From MacGyver to Battlebots to Mr. Robot, here are 10 of our favourite TV shows for engineers.
The First Inventors
Australia’s first engineers were Indigenous Australians, and this four-part documentary, presented by Tiwi Islander Rob Collins, explores the innovations and technologies developed by First Nations people across millennia.
The series looks at engineering innovations such as ancient superhighways, the transformation of volcanic terrain into fish farms for food, and long-distance communication using codes engraved on message sticks.
It also aims to debunk misconceptions around the simplicity and isolation of Indigenous communities by presenting evidence of advanced engineering and social practices.
MacGyver did for engineering what Indiana Jones did for archaeology. A classic of 1980s adventure television, it was the gold standard for innovative, hands-on engineering depicted on the small screen.
Richard Dean Anderson plays Angus ‘Mac’ MacGyver, a special agent and Vietnam veteran whose knack for fashioning a weapon and getting out of tricky situations with nothing but his wits and some duct tape helped inspire a generation of would-be engineers watching from the couch at home. A Swiss Army knife has never been as useful as in Mac’s trusty hands.
Unknown: Killer Robots
The intersection of AI and drone technology, and the ethical consequences that result, is front and centre in the new Netflix documentary Unknown: Killer Robots.
The documentary runs through various new technologies, such as the kind of headless dog robots seen online, and isn’t afraid to interrogate America’s military industrial complex with its discussion around the military applications of drone and AI technology currently being engineered.
Star Trek: Discovery
A prequel to the original 1960s series, Star Trek: Discovery takes a decidedly earth-bound organism – the fungal mould mycelium – and provides a possible application in science fiction, but one that is grounded in engineering principles.
The engine powering the USS Discovery is a spore drive, which enables the ship to traverse the universe via the ‘mycelial plane’ – a mycelium network that has roots throughout the cosmos. The connections to real-world phenomena make the spore drive an astonishing, albeit fictional, feat of engineering.
Air Crash Investigations
Although it sometimes drifts into overly fraught melodrama, Air Crash Investigations is nonetheless an eye-opening peek behind the curtain at principles of aeronautical engineering.
As the title suggests, the ongoing documentary series investigates the events leading up to, during and following aeronautic disasters such as bombings, hijacks and crashes, shining a light on the critical errors, such as in the engineering of planes or guidance systems, that caused those disasters.
Rami Malek stars as cybersecurity engineer Elliot Alderson in the thriller Mr. Robot, an acclaimed show that delves into paranoia around cybersecurity and security hacking as much as it does the main character’s struggles with mental health.
Remote-controlled armoured robots fight against each other inside a cage arena – what more could you want? In fact, Battlebots is indeed more than that: there’s a skill involved in the crafting of the machines that models the work done by robotic and industrial engineers on the regular.
Qualified engineers have also featured on the program, such as the late Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame – another series that features electrical, mechanical and robotic engineering in an accessible, genuinely interesting way.
Greyzone, or Gråzon in the original Swedish, depicts the efforts of engineer Victoria Rahbek (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), who is captured by a terrorist organisation looking to take advantage of the drone technologies developed by her employer.
More than another bleak Nordic drama that has proven so popular in the current zeitgeist, Greyzone touches on the ethical ramifications of modern engineering and the industry players working in that space in a similar way to Unknown: Killer Robots, but this time via a fictional story.
In April 1986 all of Europe was on alert as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, spreading radioactive material across the continent. This extraordinary television series is gripping from the first scene and you’ll struggle to not binge all five episodes in a single night.
The exceptional attention to detail brilliantly captures the terrifying events surrounding the disaster and the heroic engineers and other workers who sacrificed themselves to contain the fallout.
The ultimate amusement park for engineers, Westworld is where futuristic ideas like AI and robotics take centre stage in an anachronistic setting resembling the American Wild West. There are glitches galore as the physical and moral dangers of artificial intelligence are explored – all while being highly entertaining TV.
Did we miss your favourite show? Share it with us in the comments section below.