James Bond's Aston Martin: an Heir and a Spare

To protect the iconic 1960s sports car from stuntmen's hijinks, the producers of "Skyfall" printed 3-D copies

2 min read
James Bond's Aston Martin: an Heir and a Spare

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.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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