Posts Tagged ‘Adam Savage’

Adam Savage Hitches Rickshaw to Four-Legged Spot Robot

June 21, 2020

This is another video which has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but I’m putting it up simply because it’s fun. In it, Adam Savage, the engineer and Science Fiction fan behind Mythbusters, builds a joint for Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot so he can hitch a rickshaw he built for himself to it. Boston Dynamics have developed a series of robots, some of which are humanoid and bipedal. They produced another quadrupedal robot, Big Dog, as a carrier for the American army. However, the programme was cancelled because the robot’s electric motors produced too much noise for it to be used in combat, as this would have alerted the enemy to the soldiers’ approach.

Savage says of the rickshaw he built, that it was originally going to be very brightly coloured after the Indian vehicles. When he came to build it, it became darker, and much more European so that it had a Steampunk look. Steampunk is the type of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had really developed the kind of technology in the early SF of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and had space and time travel and computers. One of the founding books of this genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is set in a Britain where Lord Byron has led a revolution and is now the head of government and Charles Babbage’s pioneering early mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title, has been built.

The Spot robot itself is semi-autonomous. As Savage has shown in previous videos, it can be operated by remote control. However, it recognises and avoids obstacles, and so it’s impossible to steer it into a brick wall. It will just stop, or try to go round it. When Savage and two other engineers and technicians are testing how it performs with the rickshaw attached, the robot comes to a halt on a slope. This is because it doesn’t realise that it needs to put in more power to pull the rickshaw up it, and so the two technicians work on its software so that it can correctly assess the force it needs and perform accordingly.

The robot and rickshaw together really do look like something out of Steampunk SF, or the 19th century SF art of the French author, Jacques Robida. Or even a scene from the Star Wars’ galaxy, which similarly mixes high technology – spaceships, robots and landspeeders with very low-tech forms of transport like animals. The fact that this is reality in 2020 shows that we are living in an age of SF.

Adam Savage and Guest Engineer Build Refrigerated Cooling Suit

June 19, 2020

Adam Savage is a Science Fiction fan and engineer/special effects technician on YouTube. I think he was also one half of Mythbusters, a cable/satellite TV series in which he and his co-host put to the test various popular myths. Such as whether a car door really could shield you from bullets as shown in any number of cop shows and films.

In his YouTube channel, Savage goes off to various SF conventions and gatherings, talking to stars, special effects people and fans. He also builds replica movie props and effects. In this video, he and his guest, biomedical engineer Kipp Bradford, build a refrigerated suit.

Savage says that he’s building it because a few years ago, he went to a convention wearing a replica of the spacesuits worn in the classic SF/horror movie Alien. Wearing its quilted material in such a hot environment, however, nearly gave him heatstroke. He went to another convention after that wearing a copy of the silver space suites from Kubrick’s 2001. This had a type of cooling system built into it to stop him becoming too hot, but it seems to have just circulated water around without being a refrigerator. The refrigerated cooling suit he and Bradford build uses the same kind of technology used in domestic fridges to keep food and drink cool. It works by pumping a refrigerated fluid around which takes heat from the objects to be cooled and radiates it away. In this case, the suit uses a miniature compressor and two heat exchangers. The miniature compressor was made by DARPA for the American armed forces. Nearly two decades ago after Gulf War II the American government called for a similar refrigerated suit to be developed to keep its squaddies cool in the desert heat. The project was abandoned when it was realised that if something went wrong with the suits, the soldiers would be seriously compromised.

The suit the two use for the device is an RAF cooling suit from c. 1975. It’s designed for the British air forces high altitude pilots, and Savage says he picked it up a few years ago at an auction. I have an idea it was a similar suit with tubes for circulating fluid that the costume/make up department of Dr. Who used for the Cybermen seen in the 1980s Peter Davison story Earthshock. 

I don’t think this is something that can be built at home by your average SF fan or DIY enthusiast. Obviously one of the issues is simply getting hold of the components. They mention that one of the compressors is available from a company that will provide single units. All the other companies providing refrigerator components will only supply them in bulk, so unless you order 10,000 of them, they won’t give you anything. They also use a proper, industrial refrigerant as the coolant. There’s a lot of joking about using alcohol, including vodka as the coolant, and they state that this is a viable option. But I really don’t think that is the stuff they eventually use. They do say, on the other hand, that it isn’t the freon used in older fridges in the 1970s, for example, that was one of the gases that put a hole in the ozone layer. That’s been replaced by more ecofriendly chemicals, so that the hole is actually now closing. Which is clearly a win for the environment, even if the planet is still suffering from massive pollution and the destruction of the natural environment and extinction of millions of endangered species.

For all the light, jokey tone, it’s clear that Bradford is an incredibly intelligent man. While Savage jokes that he’s only got honorary degrees, which aren’t worth anything, Bradford has a string of higher qualifications. He’s a biomechanical engineer, who has designed similar cooling units for medevac for injured American troopers.

The two manage to construct a small refrigerator and connect it to the suit. And it works! Through an infrared app on a mobile phone camera they show it lowering Savage’s temperature as he’s wearing it down to quite a cold level. The only drawback for this viewer is that they don’t create any kind of backpack for it enabling Savage to wear it with the suit. Wearing it, Savage remarks that it’s given him an insight into the achievement of the NASA scientists and engineers, who built the spacesuits. Not only did these include similar cooling systems, but they also had to include other vital systems like air.

