What do you do when you must entrust a very expensive car to a devil-may-care ruffian like, say, James Bond? If you’re Q, the testy, headmasterish boffin who serves as Bond’s quartermaster, you begin with a lecture, like this one, from the 1995 Bond film “Goldeneye”:
Q: Need I remind you, 007, that you have a license to kill, not to break the traffic laws."
That done, you cover your posterior by mocking up a few cheap copies of the car to take the brunt of the action. The producers of the just-released Bond flick, “Skyfall,” did so by means of a replication machine that would have warmed the heart of the original Q.
The VX4000, a massive, three-dimensional printer made by the German company Voxeljet, takes a scanned-in, digital representation of the object to be copied, then lays down thin layers of particles bound together with glue. Layer by layer the object grows, in the process perhaps enclosing spaces—for instance, the interior of a car with all its furnishings.
However in this case the subcontractor, a British company called Propshop Modelmakers, decided against replicating the entire car in a single unit because that would have required building at a 1:3 scale. Instead, it commissioned Voxeljet to make it in 18 sections that could be mounted on a steel frame, like the one the original car was built on. The filmmakers ordered up three copies of the car, just to be sure.
Why, you may ask, did they care so deeply about keeping the car in pristine condition? Because in “Skyfall,” Bond—played by Daniel Craig—goes all nostalgic on us by driving none other than the iconic 1960s-era Aston Martin that Sean Connery drove in “Goldfinger,” way back in 1964. That fabulous silver sports car was sold two years ago for 2.6 million British pounds, a price that’s hardly surprising because the car came fully loaded—oil slick gizmo, fold-out machine gun pods, and changeable license plates (as if there could ever be two such cars).
Most memorable is the feature Q mentions to a bemused Sean Connery at the very end of his tour of the car (view it for yourself on YouTube):
Q: Now this one I’m particularly keen about. See the gear lever here? If you take the top off, you’ll find a little red button. Now, whatever you do, don’t touch it.
Bond: Why not?
Q: Because you’ll release this section of the roof and engage and fire the passenger ejection seat. Sshwoop! [makes an upward movement with his arms]
Bond: Ejector seat? Surely you’re joking!
Q: I never joke about my work, 007.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.