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I've been watching Discovery's new series "SmashLab". I've watched enough now to give it an official Geek Review. The concept is simple enough. Take some gifted people with complimentary backgrounds, give them some new technology and a safety problem to solve with it, and see what they can prototype to try out the idea. Now, lets break down how the show stacks up:
1. The Technology. Extremely Cool. In the shows I've watched they've used Aerated Concrete in an attempt to show down runaway cars, a kind of resin to keep concrete from cracking in a bomb blast, Aerogel & carbon fiber to fireproof a house, and magnets with aluminium to create a self-braking vertical escape system. In each case, the tech was awesome. The aerated concrete was entirely new to me. The resin material was cool but a little obvious. I'd heard of Aerogel but to see it in use was amazing. Finally, the use of rare earth magnets interacting with aluminium as a controlled braking system was not an engineering principle I'd ever heard of. I knew coasters used magnetic brakes, but I assumed it was some kind of complex electromagnetic switching system. It isn't. It's entirely solid state with no electricity involved. Other than a material failure, it is foolproof.
2. The Problems. These seem contrived to me. The problem and technology are already chosen at the start of the show, and it strikes me as overly convenient and a bit contrived. It almost seems as though there is a business model being tested by putting it on the show. Sadly, the designs themselves pretty much prove there isn't -- at least not a serious one.
3. The Designs. This is where the show falls apart. These young, bright, excited people seem to have no concept of the real world at all. They come up with designs which are barely valid tests of the technology but in such poorly thought through was you never get a feel for what could really be done. Further, the things they try are for the most part ultimately unworkable as products. In many cases, the design flaws are so obvious as to be painful. Even worse, the flaws don't need to be there. There are usually known solutions already in the market place for dealing with them.
So overall -- it's worth watching, but a shame they don't take the implementation more seriously.
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