Fifty years ago this month, Dr. No premiered in theaters, the first installment of the James Bond series that would stretch 22 films to date with another installment, Skyfall, due to premiere this year.
The James Bond movies gave sixties audiences not only the vicarious thrill of following 007 through dangerous missions in exotic locales, but also a glimpse of the future through some of the technology used by Bond and the villains he pursued.
Despite the decades between the imagined Bond universe and the real world today, Bond and the supervillains he confronted still have the edge in terms of technology now available today.
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In order for MI6 headquarters to keep tabs on 007′s location, he has on several occasions had to carry some kind of homing device with tracking capability on his person.
In Thunderball, Bond brought with him a homing pill that activated when it was swallowed and emitted a frequency that could only be tracked with specialized equipment. Most recently in Casino Royale, Bond was implanted with a homing chip that not only tracked his whereabouts but also monitored his vitals.
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Although GPS tracking is virtually ubiquitous in cell phones today, a device the size of a small chip or a pill with GPS-tracking capabilities just doesn’t exist yet. There is existing technology for implantable radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, like the microchips implemented in animals. Those, however, are only passive RFID and require a specialized scanner in close proximity.
The climatic scenes in Moonraker take place on the space station of supervillian industrialist Hugo Drax. The space station is large enough for Bond, Drax, Bond’s squeeze Dr. Holly Goodhead, Jaws and an untold number of henchman, all floating in simulated gravity in suborbital spaceflight. It has to be big, after all, given Drax’s play to essentially use the station as an arc while he poisons all of humanity. Despite its size, Drax even has a radar jammer capable of hiding his massive suborbital hideout.
Although the International Space Station might be the closest comparison to the space base from Moonraker, the 21st-century station is nowhere near Drax’s base in terms of scale or capability.
If you’re going to take on a villain in space, conventional weapons just won’t do. That’s why in Moonraker, Bond was armed with a handheld laser gun.
Laser weapons already exist in various forms. As Craig Freudenrich writing for HowStuffWorks.com explains, high-energy lasers and other weapons, such as the Airborne Laser and the PHaSR, have been tested for possible military applications. However, a handheld, laser-burst gun isn’t yet available today.
Given how often Bond can get himself into a jam, he often needs a lot of firepower in a small package when he’s backed into a corner.
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In You Only Live Twice, Bond wielded a rocket concealed into a tiny cigarette. Despite its size, the rocket was accurate within 30 yards and proved to be a lethal projectile.
In reality, no rocket has yet been developed that has that much firepower in such a small package. Even in a more conventional design like the shape of a gun, as demonstrated here by what might be the world’s smallest gun, a firing mechanism that size can’t really generate the force necessary to create the kind of stopping power wielded by 007.
As difficult as a small-scale weapon might be to duplicate, no one has come close to the space weaponry developed by Bond villians.
Diamonds Are Forever marked the first time such a device was employed in which the laser used diamonds to concentrate light into an accurate and widely destructive weapon. In Goldeneye, an orbital satellite produced shock waves that created an electromagnetic pulse in a target area to destroy any electronic devices on the ground.
Count this as one Bond device we’re happy to see on screen, but not in real life.
Photo credit: Corbis Images