The Real Life Science Behind James Bond’s Gadgets
In anticipation of the upcoming release of 'Skyfall,' the 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise, we've explored five of our favorite Bond gadgets and put them to the test of reality. It's every guy's (and probably girl's) dream to have their own real life Q and his accompanying gadgets. But how many of these are accurate portrayals of reality and how many are far-flung fantasies that belong on the big screen?
1. 'Goldeneye,' 1995 - The Explosive Parker Pen
Q gives Bond an explosive silver Parker pen in 'Goldeneye,' containing a four second fuse and triggered by merely clicking the top of the pen three times. One of the most simple, yet elegant, solutions to Bond's troubles. Sure enough, at the end of the movie Bond uses the pen to create an explosive distraction, allowing him and Natalya enough time to escape and saving their lives.
Sound feasible? Well, first and foremost, the pen-explosive system seems fine; you'd need the regular pen functions (reduced in size), as much explosive as could fit in the space and the triggering mechanism. So our main problem here is the size of the pen and realistically how powerful the explosion would be with that small about of explosive material. As 'Mythbusters' (see clip above) so helpfully proved in their campaign to kill all the fun in the world -- nope, not happening. Bond would have to carry around a pretty giant pen in order to pack that level of boom. And if there's one thing that would hurt Bond's cool, it would be an over-sized novelty pen.
2. 'Live and Let Die,' 1973 - The Magnetic Rolex
Bond’s Rolex wristwatch adapted by Q to contain "a hyper intensified magnetic field powerful enough to deflect the path of a bullet at long range" was Bond's go-to gadget throughout 'Live and Let Die.' On numerous occasions throughout the movie Bond used the watch's powerful magnet to deflect bullets, saving the lives of himself and his "Bond girl," Solitaire. But that's not the only benefit Solitaire bagged from this gadget -- she comments on Bond's "delicate touch" when he unzips her dress. Little does she know that no touch was involved whatsoever!
Sadly, we won't have the luxury of 100% bullet-proofing in the form of a watch, as bullets are made from lead which is not magnetic. Perhaps if bullets were made from iron or cobalt this might be more realistic, but the power you'd need in that magnet would definitely not fit into a wristwatch. It's not all gloom and doom though, ladies -- the magnetic "undresser" is a definite possibility. Though we don't imagine it would go quite as smoothly as it does in the movie.
3. 'Die Another Day,' 2002 - Glass-shattering Ring
In 'Die Another Day,' Q gives Bond a ring that emits an ultra-high-frequency pulse that can shatter any piece of glass, even the bulletproof kind. During the movie, Bond uses it to escape from Gustav and to break the front window of his Aston Martin.
While we've all heard of the opera singers who sing so high they "shatter glass," shattering glass is not about how high you can go -- it's about finding the specific frequency of sound (the resonance frequency) which will cause all the molecules in the material to vibrate. This vibration is what shatters the material.
According to popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, "...brittle things can break if you find the resonant frequency. This is the frequency that the material wants to vibrate at — if you do that and then up the volume level, you can shatter it. And that's all real. But the fact that you can carry it on your ring — that's a little harder to take."
There we have it; the theory behind this gadget is sound, but as usual, Q takes it a step too far out of reality's grasp.
4. 'Casino Royale,' 2006 - Sony-Ericsson K800/K790
As is common in the Bond movies, 007 gets a souped-up phone with so many extras that we would never have thought a phone capable of that many functions. (At least, not until the iPhone was released.) In 'Casino Royale,' the Bond Special Edition of the Sony-Ericsson K800 included an injectable sensor that monitored his vital signs, sending them to HQ for emergency diagnostics. (Pretty neat when you play such high-risk card games!)
While this may have seemed out of this world in 2006, you'll agree that the amount we've achieved with phones in the last decade has been astonishing and, frankly, monitoring vital signs through phones which feedback instantly to doctors seems like the next step in healthcare. Word on the street is that phone operators are looking into making this a reality in the not too distance future. Keep your eyes peeled for this app -- it's not one to be missed.
5. 'Die Another Day,' 2002 - Aston Martin 'Vanish'
Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest Bond gadgets we've seen yet. When Q delivers this gem to 007, he describes the technology as follows: “Tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see onto a light emitting polymer skin on the other side. To a casual eye it’s a good as invisible.”
Whether it's Harry Potter's invisibility cloak or the Aston Martin Vanish, invisibility has got to be one of the most frequently used superpowers on screen. And for good reason -- everyone dreams of being able to snoop around unnoticed, doing whatever they fancy with no one but themselves to answer to.
So, can we do it? Technically a very simple version of "invisibility" is possible and currently being researched. If you're looking directly at something, without changing the angle you're viewing the object at too much, you can use the image from the other side of the object to disguise the presence of the object. However, as Neil deGrasse Tyson says about Bond's invisible car stunt, "the cameras on the other side of the car have to look at every possible angle that you would be viewing the car, and we haven't figured out really how to do that yet."
Perhaps it is just this that makes the Bond gadgets so attractive to us: with each gadget, they take a concept that seems so plausible -- and might even be on a small scale -- into the world of fantasy. And fantasy or not, we cannot wait to see what gadgets Q has in store for Bond in 'Skyfall.'