start the car, and moving the fingers on the disc would drive the car!

Plausible?

Well, apart from the 2,000-volt shocker and the fingerprint scanner, everything else is plausible—the technology of today would certainly let you do it. As for the 2,000-volt shocker, we wonder what batteries were used! God help Bond if he spilled one of those shaken-but-not-stirred martinis on himself! It isn’t too difficult to incorporate the driving through a cell phone though; most Mercedes cars employ drive-by-wire, wherein everything is computer-dependent and controlled, and whether it receives the instructions from a pedal or from a cell phone is immaterial.

Coolness Quotient: 4.5
Plausibility: 3

Gadget: Aston Martin DB5
Movie: Tomorrow Never Dies
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Bond has always preferred British cars, and his preferred mode of travel (when not snatching enemy cars or running from them on foot!) is an Aston Martin, in this case, the DB5. The DB5 featured tyre shredders that could be extended from the wheel hubs; bullet-proof windshields; a retractable bullet shield that rose from inside the boot area; revolving number plates that made the car legal and valid in all countries; a passenger ejector seat for dispensing of unwanted
Hitch hikers; oil-slick dispensers to get rid of pursuants; smoke screen dispensers; retractable duel machine guns mounted beneath the headlights;
rear-mounted duel water cannons for blasting away pursuers; a cellular fax machine, disguised as a car stereo console; a cellular voicemail system; and let’s not forget the refrigerated glove box for storing a bottle of Bollinger and two glasses—after all, Bond never knows when a lady friend might hop in for a spin! Wouldn’t it be cool if our Maruti 800s could have some of this gadgetry? To be fair, the cars of today will let you have a fair bit of the above luxuries
—barring the military installations such as machine guns, of course. Let’s take a look.

Plausible?

Tyre shredders: Not needed in India, as our government has provided these already; they’re called ‘roads’!
Bullet-proof windshields: Already a reality in most cars with flashing red lights on top—India Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has a reinforced BMW Series 5, which can withstand rocket-launcher attacks!
Revolving number plates: Though illegal, these are far from high-tech.
Most limousines already have cable TV and full communications capabilities. In fact, some outrageously luxurious models even have a mini swimming pool and a helicopter landing pad! For once, Bond was actually behind in terms of gadgets.

Coolness Quotient: 4
Plausibility: 4.5

Gadget: BMW 750iL
Movie: Tomorrow Never Dies
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This was the top-of-the-line BMW at the time. With a roaring V12 inside, this car also featured not one, not two, but 12 surface-to-surface missiles on the sunroof! Coupled with Bond’s Ericsson cell phone, this car was drivable via the controls on the phone without Bond being physically present in the car. Such an expensive piece of machinery would obviously need to have protection measures built in. After the security system was activated, anyone who touched the car would get a rather nasty electric shock, and if he or she managed to recover from that, there were tear-gas dispensers incorporated as well. To let Bond travel ‘no strings attached’, the BMW logo on the bonnet rose to form a cable snipper! The car also had metal tyre spikes deployed from underneath the rear bumper. The most mundane of the features were the re-inflatable tyres, which could reinflate at the touch of a button after a puncture.
This technology is already in the market, with tyre companies selling ‘Run Flat’ and self-sealing tyres, wherein the tubeless tyres can take around 10 punctures and carry on without any problems.

Plausibility?

The car is a complete fantasy, except for the remote-controlled driving and the re-inflatable tyres. Even the latter seem a little far-fetched the way they’ve been portrayed in the movie.

Coolness Quotient: 4.5
Plausibility: 1.5

Gadget: X-Ray Specs
Movie: The World Is Not Enough
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The stuff that every kid’s dreams are made of! The glasses are rather stylish (as are all things Bond!) and very functional. In the movie, they help Bond roam around a casino scanning for concealed weapons and inspecting ladies’ lingerie.

Plausible?

Wouldn’t it be simply great if they were plausible? We’d surely get one of those for our New and Notable reviews, not to mention a 30 days with… article on it.
But sadly, it’s not to be. X-ray technology works on the principle of absorption and reflection, a lot like radar, and it works fine on guns, metals, and, of course, bones. But not on lingerie—it just doesn’t reflect anything! 007 gets 000 here.

Coolness Quotient: 5
Plausibility: 0

Gadget: BMW Z8

Movie: The World Is Not Enough
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If the BMW Z8 roadster, which can do 0-100 in less than five seconds, isn’t enough eye-candy in itself, Q was at it again and added more weapons than the US carried into Iraq! The car incorporated surface-to-air missiles, and a needle-thin sonic beam that let Bond eavesdrop on conversations in surrounding areas and buildings. It also had all the equipment from previous cars—rockets fitted behind headlamps, remote handset driving, and much more. The car, using sensors, could drive itself to where the remote control was located! Q practically choked it with technology. The car had the absolute latest in intercepting equipment, surveillance and countermeasures. The car’s equipment, surveillance and countermeasures. The car’s body was redone and fitted with titanium plating and armour, and a multitasking heads-up display.

Plausible?

Yes. Even the sonic beam technology to eavesdrop on conversations was available in 1999, when the movie was released. It’s currently being researched so it can work by bouncing off obstacles! The only thing is, we wonder if the car would really be able to carry the weight of all the heavy stuff—surfaceto- air missiles included.

Coolness Quotient: 4
Plausibility: 4

Gadget: Aston Martin Vanquish

Movie: Die Another Day
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In Die Another Day, Bond was back to his ever-faithful Aston Martin, as in the Vanquish V12. As always, Q gave it a complete overhaul, post which the car had two under-hood mounted auto aiming machine guns, front-firing rockets behind the main air intake grille, seat with spring-loaded ejection system, enhanced waterproofing, under-chassis air cannons, and central console-mounted controls. This car was more feature-packed than any of the previous Bond cars. It incorporated four grille mounted rockets plus two machine guns; two motion-sensing guns hidden under the bonnet; and spiked tyres for ice driving. But all this was routine stuff which Bond has had movie after movie, so Q decided to do something new—and gave this car the capability to turn invisible at the flick of a button!

Plausible?

All the regular features of this car are plausible. And do we need to actually go ahead and state that a car that turns invisible is not plausible?!

Coolness Quotient: 5
Plausibility: 2

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