Posts Tagged ‘Metalzoic’

Boston Dynamics’ Robotic Reindeer Pull a Santa Sleigh

December 24, 2015

This is a fascinating video from Boston Dynamics, the robotics division of Google. I found it through the over 18 site, 1000 Natural Shocks. It’s very seasonal, showing one of their young female employees driving around dressed as Santa Claus in a sleigh pulled by robotic reindeer.

The machines look like variations of the ‘Big Dog’ robot now being developed as pack creatures for the American military. I can remember way back in the 1980s 2000 AD ran a strip, Metalzoic, set in a far future Earth in which the entire ecology was dominated by machine animals. The few humans that survived did so as primitive tribesmen, dependent on cultivating the shape-shifting, carnivorous trafids. This displays brings robotic animals just a little bit closer.

Metalzoic Cast

And with the world currently in a dire ecological crisis with thousands of species already extinct or threatened with extinction, it also raises the spectre of the world of Philip D. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the book on which the classic SF film, Blade Runner was based, where the people of a devastated future world keep robot animals as pets, because the real, organic creatures are either extinct or too rare, and hence too expensive.

I’ve got some misgivings and reservations about robot research, because of the way so many jobs are being automated out of extinction. The Beeb broadcast a programme earlier this year on the subject. It’s estimated that about 1/3 of the jobs in the retail sector will be lost, thanks to humans being replaced by machines. So such devices aren’t the unalloyed good they are frequently claimed to be. But this is fun, and the science behind it ingenious and impressive.

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The World Moves Towards the Metalzoic: American Military Wants Robot Cheetahs

December 12, 2013

Metalzoic Cover

I found this interesting little snippet over on Youtube. It’s a CNN report on the US military’s programme to develop robot warriors and vehicles. DARPA has already produced the four-legged robot vehicle, Big Dog, to carry trooper’s equipment in the battlefield. It’s been commented that Big Dog moves remarkably like a real animal, and its attempts to right itself when someone attempts to knock it over is indeed very eerily like that of a biological creature.

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It reminded me very strongly of this creature, a robot sabre-toothed lion, from the 1980s 2000 AD strip, Metalzoic.

Metalzoic Lion.

Beginning in Prog 483, Metalzoic was a strip about a group of primitive robotic humanoids, the Mekaka, attempting to survive in a far future world dominated by robots. Written by that pillar of the British comics industry, Pat Mills, and drawn by Kevin O’Neill, the strip had originally been published by DC Comics across the Atlantic. It was set in the far future, after the collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field in the 24th century had wiped out most of the animal life on Earth. These had been replaced by their robot counterparts, who had been given the ability to reproduce, so that almost the planet’s entire ecology was robotic. The far-future world envisaged by the strip was very much like that of Earth’s prehistory. The robotic humanoids, the Robosapiens were the robot counterparts of early humans. Apart from robot sabre-toothed cats, there were also robotic sharks, giraffes and mammoths. These machine creatures were based on or shared features with contemporary machines. The robot sharks looked somewhat like submarines, the giraffes based on cranes and the robot mammoths bore more than a little similarity to trucks. The robosapiens’ leader was the violent and brutal Armageddon, who was leading them on a mission to find and kill the Godbeast. This was the leader of a herd of robot mammoths, which carried the master programme guiding and controlling robot evolution on Earth. Armageddon succeeded in killing the Godbeast, and taking from it the master programme. This allowed Armageddon and his tribe to become the dominant creatures on Earth.

Metalzoic Cast.

Following the geological time charts, Metalzoic had its own showing the evolutionary epochs leading up to and including the Metalzoic, including the Humanic, the Necromic, and the Robocene.

Metalzoic timeline

With Darpa’s proposed development of robot animals, and eventually, humanoid robot warriors, it seems we are not quite in the strip’s Humanic period. This was the period where humans were still dominant, but robots were commonplace and some, built to colonise other world, had been given the ability to reproduce themselves. Nevertheless, that may become a reality in the next few decades. Other documentaries have shown a robot factory in Japan, where the robots are busy making other robots. Nevertheless, the machine ecology of Metalzoic is still a long way off. It’s a disturbing thought that the robotic world Mills and O’Neill created for entertainment way back in the ’80s may become a reality due to humanity’s desire to find ever more efficient ways of murdering people.

