Needed: a cou­ple of daleks and the doc­tor

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

TAKE a bunch of hy­per­ac­tive geeks, stick them in a ‘‘ se­cret’’ ware­house in San Fran­cisco Bay and ask them to build some­thing. That, in a nut­shell, is what you get with Pro­to­type This .

It is, ac­cord­ing to the spin doc­tors, ‘‘ in­vent­ing the fu­ture, one pro­to­type at a time’’.

‘‘ From find­ing so­lu­tions to to­day’s prob­lems, to con­ceiv­ing cool ma­chines that are just fun to have around, the Pro­to­type This crew imag­ines and then in­vents the fu­ture by us­ing emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies to build the cra­zi­est, one-of-a-kind pro­to­types of to­mor­row,’’ the pub­lic­ity blurb says.

The up­shot is a kind of Myth­busters that lacks the cen­tral premise of ac­tu­ally bust­ing myths and strug­gles to hold your in­ter­est. Even a breath­less Amer­i­can voiceover, the kind usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with alien ex­pose s or cop re­al­ity shows, fails to save it from its own self-in­dul­gence.

Tonight’s project in­volves the team — Joe Grand ( elec­tron­ics and cir­cuit de­sign), Terry Sandin ( an­i­ma­tron­ics and fabri­ca­tion), Zoz Brooks ( ro­bot­ics and com­put­ing sys­tems) and Mike North ( ma­te­ri­als and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing) — build­ing a com­puter game us­ing a pair of real-world avatars that re­spond to player in­put from out­side the ring.

This in­volves de­sign­ing and build­ing two gi­ant ro­bots ca­pa­ble of stand­ing toe to toe and beat­ing each other back to the scrapheap, as well as the soft­ware that con­trols them. The aim is that when a boxer out­side the ring throws a punch, the robot does too, al­low­ing the com­bat­ants to pound away at each other without any phys­i­cal risk to them­selves.

This de­sign process in­volves fre­quent ut­ter­ances of ‘‘ cool’’ — or in ex­treme cir­cum­stance ‘‘ so cool’’ —

Back to the scrapheap: Ro­bots go head to head in as the team uses mo­tion cap­ture and com­put­ers to con­struct their pro­to­type game.

The show at­tempts to build some ten­sion from the fact the ro­bots have to be de­signed and built be­fore a chal­lenge fight in which Grand will pit his non-ex­is­tent box­ing skills against a fe­male boxer. There is also some frus­tra­tion as parts of the project fail to go as planned, lead­ing one team mem­ber to dra­mat­i­cally ex­claim: ‘‘ If you can’t make the dead­line, you walk away bro­ken . . .’’

But at­tempts to build up any real sense of ex­cite­ment are largely un­der­mined by fre­quent ad breaks and the in­cred­i­bly an­noy­ing voiceover. It also goes on far too long.

On a good day, and with the wind blow­ing in the right di­rec­tion, you could pos­si­bly make a mod­er­ately in­ter­est­ing half-hour show out of this. But 45 min­utes is stretch­ing the friend­ship too far.

There is no dis­put­ing that th­ese are clever and in­no­va­tive guys. And you can see how they are try­ing to make sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy ap­pear hip and cool.

But what they have achieved is the ro­botic equiv­a­lent of fin­ger­nails scrap­ing across a black­board.

Steve Creedy

Pro­to­type This

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