Engineering Drama

I was just wondering why there aren’t any popular engineering based shows on television. There was never a shortage of police and lawyer shows when I was growing up. I am sure that anyone can name a whole bunch of them. There is also currently no shortage of medical nor science-based dramas today. There is even a successful series based on mathematics! But there really isn’t any popular engineering based show on television. The closest that we ever came to one was probably MacGuyver. I loved watching the show when I was a kid and I even got myself a penknife because of it. But the only beef that I have with the show is that he always solved any and every problem with his penknife, which is thoroughly unrealistic.

So, I was just musing to myself these last few days about what some of my friends said. An engineer’s job is not sufficiently dramatic enough for public consumption. There is plenty of drama in our work but it’s just not particularly exciting to people outside the field. If you stick a bunch of engineers in a room together, we can get very worked up over how every little thing works in this world. We are very passionate about what we do and our jobs affect the lives of everyone in this world, even if nobody will really realise it.

But, I don’t really see how our work can possibly excite regular people. Our daily jobs basically involve studying lots of documentation, attending endless meetings, and working with such total focus that we zone into our own little world where nothing else exists other than us and the work. We do not work with regular people and so, although our work touches their lives, it does not do it directly. So, there is no human drama either.

This isn’t to say that engineers do not lead regular lives. We do face all the same trials and tribulations as any other person in this world. We learn to handle them as well as we can. Sometimes, our intensive training in logic and reasoning is useful in helping us cope with the problems, while sometimes it can be a bane at our side. But I sincerely believe that if somebody wants to make a dramatic series about engineers, it is certainly possible. If they can turn a boring mathematician’s life into a successful series, they can certainly make an engineering series.

So, I doubt that drama is the main reason why it’s difficult to make a television series out of it. I think it’s the fact that the normal kind of work that we do, takes many months and possibly years. Engineers do not work in the here and now but we have to work on something that will only see the light of day in the distant future. Our work cannot be rushed simply because the laws of nature cannot be rushed. It isn’t going to be so interesting to watch a bunch of people go through the same daily mundane routine in order to slowly work towards building something beautiful.

The only people who can stomach this kind of drama are probably bird watchers and other engineers. But I still think that it’s possibly to make a show about engineers as long as we focus on the human element, rather than their jobs. The engineers could always have family who are non-engineers and we can borrow some drama from their work to spice things up. It is certainly something that can be done. Let’s give the series a classy French name, like “Ingenieurie” and make a serious show that highlights how, although engineers have a rather different take on life, we are still all the same in the end of the day.

PS: Remember to not make the show about an engineer saving the day with his penknife. We do not use penknives and we do not always save the day. In fact sometimes, people die when we are not careful with our work.

Hail BigDog

May I be the first to say: All hail our new robotic quadruped overlords!. It’s name is BigDog.

Well, it’s only a matter of time now, before our machines develop enough capabilities to wipe us off the planet. As this video patently illustrates, it is not longer impossible for them to mimic real life physical movement and reflexes. The only thing that this robot lacks is an autonomous thinking capability.

The engineer in me can see and appreciate the amount of engineering elegance that must have gone into the design of such a marvel. Walking on four legs isn’t so much of an issue but being able to quickly recover from being suddenly thrown off balance, is a great accomplishment. At the very least, this will see such a robot being useful for ferrying things around. The present robot can already carry a few hundred pounds in weight, which brings to mind a very useful application.

The project is currently being funded by DARPA. So, it is being designed for military applications. Now, we can all imagine how this could easily be turned into a AT-AT walker from Star Wars. All it needs is the ability to ferry around a few tonnes of weight. Then, we just need to plant a big set of guns and some seats on it. I’m curious to know if it’s reflexes can scale well with it’s size.

Besides the obvious military advantages of having a robotic pet that can ferry huge equipment and supplies along, there are also very practical civil applications for such a robot. It could be tasked to carry disabled people around a hospital, for example. It would clearly be able to navigate the various “terrain” present within a suitable medical establishment and have enough reflexes to keep it’s balance when it is knocked around. It could also carry some obese individuals around town if we just add some seats onto it.

Well, that’s enough from me. Just watch the video and tell me that it doesn’t send creepy chills down your spine at some point.