Machinations

The sun will explode in 5 billion years, and robots are humanity's best hope to escape. Three guys are working on a plan. In a garage. In Heath, Texas.

"Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive," Hawking said. "Talk about creating life in our image."

Hawking's machines aren't likely to be made inside Jordan's garage, but the place does illustrate that 5 billion years isn't as far away as it sounds.

Yundt switches on his microscope-turned-drill, and it emits a wicked howl as the spinning bit bites into aluminum. A cloud of silver flakes floats into the air like a metallic blizzard. It is well after 10 p.m. The trio is supposed to adhere to a strict no-drilling-after-9 p.m. order, but Moravec says, "We usually let the wife remind us."

After neatly severing the stick's rugged end, Yundt switches the machine off, realizing his code is off by a few thousandths of an inch.

"Shoot," he says, "that's not where it's supposed to be at."

Behind him, Jordan notices that the arrow on the power supply has dropped down to zero. "Oops," he says, "we blew a fuse." Moravec, meanwhile, wrestles with a stubborn wire inside Jordan's power box. "I hate these tight boxes," he says.

A quiet settles over the garage as Yundt, Moravec and Jordan troubleshoot their respective problems. Out in the yard, the sprinkler system automatically kicks on and goes about its nighttime watering chore. The neighbor, a doctor, returns home from making his evening rounds at the hospital. He walks his dog, then shuts his lights off for the night.

Beneath the halogen glow, the men continue their slow march toward progress. Soon, the clock strikes 12 and a new day is marked by the screams of Yundt's machine. An hour later, he triumphantly presents Jordan with a completed bone.

"Preeeeety cool," Jordan says with a whistle. He glances up at the clock and ends this session of Robot Builder's Night Out on a factual note.

"It always takes longer than you think," he says. "Always."

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