15 real modern technologies predicted by Inspector Gadget
All that soon changed with the rise of Apple and the personal computer, but still, one can’t look back on the French- and Canadian-produced, Japanese-animated show and not see signs of what was to come. The cartoon—about a bumbling bionic detective named Inspector Gadget, his pre-teen hacker niece Penny, their master-of-disguise pooch Brain, and their attempts to ward off the villainy of mysterious criminal mastermind Dr. Claw—is riddled with fictional science that, 30 years later, has actually become real technology. Then again, the goofy show, with its hummable Grieg-inspired theme song, was likely prime cartoon viewing for some of todays top minds; everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Larry Page was a child during the show’s syndicated run.
Dr. Claw’s main foil isn’t really Inspector Gadget, but the brilliant and resourceful Penny. She is never without her “computer book,” a high-tech computing device disguised as a hardcover textbook. The laptop computer wasn’t a consumer product until later in the 1980s and would go on to become a tool for a lot more than stopping Dr. Claw’s evil crime organization, M.A.D.
Top: Penny’s computer book first appears in the cartoon’s pilot episode, “Winter Olympics.”
Bottom: The first laptop, the Toshiba T1100, released in 1985, has visual similarities.
Penny’s computer book wasn’t just notable as a precursor of laptops, but for many of its applications. One major app was the computer book’s wireless capacity, which allowed Penny to constantly hack into Dr. Claw’s computer systems and foil his plans.
Top: Penny connecting wirelessly to one of Dr.Claw’s machines in “Follow That Jet.”
Bottom: Penny activating speakers wirelessly in “The Curse of the Pharaoh.”
Another of the computer book’s applications was its ability to look up any information in a matter of seconds. Ten years after the show ended, Larry Page and Sergey Brinn invented Google.
Top: Looking up the meaning of hieroglyphics in “The Amazon.”
Bottom: Penny searches for information on Dr. Claw’s attack birds and discovers they are not native to the area in “Birds of a Feather.”
In episode 18, “The Infiltration,” Penny uses a camera hooked up to her computer book. Even its size is similar to some of the first consumer digital cameras, such as the Apple QuickTake 100, which debuted in the mid-1990s.
Left: Penny spies on M.A.D. with her digital camera in “The Infiltration.”
Right: The similar looking Apple QuickTake 100 from 1995.
Along with her computer book, Penny’s wristwatch is key for defeating Dr. Claw. Its shape and size are similar to many tech-centric watches, from the calculator watches of 1980s to today’s Pebble, a digital watch that syncs with your iPhone. And though the Pebble doesn't yet have video capabilities like Penny’s, the long-rumored Apple Watch might, finally allowing you communicate with your hyper-intelligent pooch, too.
Top: Penny speaks to Brain on her watch in the Inspector Gadget pilot, “Winter Olympics.”
Bottom: A text message on the Pebble. No word yet on whether future models will include a laser like Penny’s had.
While Penny communicates to Brain via her smartwatch, Brain uses what looks more like a traditional hands-free Bluetooth headset.
Top: Brain’s Bluetooth-like headset also occasionally produces a camera, like here in “Movie Set.”
Bottom: A modern Bluetooth headset. Most models do not retract into a dog collar.
Skype and Facetime
Penny and Dr. Claw do share a love for one type of technology: video chat. Dr. Claw Skypes with each of his M.A.D. agents in the field while hiding safely in his secret lair. Meanwhile, Penny FaceTimes on her watch with Brain and instructs him to keep tabs on Inspector Gadget. Left Dr. Claw speaks to a M.A.D. agent via his computer in “Winter Olympics.”
Whenever Penny needs to know her way around a new location, say a pyramid or an opera house, her computer book spits out the information at the touch of a button. Modern-day digital maps, such as Google Maps, allow us to do the very same thing. Left: A GPS map on Penny’s computer book in “The Curse of the Pharaoh.”
It isn’t just Inspector Gadget who’s bionic. Almost everything in his life—from his car to his home—has gadgets. One of the most memorable of these is the Gadgetmobile, with its ability to transform from an SUV into a sports car. While a shape-shifting car has yet to be invented, the idea of a vehicle that is half SUV, half car was popularized in the 1990s with the Crossover.
Top: The Gadgetmobile transforming from SUV to sports car in the show’s opening credits.
Bottom: The Pontiac Aztek, a great example of a Crossover. The Aztek is most notable as Breaking Bad’s Walter White’s car of choice, a modern day Gadget himself.
The Gadgetmobile has many additional gadgets under its hood, like the ability to park itself, a feature that has become quite common in luxury vehicles today. And with the invention of Google’s self-driving car, we all might have a Gadgetmobile of very our own one day. The Gadgetmobile parking itself in “Art Heist.”