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Who wouldn’t like to live in the world of Harry Potter, surrounded by the glories of magic? But as Arthur C. Clarke wrote, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Slowly but surely, science is catching up to the wonders you read about in the wonderful books written by J. K. Rowling.
Some of the magical doodads described in the Harry Potter universe have already come true, perhaps without you even realizing, while others are on the brink of becoming reality. We dived into the list of magical objects in the Potter books to see how close technologists are to bringing this whole world to life.
The Marauder’s Map
The Marauder’s Map is a magical map that shows every inch of Hogwarts School, along with the location of where every person is on campus. It’s a massive system to keep track of anyone, anywhere.
In the real world, someone actually made a Marauder’s Map! It’s a Chrome extension that shows the location of all your friends on Facebook Messenger. In fact, not just your friends, but anyone with whom you’re in a one-on-one or group chat. Yes, you may be sharing your location on Facebook without knowing it.
It’s not just Facebook though. Your smartphone, which is always with you, is sharing your location with several apps that you might not even be aware of.
Right now though, things haven’t become so bad that any random citizen can just bring up a map that shows the location of every other person in the world. A more practical implementation of the Marauder’s Map is in the form of something like the Weasley Clock.
While you wouldn’t want to make your current location public knowledge, it can be useful when used with the right people. For instance, tracking your family isn’t necessarily evil. The Weasley Clock does just that. The clock has nine hands, one for each family member, pointing to their current location, such as “Home”, “Work”, etc.
Smartphones again double up as child tracking tools for concerned parents, with plenty of apps that can serve every purpose and offering different levels of privacy for the kid. Even built-in tools like Apple’s Find My iPhone can double up to track a person.
The Weasleys have some of the coolest magical gadgets in the Potter world, including a flying car!
Flying Ford Anglia
Arthur Weasley, the head of the Weasley family, cast an enchantment on an old Ford Anglia to turn it into a flying car. It moves and drives just like a car, but well, to (almost) quote the immortal words of Doc Brown from Back To The Future, where it’s going, it don’t need roads.
As we noted in our ultimate guide to Back To The Future gadgets, two companies are already working hard on flying cars. The Terrafugia Transition is already functional but not on roads (or skies) yet because of various laws, while the AeroMobil 3.0 is ready to soar into our lives in 2017.
The Flying Ford Anglia has another neat feature: it can become invisible!
Who wouldn’t like the ability to become completely invisible to the naked eye? Harry Potter is gifted a magical invisibility cloak, which he uses on several occasions. Given how useful such a device would be, scientists are working hard on it and are closer than ever before.
The most famous demonstration of this technology was at TEDx, when engineer Baille Zhang showed the world’s first 3D invisibility cloak. Most scientists working on this idea are playing with the concept of bending light. Light bouncing off an object is what helps you “see” a 3D object. So these cloaks are trying to bend the light in a way where instead of bouncing back to you, it flattens.
Even though we’re getting close, we’re several years away from seeing it in our households. Invisibility cloaks would first make it into the defense industry, after which we might see their commercial use.
One of the coolest but underrated gizmos in the Potter universe, the omnioculars are advanced binoculars. Imagine this: when you’re watching any sport live, you’ll not only be able to magnify your vision, you’ll also be able to zoom in on any particular player and track them automatically; watch replays (including slow-motion) of the action; and receive on-screen prompts informing you about the game.
In a nutshell, imagine going to a football game and getting the full TV experience of player tracking and replays right in the stadium. Sony is already making something similar to this, a pair of digital video-recording binoculars colloquially called “Vinoculars”.
Vinoculars can instantly replay anything you have just seen. But that’s where it ends. The other features, like on-screen prompts and automatic tracking, aren’t on the cards. Yet.
The Pensieve is one of the coolest devices in the Potter universe, which has been partially created in our digital world. The Pensieve is a memory storebox, accessible to anyone, with the ability to completely immerse a person as they experience those memories.
In a way, Facebook’s On This Day feature does that automatically, chronicling some of your memories which you can retrieve later. There’s also the practice of lifelogging, which you can narrow down to just photos and videos of your memories.
Of course, this is just a fraction of the Pensieve experience, since you can’t actually live out these digital memories, only look at them. But actually living someone else’s memories wouldn’t be possible, since technology only captures visual or auditory data, not thoughts, emotions, and the other things that make up our memories.
Harry and Sirius Black use a two-way mirror to communicate with each other. One person holds the mirror and says the name of the other person, after which the two of them can see each other and communicate. Hello, free video chat on any smartphone platform!
Smartphones will undoubtedly be more useful, since the same “mirror” connects to any other “mirror” in the world. But there’s one catch: you need a data plan or network coverage of some sort, which the two-way mirror isn’t dependent on.
In the Potter universe, photographs aren’t still images, they usually move around within the frame, and sometimes even talk. While a conversational photo isn’t going to happen any time soon, we have made some strides towards moving photos.
Quick Quotes Quill
The world of magic and wizardry hasn’t embraced the digital age at all and insists on using quills to write things by hand. Let’s not get into the debate about whether handwriting should be taught in schools or if cursive writing is obsolete. The larger point is that in the Potter universe, these handwriting tools have many of the benefits that technology gives us.
— Pottermore (@pottermore) October 19, 2015
For example, there’s the Quick Quotes Quill, a magical pen that captures whatever someone is dictating and writes it down. It’s basically voice-to-text technology, and as we’ve already seen, you can even write a full article with dictation now.
Similarly, there’s a Spell-Checking Quill. Spellcheck in Office is nothing new, and it’s even on our phones now in the form of autocorrect.
Which Magic Do You Want to be Real?
That concludes our list of magical gadgets you could soon own. So, Potter fans, let’s hear it… which of the various magic spells or enchantments from the Harry Potter universe do you want to be real?
Please tell us your thoughts in the comments section below. Bonus points if you can describe how technology can make it happen!