Miming the Metalzoic: Amit Drori’s Savanna, A Possible Landscape

September 10, 2013

Robot Savannah

Back in January of this year (2013), the Independent covered Amit Drori’s Savanna, A Possible Landscape, a play about the adventures of a group of robot animals, shown as part of the London Mime Festival. These creatures include a tortoise, a springbok made of springs, whose legs are mounted in wheels so that it walks with just the right rhythm, a crane (the bird, not the machine), a mechanical moth, and a transistor radio that becomes an grasshopper by extending its aerials and tiny wheels. The main character is a mechanical elephant, created by Drori from the remains of his mother’s piano. In voiceover, Drori tells the audience how he resented the instrument, because it too up so much of his mother’s time, while being fascinated by its inner workings. To him, these were like the skeleton of an elephant or whale. The piano was in a poor condition and required much maintenance. When the piano finally became irreparable, Drori attempted to make an animal from its remains. The result was the play’s walking mechanical elephant. This too dies, laying on the ground to be covered in projections of leaves. A smaller elephant walks away from it.

This play is by no means the first time that artists and dramatists have attempted to explore the machine aesthetic on stage. One of the first modern art groups to do so were the Italian Futurists. They were founded by the poet, Marinetti, in 1909. Aggressively militaristic, they celebrated youth, speed, virility and violence, and the new, industrial machine age. In the group’s ‘Founding and Manifesto’, Marinetti declared that the motorcar was ‘more beautiful than the Battle of Samothrace’, and declared that his movement looked forward to ‘the union of man with machine’. In Russia, the poet Mayakovsky described the actors in his plays as ‘biomechanical performers’. Another of the Italian Futurists declared that in the new, Futurist order, they would be giant, biomechanical toys, built to train children for war. One of their operas was entitled ‘The Agony of the Machine’. Since then other artists with radically different political and social views have staged pieces in which the central performances are machines. I can remembers on some of the children’s programmes in the 1970s, such as Vision On, dances consisting of the choreographed performances of forklift trucks. More recently, adverts for certain types have car have featured them chasing around a city playing hide and seek, or formations of them whirling and spinning through the air, crossing through each other in lines like an airborne, automotive Busby Berekely routine. Unlike the Futurists, there is nothing Fascistic about these, but in their subject matter and performance, Marinetti would probably have been delighted.

Robots have been a staple of Science Fiction ever since the Steam Man, a mechanical, steam-driven robot, first appeared in American pulps in the 19th century. One of the few SF stories to feature mechanical animals as the heroes was the 1980’s comic strip, Metalzoic. Written by Pat Mills and drawn by Kevin O’Neill, Metalzoic was first published by DC in America before being reprinted in the page of the veteran British SF comic, 2000 AD. It was set in a far future Earth, where the biological world had been replaced by an artificial ecology of robot animals, evolved from machines created by humanity, that had then escaped and run wild. Humanity itself survived on Earth as a primitive, tribal culture farming the Traffids. These were giant, predatory alien plants, which trapped their food like Venus Flytraps. Unlike these plants, the Traffids took on the forms of artificial environments, such as houses complete with magazines, in order to trap their victims. The story itself centred around the adventures of a tribe of robotic proto-humans as they attempted to track down ‘the godbeast’, a mechanical mammoth shaped formed from a truck, which carried the master programme for all life on this robotic world. Savanna, A Possible Landscape, recalls Metalzoic through its cast of mechanical animals, designed by Drori himself and Noam Dover, though the two are otherwise completely different.

I have to say that despite robots appearing as the heroes and villains in film and theatre since Karel Capek’s RUR in the 1920s, there has been little use of genuine robots themselves as performers and the subject of films and plays. Some of this is changing as the technology has advanced to the point where producers and directors can use genuine machines to perform as the robot characters in plays and film. Star War’s R2D2, when not played by Kenny Baker, was operated by remote control. The giant ABC Warrior in the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film was a genuine robot, deliberately constructed so that it would definitely not be another man in a suit. There is a robot circus in America, and I’ve included on this blog videos of performance by a robotic Heavy Metal band. The technology exists for writers, artists and performers to create pieces using genuine robots. These could not just explore the aesthetic possibilities of the machines themselves, but also the wider issue of the organic, the human and the mechanical and how they increasingly interact in modern, technological culture. I’m sorry I never had a chance to see Drori’s Savanna, as it seems to have been a welcome and fascination addition and extension of genuine robotic theatre.