AT-AT for America – How can I not comment on this?

I think it’s fairly obvious from this blog that I’m a fan of Star Wars. After all, I once posted a picture of a monkey that looks like Yoda. Star Wars has been a part of my psyche since childhood, but this week made it come to life.

See, the best Star Wars film is The Empire Strikes Back, and for my money, one of the highlights of Empire is the assault on the ice planet Hoth and the rebels hiding there. Giant armoured walkers ominously stomp their way towards our heroes, symbols of power and destruction and over-whelming tyranny. Well, those walkers may not be the stuff of fiction much longer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you AT-AT for America.

For those of you out there who haven’t sacrificed the piece of your brain that remembers your mom’s birthday in order to remember the moon on which the Rebel Alliance were originally hiding out on*, the AT-ATs are the big, four-legged walkers of death as seen in this clip. And AT-AT for America wants to build one.

Now, on the one hand you could say this is frivolous – there are better things on which they could be spending time, money and effort, not building a fictitious war machine that, frankly, got defeated because the heroes were able to trip it up. As projects go it’s not exactly practical.

But then President Obama has been pushing the importance of science and engineering, both in his State of the Union address and on Mythbusters, and while it’s okay to preach to the choir on these things, to inspire and engage those with limited interest in the subjects, well, there’s a strong argument for doing something a little crazy. And building an AT-AT is a little crazy.

Yes, we should be looking at cheap, clean energy generation, or providing clean water to remote villages, or going to Mars. These things are important, life and death on some cases, but here’s the thing – certain major Western economies shifted to services away from manufacturing and now we’re finding we’ve got a skills deficit. That needs to be addressed, and addressed at a pretty basic level – young people, or people who may have an aptitude for the field but not the opportunities or, so they thought, an interest in it.

Science fiction has long inspired technological developments, possibly because it’s capable of inspiring the imagination as well as the mind. And if you want to get people interested in engineering, using pop culture as a way into the field might not be a bad idea. After all, a working AT-AT might be fairly useless but it is cool. And maybe a few of those people who’ve suddenly started to believe they can build armoured vehicles for Darth Vader might just be building a Mars lander in a few years.

And that’s just America’s project. Me? I want the UK version. Anyone know how to build one of HG Wells’ Martian tripods?

*Yavin 4.


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