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Review: Survival Research Laboratories -- Memorial Day BBQ

by Mark Shepherd
From: Mark Shepherd <bnrmtv!>
Subject: Illusions of Shameless Abundance
Keywords: Survival Research Laboratories, performance robotics, hostile acts
Date: 31 May 89 04:49:29 GMT
Survival Research Laboratories held its Memorial Day barbeque in San Francisco on the evening of May 28. The performance, entitled "Illusions of Shameless Abundance - degenerating into an uninterrupted sequence of hostile encounters", was held in a parking lot under a freeway. The large concrete pillars supporting the freeway were decorated with torches, animal heads, gilded carousel figures, and silvered mylar, which together with the pre-show soundtrack of Sousa marches mixed with live cellular radio telephone created an atmosphere somewhere between a medieval dungeon and a 3-ring circus. The overflow crowd surrounded the performance area on all sides. The set included a stack of 15 or so pianos piled up around one of the pillars, two large cornucopias filled with rotting vegetables suspended from the ceiling, a refrigerator display case filled with all kinds of goodies, and a birds nest built from 2x4s and fish fillets, at the top of one of the pillars.

This was one of the biggest and most sophisticated shows ever. The machines included:

The show lasted for about an hour. All the machines joined in the party, and a good time was had by all. Some of the highlights:

The big disappointment of the evening was the shock box. Hours before the show, it was discovered that everytime it discharged its 35 kilovolt capacitors into an innocent object, the resulting magnetic pulse disabled the generator for the light and sound system. Regretably it had to be benched for the whole show.

For the techies: besides the usual inspired assortment of hydraulic and electrical goodies, this performance was assisted by 3 embedded computer controllers: one for the walking machine, one for the arm, and one for the scrabbler. Thanks to NASA, Archimedes, Hewlett-Packard, Dallas Semiconductor, and Motorola for lending or donating equipment and software. Some of them even knew what it was going to be used for. Another first for SRL: the machine operators and video crew were directed in real time over 2-way radio, making possible much more coordinated choreography than ever before.

Here is a transcript of the script. Remarkably, substantial portions of the show actually followed the script.



Big Arm waving its hand beneath the south Cornucopia in wonder. It knocks some goodies out of it and sniffs at them. It then starts to move towards the piano mountain.

Walking Machine burns through its plastic curtain and lumbers out towards the middle doing its own kind of boogie, then starts lumbering towards the pianos.

Magnet comes out from Curtain. Heads towards north cornucopia.

Chipper follows Magnet from behind curtain and heads toward cornucopias, buzzing around under them, expectantly.

Magnet lifts plate counterweighting north cornucopia, causing the contents to tip into the Chipper buzzing below.

Inchworm comes from east end pointing its finger in beautiful wand-like motions. It taps the Shock Wave Cannon and the Cannon then begins firing. Inchworm then heads to Piano Mountain, maybe messing with audience 1st.

The Scrabbler awakens, and begins to dance on its disco floor.

Clacker balls start to clack sporadically.

All major moving machines are playing their cellular phone loops.


Big Arm begins playing the pianos.

Inchworm starts getting into the piano action. Not liking this, the Big Arm trys to shove the Inchworm out of the way. The Inchwork shoves back.

The Inchworm starts knocking into pictures on the beams.

Walking Machine nears and starts burning the piano mountain.

Inchworm then starts to point and mess with the audience.

Shock Box begins to bump into metal boxes, blasting at will, like a stinging bee.

Chipper starts bumping into wood structures, feeding itself as goodies fall into the hopper from these wood platforms.

Magnet begins picking up and dropping steel boxes causing foam chemical reactions.

As Shock Wave Cannon begins to fire with greater frequency, large Flame Blower begins to make short bursts of fire.

Arm grabs bag of fake TNTs and dumps into Audience 5.

Flame Blower is being winched into the air.

The Big Arm returns to the cornucopia and begins to feed heartily, ripping the shoth cornucopia from the sky and stuffing what it can't eat into the chipper.


The Magnet, having made its offerings to the Scrabbler, now picks the Scrabbler up and drops it repeatedly. Shock Box joins the party on the disco floor and wastes the Scrabbler.

Walking Machine has finished burning the pianos and shuffling around starts to burn north cornucopia, barbecuing the fish, which the Big Arm then tips into the Chipper.

Large fish are released on their cables into the Chipper. The Shock Box arrives and drives its probes into the radiator of the Chipper causing a loud report.

Big Arm grabs the Clacker Balls and yanks them into the center area for the Magnet to pick up and drop at will.

Tired of harassing the audience, the Inchworm points its finger at the Walking Machine a la Don Quixote at the windmill, the old lance and dragon scenario. Shock Box interrupts this scene, coming up to to the Walking Machines chicken wire wrapped legs and giving them a little sheep dog nip on the heels.

Big Arm grabs Cable and starts swinging the Flame Blower causing flames to lick the celing.

Magnet tips liquid Nitrogen over, fogging in Audience 4.

When all machines are thoroughly absorbed in acts of destruction, ceiling charges are set off, scattering ashes to the wind.

Mark Shepherd, <bnrmtv!>

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