Extreme Machines is a series that aired on the Discovery Channel, and in 2001 they did an episode on robots. It tries to capture the viewer’s attention with cheesy computer graphics and talk of robots replacing humans, but soon contrasts these images with reality. It’s peppered with soundbites from prominent roboticists and A.I. specialists, with clips from their lab experiments.
Beginning with a section on robot locomotion, we’re presented with entertaining clips from experiments at MIT’s Leg Lab. BigDog’s ancestors dynamically walk, hop, trot, and perform impressive somersaults.
On the topic of artificial intelligence, it reuses a lot of footage from similar shows, including an interview with Rodney Brooks about COG, and promotional material from Honda. There is a short clip of Honda’s P3 that I had not seen before. There’s a distinct lack of humanoids, with a lengthy segment on Mark Tilden’s beambots instead, which are about as sophisticated as toy Hex Bugs. Kudos to him for parlaying the publicity into millions in the toy market, but what he has to say isn’t particularly interesting.
The next segment focuses on military robots, specifically SPAWAR Systems’ silly Robart 3. It’s a rather slow, bulky, and impractical military robot armed with a gatling airgun that shoots ball bearings. This is followed by a segment on space applications before concluding with predictions from the experts about where all of this is heading. It’s not a total waste, but it is probably the worst of the robot-themed shows we’ve reviewed thus far.
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