Secret Technology for 007

2017 marks the 55th anniversary of the premiere of Doctor No, the first film of the successful saga starring the suave British spy James Bond. The film series would not be the same without the sophisticated gadgets that Q, head of the research and development division of the British secret service, provides 007 at the beginning of each film. Many of these inventions were science fiction creations at the time of the release of the films, but over time they have become real designs.

1. A global and “timeless” positioning system

In the second installment of the series, Goldfinger (1964), Sean Connery—in the skin of James Bond—knows exactly where his enemy is located thanks to a locator that transmits the position to his car. Nowadays this is an everyday scene thanks to the GPS systems that are incorporated into virtually all vehicles, but was still a dream at the time.

It was precisely in 1964 that TRANSIT, the first satellite positioning system (there were only six and they had intermittent coverage) began to operate for exclusively military purposes. It was not until decades later that the network of GPS satellites would be completed. In the 1990s, the equipment also began to be used in civilian applications, one of which was for navigation systems for vehicles. It is possible that the creators of Goldfinger were inspired by the rudimentary positioning system—analogue, mechanical and non-functional—that Ford incorporated as a futuristic wink in its Aurora prototype that same year.

2. The ‘jet pack’, a personal flying harness

The first public flight of the Martin Jetpack in 2008. Credit: MartinJetpack

The first public flight of the Martin Jetpack in 2008. Credit: MartinJetpack

In Thunderball (1965), Connery/Bond makes his getaway from shooters from the Spectra organization by piloting a jet pack, a kind of jet propulsion harness that enables him to fly, with vertical takeoff included.

It was not until 2008 that this sequence ceased to be considered science fiction. That year, the New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft Company conducted the first outdoor public demonstration of its newly patented Martin Jetpack, though two more years would pass before it had flight autonomy of more than 5 minutes. This individual aerial vehicle has been designed primarily for rescue missions in otherwise inaccessible places such as ravines or mountain ridges. The Martin Jetpack is the culmination of Glenn Martin’s dream that started in 1981 in the family garage with the support of his wife and sons. Mrs. Martin became the first test pilot of the initial prototypes in 1998. At present, the rescue authorities have not yet approved its use.

3. A car in the smartphone

In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), a 007 incarnated by Pierce Brosnan drives his brand-new BMW750 remotely with his mobile phone, while hiding in the backseat to escape his pursuers. This resource was reserved for agents licensed to kill until 2015, when the company Jaguar introduced its prototype Range Rover Sport, which allows it to be controlled remotely with a smartphone application.

Range Rover Sport allows it to be controlled remotely with a smartphone application. Credit: Jaguar Land Rover

Range Rover Sport allows it to be controlled remotely with a smartphone application. Credit: Jaguar Land Rover

This system only works at a range of 10 metres and with a top speed of 10 km/h due to safety precautions. Contrary to what happened in the film, the app is not designed for saving one’s skin, but rather to have a greater capacity and precision of maneuverability, to be able to overcome obstacles like dunes or terrain strewn with rocks and stones, and also, of course, to park in very tight spaces where it is difficult to open the door.

4. A mobile phone turned into a stun gun?

In that same movie, James Bond uses his mobile phone—which emits electrical shocks—to short-circuit the security system of a restricted zone and thus to gain access. It took almost three decades to have a phone that does something similar: the Yellow Jacket Smartphone Stun Gun Case, which can act as a stun weapon by incorporating an electrode capable of firing a 650-kilovolt discharge. For the designer of the invention, Seth Froom, the inspiration was not provided by the secret agent 007, but by the armed robbery he suffered at his home in 2012. At that critical moment, and despite having both a gun and a stun gun in his house, he saw with horror that the only thing that he had on him was just his mobile phone.

5. Interactive control desk

In Casino Royal (2006), a tough, blond Bond (played by Daniel Craig) meets with the MI6 staff around a multi-touch table on which they plan the mission. On it they can touch the screen and display information about the suspect and the plans of the installation. The futuristic table-t was based on the Microsoft Surface—the current Pixelsense—which was still in its final phase of development, as it had been discovered by the cinema shortly before by Steven Spielberg in his film AI.

The futuristic table-t was based on the Microsoft Surface. Credit: Microsoft Surface Hub

The futuristic table-t was based on the Microsoft Surface. Credit: Microsoft Surface Hub

The idea of ​​this device was created in 2001 by one of the development groups of the company Microsoft and Bill Gates gave the green light to the project two years later. That same year, the first prototype was built on an IKEA table perforated for the purpose. That primitive model already incorporated the main capabilities or components that characterize the device: direct and tactile interaction, the possibility of multiple users simultaneously, and the recognition of objects through codes or by their shape, dimensions or appearance. Finally, the first units went on sale in 2008.

Miguel Barral

@MigBarral