Seth Molson is Designing the Future, One Show at a Time

From the banks of levers and steam gauges of 1927’s Metropolis to the multicolored jewels that the crew would knowingly tap on in the original Star Trek, the entertainment industry has always struggled with producing imagery of advanced technology. Whether constrained by budget or imagination, portrayals usually go in one of two directions: they either rely too heavily on contemporary technology, or else they go so far in the opposite direction that it borders on comical.

Seth Molson

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. In fact, when technology is shown properly in film it often serves as inspiration for engineers. The portrayal of facial recognition and gesture control in Minority Report was so well done that it’s still referenced today, nearly 20 years after the film’s release. For all its faults, Star Trek is responsible for a number of “life imitating art” creations; such as early mobile phones bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the flip communicators issued to Starfleet personnel.

So when I saw the exceptional use of 3D printing in the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, I felt it was something that needed to be pointed out. From the way the crew made use of printed parts to the printer’s control interface, everything felt very real. It took existing technology and pushed it forward in a way that was impressive while still being believable. It was the kind of portrayal of technology that modern tech-savvy audiences deserve.

It left such an impression that we decided to reach out to Seth Molson, the artist behind the user interfaces from Lost in Space, and try to gain a little insight from somebody who is fighting the good fight for technology in media. To learn how he creates his interfaces, the pitfalls he navigates, and how the expectations of the viewer have changed now that we all have a touch screen supercomputer in our pocket.

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Lost in Space Gets 3D Printing Right

When it has become so common for movies and television to hyper-sensationalize engineering, and to just plain get things wrong, here’s a breath of fresh air. There’s a Sci-Fi show out right now that wove 3D printing into the story line in a way that is correct, unforced, and a fitting complement to that fictional world.

With the amount of original content Netflix is pumping out anymore, you may have missed the fact that they’ve recently released a reboot of the classic Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. Sorry LeBlanc fans, this new take on the space traveling Robinson family pretends the 1998 movie never happened, as have most people. It follows the family from their days on Earth until they get properly lost in space as the title would indicate, and is probably most notable for the exceptional art direction and special effects work that’s closer to Interstellar than the campy effects of yesteryear.

But fear not, Dear Reader. This is not a review of the show. To that end, I’ll come right out and say that Lost in Space is overall a rather mediocre show. It’s certainly gorgeous, but the story lines and dialog are like something out of a fan film. It’s overly drawn out, and in the end doesn’t progress the overarching story nearly as much as you’d expect. The robot is pretty sick, though.

No, this article is not about the show as a whole. It’s about one very specific element of the show that was so well done I’m still thinking about it a month later: its use of 3D printing. In Lost in Space, the 3D printer aboard the Jupiter 2 is almost a character itself. Nearly every member of the main cast has some kind of interaction with it, and it’s directly involved in several major plot developments during the season’s rather brisk ten episode run.

I’ve never seen a show or movie that not only featured 3D printing as such a major theme, but that also did it so well. It’s perhaps the most realistic portrayal of 3D printing to date, but it’s also a plausible depiction of what 3D printing could look like in the relatively near future. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d be exceptionally interested to hear if anyone can point out anything better.

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Hollywood Finally Gets Hacking Right with Mr. Robot

Author’s note: I’m keeping spoilers out of this article, but they will surely show up in the comments.

A few weeks ago I started hearing about a new show on the USA network, Mr. Robot. The synopsis for the show was “Mr. Robot is a psychological thriller that follows a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night.” Yeah, that sounds like another Hollywood crapfest. Cue crazy GUIs and virtual reality flybys representing hacking scenes. After watching the pilot though, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was hooked for the entire 10 week first season.

elliot-hacksLet’s start with the hacking, which is the whole reason this article is here on Hackaday. Show creator [Sam Esmail] isn’t a hacker himself, but he is tech savvy enough to see how poorly hacking has been portrayed on TV and in the movies. He knew he could do it better. The solution was good consultants, in the form of [Michael Bazzell] and others. The team helped shape the show into a rather realistic portrayal of hacking techniques. Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), the main character, is the “vigilante” hacker described in the synopsis. Within the first 10 minutes of the pilot, he is turning a child pornographer in to the police. How does he catch the creeper? Tor exit node exploits, of course.

The onion routing protocol is not as anonymous as you think it is. Whoever’s in control of the exit nodes is also in control of the traffic, which makes me the one in control.

This is an accurate description of some of the exploits which have been demonstrated on the tor network. There aren’t any VR hacking scenes to be found either. In fact, several characters watch and make fun of the “flu shot” scene in Hackers. In this show, the command line isn’t hidden, it’s celebrated. We see every command the characters type, from netstat to CAN bus dumps. In one scene, Elliot even fires up a windows virtual machine so he can run DeepSound on his Kali Linux box.

The hacking isn’t all software either. Everyone’s favorite Linux single board computer is featured prominently in the first season. We can’t knock a show where a character looks at another and says “Ok, we all know what a Raspberry Pi is, what’s your point?”

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