Readers of this blog will be familiar with my tendency towards nostalgia, especially when harking back to a time when more young people had hands-on hobbies that involved making things and tinkering with designs in their dad’s shed or garage.
It will come as no surprise, then, that I was heartened to see a return of Robot Wars to our TV screens this summer after a hiatus of 12 years. Not only is this wonderful programme just plain, good, old-fashioned fun, it also dovetails nicely with two of my many other preoccupations: namely robots and inspiring young people to consider a career in engineering and related industries.
For those not familiar with the premise of the show, Robot Wars sees 40 teams, each of which has designed and built a remote-controlled robot, compete to see who has the toughest, most robust robot out there. Different robots are drawn to fight each other in a gladiatorial arena beset with trapdoors, flame throwers and sinister House Robots who will attack any competitor that comes within their range.
Teams must build their robots within strict specifications covering everything from the weight, power and drive-train of the machine. Each competing robot is also designed with a different weapon – be it a hammer, saw, spinning bar or shovel nose designed to flip opponents.
As you would expect with a cult show such as this, the entrants come from all corners. There are teams made up of experienced professional engineers but, likewise, other robot makers are hobbyists and young enthusiasts spurred on to have ago themselves after watching re-runs of the programme from the 1990s. Brief profiles of the teams show them building and repairing robots in their workshops.
It is this aspect of the show that particularly delights me. Despite the décor giving Robot Wars a futuristic feel, the programme is encouraging young people to do something many of their forebears did in previous generations – which is to have a go at building something themselves and learn by doing. Who knows? Some of these might be so inspired that it leads them to think about pursuing a career in engineering.
And considering this new series of Robot Wars picked up more viewers than Top Gear it is to be hoped that it touches a sizeable number of young people in such a way.
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