Looks like Discovery US has a series coming up in which a team of engineers (/designers/etc) build ridiculously complex machines to do something trivially simple. That is, a ‘Rube Goldberg’ machine, or – as we say in the UK – a ‘Heath Robinson’ machine.

It’s been done before, of course. Notably by Fischli and Weiss in ‘The Way Things Go,’ but also as a TV gameshow, most recently in BBC4’s Simply Complicated. That show suffered the classic problem of these ‘chain reaction’ machines: unless they’re incredibly carefully-designed, they’re impossible to catch on camera, and the viewer is left baffled rather than inspired.

I banged on about this a year ago in relation to the ‘Diet Coke & Mentos Experiment II’ film, and for my money the best video realisation of the concept still lies not with the Honda advert, seminal as it was, but with the Japanese children’s show Pitagora Suichi, clips of which you’ll find here. Over the years their team has clearly got it down to a fine art.

It sounds like the Discovery series is going about things the right way, at least, in that there’s no hint of a competition – rather, the team they’re casting sounds more like ‘resident engineers.’ I hope that’s the case, because if it is, they might have a fighting chance of getting the shots they’re after. But they’re still facing a very steep learning curve, particularly if they’re using engineers who look good on camera, but have no experience of working with the things.

If I was at the World Congress of Science Producers in New York this week, I’d be asking Discovery myself.

[via Boing Boing]