I found this video particularly interesting as a fan of Dune. In Frank Herbert’s classic novel, the Fremen and other people survive the harsh conditions on the desert planet Arakis by wearing still suits. These reclaim the body’s moisture from sweat and wastes through semi-permeable membranes, treating it so that it becomes drinkable water. Fans of the Australian-American ’90s SF show, Farscape, will also remember the cooling suit worn by the villain Scorpius. Scorpius is half-Skaren, half-Sebatian. The Skarens are tough, reptile-like creatures with a high body temperature and craving for heat. The Sebatians, by contrast, are identical to humans but lack human’s ability to regulate their body temperature. They’re therefore vulnerable to overheating and falling into an incurable coma. In order to stop this, Scorpius wears a refrigerated suit specially designed for him, and has had surgery performed so that he can insert cooling rods into his skull to lower the temperature of his brain. Mercifully, no-one has suggested doing anything like that yet, although some extreme conditions are treated by placing the patient in a coma and lowering their body temperature. This nifty little piece of engineering shows that while we haven’t quite reached the ability to produce a still suit like Dune’s, we’re not far off it.

As you can also see from the video, Kipp Bradford’s Black or mixed-race. There’s a move to make science and engineering more diverse, with more women and Blacks and people from ethnic minorities. I therefore thought the video might also be of interest, as it clearly shows that Blacks are also capable of doing great, awesome science and engineering. Not that there should be any doubt of it. The ‘McCoy’ of the phrase ‘It’s the real McCoy!’, said of any great invention or clever device, was apparently an American naval engineer around about World War II, who became famous for the marvels he could work on board ships.

Prof Simon on the Technology of Blade Runner that Exists Today

November 7, 2019

This is another fascinating video from Professor Simon Holland. As I said in an earlier blog piece, November 2019 is the date Ridley Scott’s SF classic Blade Runner is set, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Prof Simon here examines some of the technology that has now been developed, which is similar to that of the movie. This includes robots, flying cars and ‘a polaroid which allows you to see round corners’.

He begins with robots, stating that most of them have been developed by the pornography industry. These are the Real Dolls, androids which have been designed to look like real women. There’s a few photographs of these, shown with their owners or manufacturers. Mercifully, both have their clothes on. But some have also been developed by the military, and these, Prof Simon says, comparing them to Blade Runner’s replicants, are scarier. The robots shown at this point are the humanoid – roughly – and quadrupedal machines developed by the American firm, Boston Dynamics. A gun-toting humanoid robot shows its shooting skills in a range out in the deserts. Despite being repeatedly struck and pushed over by a man with a hockey stick, the robot manages to hit its target. When the pistol it’s using runs out of ammo, they throw it a rifle, which it catches with both hands and then proceeds to use. Another humanoid robot is shown carefully walking along a stony path simulating rough terrain, while one is also shown trying to pick up a box while another man with a hockey stick knocks the box away and tries to knock the robot over.  The quadrupedal robots include the Big Dog machine and related robots, which got their name because they look somewhat like headless mechanical dogs. Big Dog was designed for carrying equipment, and one is shown with four saddlebags walking around trying not to be forced over. Two lines of similar machines are shown pulling a truck.

The ‘polaroid that sees round corners’ is also shown, and it appears to be a mobile app. He also shows photographs of a number of flying cars that have been developed. As for the taxis on demand that appear in the movie, he quips that he’ll just call Uber.

But he also raises the important point about why our expectations of the future are inaccurate. He argues that it’s because we’ve forgotten how very different the world was back in the 1960s when the book was written. This is shown through another set of photographs of the fashion of the period, though I think they come more from the 1970s. Certain the pic of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Saturday Night Fever does. He goes on to point out how we have technology that was unknown when he was growing up – computers are everywhere and cursive handwriting a thing of the past. We evolve into the future, rather than making quantum leaps into it. He also cheerfully observes that he shares a Blade Runner obsession with his younger, near-lookalike, Adam Savage.

At the end of the video he examines an interesting photo he’s been sent by a viewer. This is a photo of the Earth from space, with a mark that looks like a UFO. But it isn’t. Unlike today’s digital cameras, those used by the astronauts used photosensitive film, which could get marked and spoiled by dust. This is what’s happened to the photo here.

Prof Simon is a genial, entertaining host, and it’s fascinating that some of the technology featured in Blade Runner is being developed. Scientists and engineers have been working on the flying cars since the 1990s, and one of the tech firms has said that they intend to put them into service as flying taxis next year. This seems unlikely. Critics have pointed out that the noise generated by their engines would be colossal, making their use very unpopular. Living in a city in which they were in general operation would be like living in an airport. The SF artist and book illustrator, Jim Burns, also comments on one of his paintings, which show such cars in use, that there are prohibitive safety aspects. What about accidents? Nobody would like to be around when it starts raining bits of aircar and body parts.

The robots we’ve developed are different from Blade Runner’s replicants, which are artificial, genetically engineered creatures, and therefore biological rather than simply technological. We’re nowhere near creating anything that complex. The military robots instead remind me of the machines from Robocop and the ABC Warrior from the ’90s movie, Judge Dredd, in which Megacity 1’s toughest lawman was played by Sylvester Stallone, as well as the robots in Chappie, which came out a few years ago. Despite the very impressive sophistication of these machines, however, they mercifully aren’t as intelligent as humans. This means we don’t have to worry about the world of 2000 AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ or the Terminator movies becoming reality quite yet. But even so, watching these machines walk, move and shoot is disturbing, demonstrating their lethal potential and efficiency as fighting machines. Looking at them, I think the fears many scientists and members of the lay public have about them as a potential threat to the human race are justified.