For many years, Europe’s washing machines tended to walk across a room, while America’s did not. Daniel Conrad and Werner Soedel explained why, in a study called On the Problem of Oscillatory Walk of Automatic Washing Machines. Their explanation was recognised by authority figures for its power to inspire youths.
Conrad and Soedel, based at the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, published their work in 1995 in the Journal of Sound and Vibration. It was an instant classic.
The fear of ambling machinery resonated with the times. One could feel it in a 1995 Japanese science-fiction movie called Mechanical Violator Hakaider. Critic Jason Buchanan later described what happens once the title character, a cyborg, is loosed upon the land: “Once Hakaider sets on the path of destruction, there is little that can be done to stop him from destroying all of Jesus Town.” …
So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.