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USC Is Searching for the Next Female MacGyver

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As any women who ever asked her mid-1990s hairstylist for “The Rachel” haircut knows all too well, television has the power to inspire its viewers. And not just in terms of beauty and fashion trends, but in an intellectual capacity as well. Just as the CSI franchise has increased the interest in forensic careers and Breaking Bad inspired a new generation of would-be scientists, MacGyver did the same for engineering in its 1980s heyday. After all, who wouldn’t want to know how to escape from the clutches of a couple of mob guys with nothing more than a fire hose and a trusty Swiss army knife?

“I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences because of MacGyver,’” says Lee Zlotoff, the show’s creator. Which gave the folks at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering an idea: If there’s no current on-screen hero encouraging the next wave of great engineers, why not create one? And why not make this MacGyver a missus?

That’s the idea behind “The Next MacGyver” project, an online competition aimed squarely at engineering television’s next great problem-solver. The process is simple: Entrants (which can be a team of people) must submit a handful of key details about the proposed series—including a title, logline, pilot episode synopsis, and description of the “new” Mrs. MacGyver—by May 1, 2015. From there, the competition’s crack team of judges will whittle the competition down to their 12 favorite ideas, whose creators will square off this summer in a pitching event, with five winners emerging victorious.

"We’re not looking to reboot the MacGyver franchise or bring back guys with mullets," state the contest's creators. "We are asking: 'Can you out-MacGyver MacGyver?' Can you imagine that next female hero that will inspire a generation of young women to see themselves as engineers?" In addition to USC and Zlotoff, the National Academy of Engineering and The MacGyver Foundation are the contest's main partners.

While there’s no guarantee that the proposed show will get made, “The Next MacGyver” crew will prep its winners to find success as best they can, both with a $5000 prize and by pairing them with two mentors—one engineer who specializes in the field in which the imagined protagonist operates and one veteran Hollywood producer. Producers Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Fringe), Lori McCreary (Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman), Clayton Krueger (3001: The Final Odyssey), and CSI creator Anthony Zuiker are among the pros who have already signed on as mentors.

Now they just need The Next MacGyver (feathered hair optional).

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architecture
German Nonprofit Gives $1.1 Million to Restore World’s First Iron Bridge in England
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The UK’s Iron Bridge is more than just a pretty landmark. Built in 1779, it was the world’s first metal bridge, a major milestone in engineering history. Like many aging pieces of infrastructure, though, it’s in dire need of repair—and the funds to shore it up are coming from an unexpected place. According to The Times, a German foundation has pledged to pay for the conservation project as a way to improve relations between England and Germany in the wake of Brexit.

Based in Hamburg, the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation normally funds cultural projects in Germany, but decided to work with the UK’s charitable trust English Heritage to save the Industrial Revolution landmark as a way to reinforce the cultural bond between the two countries. The foundation has pledged more than $1.16 million to the bridge's renovation effort, which will cost an estimated $4.7 million in total. Now, the UK charity only has to raise another $32,800 to fully fund the work.

The Iron Bridge was cast and built by Abraham Darby III, whose grandfather became the first mass-producer of cast iron in the UK in the early 1700s, kickstarting England's Industrial Revolution. It was the world’s first cast iron, single-span arch bridge, weighing more than 400 tons. In 1934, it was declared a historic monument and closed to traffic, and the Ironbridge Gorge was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

“The Iron Bridge is one of the most important—if not the most important—bridges ever built,” English Heritage CEO Kate Mavor told the press.

The techniques used to erect the Iron Bridge were later adopted throughout Europe, including in Germany, leading the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation to call it “a potent reminder of our continent's common cultural roots and values.”

The already-underway repair project includes replacing elements of the bridge, cleaning and repairing others, and painting the entire structure. Since it sits above a fast-flowing river where erecting scaffolding is difficult, the project is especially complex. It’s scheduled to be completed in 2018.

[h/t The Times]

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Honda Debuts a Rain-Proof Disaster Robot That Can Climb Ladders
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A new Honda robot could signal the future of disaster response technology. According to IEEE Spectrum, the Japanese company recently debuted a prototype for a cutting-edge disaster-response robot agile enough to climb ladders, ascend stairs, maneuver over pipes, and move through narrow spaces, among other capabilities.

Honda unveiled the prototype for the E2-DR at September’s IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vancouver. The slow-moving humanoid robot looks like a beginning skater stepping onto the ice for the first time, stepping cautiously up stairs and through small spaces, but the fact that it can navigate these kinds of obstacles is a feat. Scaling ladders and walking up and down stairs are usually no easy tasks for robots, and both are among the challenges featured in the annual DARPA Robotics Challenge obstacle course—which is infamous for making very, very expensive robots fall all over the place.

Designed to inspect, maintain, and provide disaster response in places like factories and power plants, the E2-DR is 5.5 feet tall, weighs around 187 pounds, and can run for about 90 minutes at a time. Crucially, it’s less than 10 inches thick back-to-front, allowing it to squeeze through small corridors laterally.

The robot can reverse its knees to allow it to keep them from bumping against stairs as it walks, and its hands can grip ladders and rails. It can also open doors and climb on all fours. It’s equipped with rangefinders, cameras, and 3D sensors so that it can be piloted remotely.

Because it’s designed to work in disaster zones (like within the Fukushima power plant) the robot has to be able to withstand water, debris, dust, and extreme temperatures. It’s already been able to climb up and down a ladder in the face of 1 inch-per-hour rain, according to Honda.

IEEE Spectrum notes that we haven’t seen it fall, and falling down is, despite how silly it looks in testing, an important thing to test before sending robots into the field. In unpredictable settings and rough terrain, it’s likely that a robot is going to misstep and fall down at some point, and it needs to be able to not just withstand the fall, but get itself back up.

The E2-DR is just a prototype, and Honda will continue to work on it for the foreseeable future. For now, though, it’s made an impressive start.

[h/t IEEE Spectrum]

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