The New Transformers Movie Has Started It All Over Again

When I was a kid I can remember several cartoons that I watched religiously, but one of my favorites was Transformers. Transformers were my first real exposure to humanoid robots, and in the 80’s I would argue that robotics was still very much in its infancy. Sure there were humanoid robots with an Ozz-ish Tin-Man look about them as far back as the fifties, probably even earlier (I fully expect someone to comment to this post about the first appearance of a humanoid robot in film or literature . . . c’mon, someone out there knows that bit of trivia). The Twilight Zone had a few good robots, and I remember reading an article about a humanoid robot that made an appearance at a worlds fair (complete with a metal dog, if I remember correctly*), but at least in my case it was the Transformers that I think deserve all the credit. Without the Transformers, I may have never been turned on to electronics and robotics.

*Shortly after this post I googled the worlds fair robot that I mentioned above. His name was Electro, and his dog was Sparko. Electro and Sparky were designed by Westinghouse. I'm including a picture with a link back to the pictures original source. It's a pretty cool site, you should check it out if Electro sparks (*ahem*) your interest. Other great sites about Electro can be found here:

Around that same timeframe (the 80’s) I also fell in love with Zoids - mostly because my dad loved them, and would bring them home as gifts for “us” to put together. He actually put them together and once they were fully assembled I got to look at them from a distance while they sat safely perched on the table in the corner of our living room. My dad was probably right to try and protect the Zoids from me. I was, after all, a typical kid. I would wait until mom and dad weren’t home and then I’d sneak them down from their tabletop safety. It seems like every single time I inevitably lost a piece or two. I was always loosing the little gold men who piloted the windup robotic creations, anyone else have that problem? My favorite Zoid was the mammoth pictured below.

Sadly, Zoids became extinct and I had lost so many parts to my Zoids over the years that every last one eventually became crippled or non-functional in some way. They are probably still in a box somewhere in my parents garage. But I digress. It was really the Transformers (at least for me) that started it all. They fueled my passion for robotics and electronics from an early age. I didn’t even realize to what extent this was true until the new Transformers movie came out.

I went to see the movie . . . alone. Don’t laugh, my fiancĂ© was working the late shift and I was stuck in 5 o’clock Seattle traffic. While crawling along at 5mph I saw a billboard at a movie theatre that was showing the Transformers movie. I veered off, sheepishly bought a ticket, and sat down with all the giddiness of a 10 year old kid. The only thing missing was the oversized Sweet Tarts candy that they don’t sell anymore.

The movie was awesome. I won’t go into a review here; there are plenty of other sites dedicated to that kind of stuff. But the point I’m trying to make with this post is that the Transformers movie has started it all over again, for millions of kids across the world. A newly revived interest in humanoid robotics has been reborn in our youth – and I’m glad.

Toys R Us will undoubtedly be stuffed with Transformers action figures for the holidays. And those kids lucky enough to get a Lego’s NXT system for Christmas will probably skip right past simple line-following designs and try to create robots that transform from a humanoid into a car, or jet, or . . .

My hope is that world events like the Transformers movie will put pressure on public and private institutions to increase educational expenditures on science and electronics programs. When I was a kid I could take pottery or painting as an after school or summer class. Don’t get me wrong, the arts are under funded too, but I can’t even imagine what I would be like today if I could have taken summer classes in robotics or electronics. I’d probably be even nerdier and less well-rounded. But maybe, just maybe I’d have invented something truly unique by now. Who knows. All I know is that my children, if I ever have any, are doomed. I just hope I don’t push science and technology too hard on them.

No comments: