I actually have a great deal of respect for Engineers; it’s incredibly fun to brainstorm with them, and I love watching them work after something gives them an idea. I never had much mechanical aptitude myself, and so I am amazed to think that machines themselves can be taken apart and reassembled as easily as the ideas behind them.
However: there are times (or rather, there was one time, last night) when they might get a bit too
enthusiastic about the whole mechanical problem-solving thing…
Case in point: this week, a group of us were assigned to assemble an autonomous, robotic rover in order to gain a firmer grasp upon the principles of their design and utility in interplanetary exploration. The group consisted of three aerospace engineers and myself*; two of them were put in charge of mechanical design, one in charge of software programming (as she was the only one with training in C), and I was to help-out wherever necessary, record and coordinate their efforts.
So far so good.
What progressed was hard work, but fun, and by 8:00 PM on Thursday, we’d assembled an impressive, functional model. The only problem was a slight tendency in our pivot-wheel to slide on the floor; nothing that seriously interfered with its ability to function, and certainly nothing worth serious repair with such little time left before it was due.
Anyways, I was busy writing the final draft of my report on the design, when I found that our mechanical engineers were in the process of taking the robot apart.
“It’s this wheel,” they told me. “It’s slipping too much; we’re going to switch the layout of this thing; make it a front-wheel drive.”
“Uhh…is that difficult?” I asked. It certainly sounded less-than-straightforward to me, especially given how our instruments were all located on the front of robot, and would need to be completely moved.
“Nah, it’s nothing,” they assured me.
“Well, you’re the experts.”
Half an hour later, I came back. “How’s it going?”
“It’s a bit harder than we thought,” they admitted. “But I think we know what we’re doing now.”
…And of course, you know that two hours later, we were all sitting amongst a huge heap of disassembled parts in a state of extreme stress: no robot in sight.
“I thought it would be easy…” one of the Engineers breathed wistfully.
Naturally, we were up until midnight, hastily slapping a rather makeshift robotic rover at the last possible moment.
Ah well. It was all in fun, and any incident with a robot that doesn’t end with it trying to subjugate Humanity can, in my humble opinion, not be described as a complete disaster. And there’s a silver lining in that the robot we ultimately produced as a desperate, final gamble was a good deal more efficient then the one with which we had started. So yeah: apparently, that’s how engineering works.
*A physicist, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention to my blog.