Five science fiction gadgets that have become reality.

If you believe the adverts on TV, January is normally the most exciting month of the year. You can exchange unwanted Christmas presents in the January sales and make a bargain, you can plan out your goals throughout the year and if you don’t enjoy Christmas then you can celebrate the fact that things are returning to normal.

Actually, statistically speaking January is the most depressing month of the year. The weather is normally miserable, many families face financial hardship following Christmas and by 21st January a majority of people  have already broken their New Year’s Resolutions.

Bit of a downer. Let’s go back to how exciting the year is suppose to be. You know what I find adorable? How optimistic humans are for the future, in particular how optimistic historical authors were for our present. In Back to the Future Part Two, Marty McFly travels to the year 2015 where he encounters hover boards, flying cars and giant holograms. Do you want to know what the most sophisticated gadget of 2015 was? A remote control BB8 toy from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While it was a cool toy, it proves that we are a long way from flying cars.

Occasionally however, science fiction films will get something right. Here are five Sci-Fiction gadgets that have become reality.

1 – Harry Potter’s invisibility Cloak. 

If you are unfamiliar with Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak it is a cloak…. that renders the the user invisible. Harry receives the cloak as a Christmas present in the first novel from Professor Dumbledore and later learns that it was his father’s cloak before him. Harry uses the cloak in his adventures and misadventures throughout his school years and in the final novel  realises that the cloak is in fact a Deathly Hallow, a legendary item in the wizarding world. After the events of the final book, the cloak is stolen by Harry’s son Albus who uses it for similar adventures in Hogwarts as his father and grandfather before him.

An invisibility cloak in action

Researchers (with nothing better to do it seems) have concluded that if Harry’s invisibility cloak was real that it would work by bending light waves around the user. In 2019 a Canadian company called Hyperstealth Biotechnology filed a paten for Quantum Stealth, the name of a material that is said to render objects invisible by using the same process. While no-body has searched for Harry under the cloak by using infrared and ultraviolet imagers, the Quantum Stealth also shields against these methods of detection. You can see the Quantum Stealth in the demo video below:

Unlike traditional camouflage such as ghillie suits, Quantum Stealth can be used at any time of day and in any terrain. While this product is still in the prototype stages its potential use by the military can be not be underestimated. There are no plans to weave Quantum Stealth into clothing as of yet and thankfully the technology will not be made available to general members of the public.

2 – Green Goblin Glider

Although there were Superhero films previous to 2002’s Spider-Man it is often marked as the film that kickstarted the superhero genre. In the film Peter Parker/Spider-Man battles with Norman Osborn/ The Green Goblin throughout the city of New York. One of The Green Goblin’s most iconic weapons is his glider. Created as a military weapon which was later stolen by Norman, the glider doubles as the Goblin’s main method of transportation and his signature weapon. The glider is equipped with machine guns, rockets, bombs and lethal spikes. At the end of the film (spoilers for a film that was released in 2002) Norman is impaled on his own glider in his final fight against Spider-Man. You can see the glider in action below:

While the military currently have no interest in this technology (they already have jets that can accomplish the same tasks) several pioneers have created their own versions of the goblin glider. Most recently in 2019 French inventor Frank Zapata debuted his ‘flyboard’ on Bastille Day. While the flyboard bears more resemblance to the glider seen in Spider-Man 3, a slimmer version of the original glider that looks more akin to a snowboard, Zapata was able to wield an assault rifle while piloting the board. He was also able to cross the English Channel using the board travelling at a mile a minute.

While this is impressive, it is still unlikely that we will be taking jetpacks or hoverboard to work any time soon. The closest a member of the general public can get to using a jetpack would be hydro jetpacks at holiday parks by the coast.

3 – Artificial Intelligence 

Artificial Intelligence, often shorten as AI, is a computer programme that can think and act for itself. They are most common in the Sci-Fi genre and can serve many purposes such as a personal assistant (Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S) to solider (The Omidroid from The Incredibles) but the most famous Artificial Intelligence is the Hal 9000 from 2001’s A Space Odyssey. Believing itself under threat Hal attempts to kill the crew of the Discovery One by using the ship’s systems against them. When the film was released it was a horrifying hit but could such creatures exist in our time?

“Hey, Siri, how do you spell artificial?”

Artificial Intelligence forms a huge part in our modern day life. The two most common examples are Siri and Alexa. I have used both in writing this article to either check a spelling or to confirm facts. I start most days by completing Daily Dilemma, Riddle of the Day and Question of the Day followed by a BBC News Report on my Alexa Dot. While many people would consider artificial intelligence as a device with a voice and the ability to think for its own, the technology exists in our TV’s, our cars and even cat flaps! While there has not be a robotic uprising yet there have been several cases of robots mistakenly killing humans. In 1981 Kenji Urada was stabbed in the back and crushed by an Artificial Intelligence working in a car manufacturing factory when he passed a safety barrier.

4 – Holograms

Similar to AI, Holograms are another common staple of the Science Fiction genre. A hologram is a 3D image of someone normally used for communication. While holograms have different styles depending on what film they are in (The holograms in Star Wars have a blue tinge where as the holograms in Black Panther are made from purple and black sand) their purpose normally remains the same.

While we have the ability to FaceTime someone and conduct a video call, the general public does not have access to holographic technology. The nearest we have are VR headsets used in video games and medical centres.  I have spoken about 2Pac’s dancing hologram and Eguchu Aimi before but they are topics worth revisiting. Although the rapper 2Pac died in 1996, a hologram was made of him which performed to crowds at a music gig in 2012. Some audience members were convinced that the hologram was the real 2pac. You can see the video of this hologram below:

Eguchi Aimi was part of a Japanese pop band called AKB 48 who toured around Asia. Aimi was the fifth member of the band but she was completely computer generated. Her appearance was based off the most attractive features of her band mates and sliced together as the picture below demonstrates. Her social media accounts were run by the band’s manager and when the band performed Aimi would either appear on a screen, in hologram form or if the venue did not have the suitable technology she would be ‘ill’.

A diagram showing what facial features of Eguchi Aimi were taken from which band member.

5 – Spy watches

Gadgets are a beloved staple of the James Bond films. Although they have not been seen as regularly in Daniel Craig’s era, in previously films, before setting out on his mission Bond would meet with Q who would explain how the gadget could be used, normally in a humorous tone. Each gadget would inevitably be used by the climax of the film. Among these gadgets would be a car, which Bond would normally destroy and a watch with a variety of uses. Although the gadgets were well received by fans they would later complain that they would become a deus ex machina which might explain why they were absent in Craig’s films. Personally I’ve always thought it would be funny if Bond found himself stranded in a desert with something completely useless like a life raft.

While the public still don’t have exploding pens or invisible cars we do have access to smart watches. The first watch gadget was seen in From Russia with Love and held a wire garrote used by a Spector agent. Bond did not receive his first watch until Thunderball and all it contained was a Geiger counter. Later watches would contain laser beams, explosives and miniature cameras. While our watches do not process these features they do process all the technology that our phones do, including built in AI.

‘Alexa, how many James Bond films have there been?’

You might think it worrying that my watch, my phone and even the laptop I am typing this on contains microphones that listen to me. And you’ll be right. Key pieces of technology that we use in everyday life, including X-boxes, TV remotes and some children’s toys are listening to us. If you think you don’t have such technology in your house, I assure you that you do. We live in a Big Brother society and to paraphrase a famous joke ‘The idea of privacy is, in itself, a joke.’

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