Nov. 18, 2010 at 4:58 PM ET
From magic wands to invisibility cloaks and personal memory receptacles, the magical devices in the fantastical world of Harry Potter are slowly turning into real-life technologies.
As avid readers of J.K. Rowling's books settle in to watch "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" at movie theaters across the country, some will have to reach back into the recesses of their minds to recall what exactly happened when Harry and his sidekicks were unleashed from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The task, no doubt, would be easier if they could just open up a bottle of recollections or gaze into a Pensieve, the magical stone bowl that provides access to memories.
It turns out that a similar technology is not too far off: Researchers at IBM Research Labs, for example, are hard at work on software that "that uses the images, sounds, and text recorded on everyday mobile devices to help people recall names, faces, conversations and other important information," according to a 2008 press release.
Yaakov Navon, the lead researcher on the project with the company's Haifa Research Lab in Israel, likened it to "having a personal assistant for your memory." For example, let's say you meet someone at a conference and take a picture of them with your GPS-equipped cell phone, and then take another picture of their business card. The memory assistant would associate the two pieces of data because they were taken in the same place and time. Those images would be stored for easy recall prior to a future meeting with the contact.
In a tangentially related development, scientists reported in Nature last month on experiments that show how individuals control specific neurons in their brains. Subjects, for example, were able to bring a photo of a preferred celebrity into focus on a computer screen. Could such understanding of mind control one day better give us access to our memories -- or read those of others?
Magic wands? Got 'em
The magic wand, another staple of the Harry Potter series, is also within our reach. Technolog's Helen A.S. Popkin brought our attention to the Kymera wand buttonless remote control this August -- which, as its name suggests, lets users flip through the channels or gain power over another remote controlled device with a flick of the wrist instead of those pesky buttons.
Flying cars and brooms
In "Chamber of Secrets," Harry and Ron Weasley borrow an enchanted car for a quick flight to Hogwarts -- but flying cars look arguably cooler in the non-fiction world. The Terrafugia, a car under development by the Massachusetts-based company, is nearly street legal, and Moller International is hard at work on its vertical takeoff and landing cars, including the M400 Skycar.
Inventors might not be working specifically on the flying brooms that play such a big role in Harry Potter's Quidditch matches, but New Zealand's Glenn Martin has been working on a turbofan-driven jetpack that might be the closest thing in the real world. The latest news is that Martin Aircraft Co. Ltd. needs at least another $10 million to bring the jetpack to market.
Invisibility? Of course!
What would a roundup of Harry Potter technology be without mention of that oh-so-cool invisibility cloak? This August, researchers at Tufts and Boston universities announced success in creating an invisibility cloak made from silk. For now, the metamaterial, as it is called, works in the terahertz range -- a region of the electromagnetic spectrum between radio and infrared light -- but the researchers say it could work in the visible range too.
For more information on Harry Potter technology wending its way into our everyday lives, check out this slideshow on Discovery News -- as well as the articles linked below.
More about Harry Potter technology
More about 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on http://twitter.com/b0yle.