Slideshow: Meet the Universe's Ultimate Engineers

The winning entries from IEEE Spectrum's Spore Creature Creator contest

IEEE SPECTRUM CREATURE, BY JOSHUA J. ROMERO

Prior to the release of Will Wright’s epic video game Spore, we asked readers to use the Creature Creator function and some imagination to design a creature perfectly suited to be an engineer. The Spectrum staff graded the entries on originality, humor, believability, and attention to detail. It was a close competition, with several creatures vying for the top spot. Check out how we ranked the entries, and let us know in the comments which one is your favorite.

WINNER: SPOTTY, DESIGNED BY MARKUS MÜLLER

This is not the engineer of some far, far away universe but a future engineer of Earth, given natural selection, enough time, and the timeless pressures engineers are subject to.

The main structural evolution lies in the two pairs of arms. One pair has fine fingers for delicate tinkering, while the other pair is used for holding and shaking a device. Spotty also has the sorely missed extra hand for soldering, and if required, the mouth can serve as a fifth hand. As a result, a transistor can be unsoldered in one go (requiring, of course, three soldering irons). For those who think there will be no transistors by then, let us recall that in the future all electronic circuits without exception will have exactly three contacts (one for power, one for serial communication, and one common ground).

Spotty still requires only two eyes, which are enough to create a three-dimensional representation of the environment, especially since they are movably placed on stalks. More eyes require the integration of more visual information and too much processing power in the brain. This illustrates the guiding principle of efficiency, which also directs the development of the remaining features:

- The body rests on the ground when sitting (no more chairs).

- Hooves require little cleaning (no more smelly socks).

- The skin is an indistinct grey-brown, since engineers are a) not interested in impressing females and b) spots and stains are difficult to see, reducing the need for cleaning. The special coloring shown here is adapted to hide tomato stains, eliminating stress when eating Italian food.

- A second head with attentive features and minimal brain function provides submissive/enthusiastic responses to the boss while the main head can go on with the real work.

FIRST RUNNER-UP: SPECTRO, DESIGNED BY TREVOR HENDERS AND FREDDIE PATTON

The saws on his back are used for cutting wires, and the cylinders on his hands are hammers that can help him with his work. He has a point on his tail that works perfectly as a screwdriver, and he has pointed, clawlike fingers that are perfect for fine work. His extra arms end in plantlike growths lined with suction cups, which are perfect for holding multiple items at a time.

These extra arms also have two eyes that attach to long antennas for easy close-up examination of any item. The bottoms of his feet are covered in suction cups to get to those hard-to-reach places on the sides of walls, etc. Small, triangular plates on his wrists provide some protection from heat and sharp objects. The small spiral on his back is actually a small printer, perfect for quickly printing out progress reports for the boss. The food he eats is automatically processed, and the color is squeezed out for ink. (As he is an omnivore, this can make for a wide variety of color!)

SECOND RUNNER-UP: NEER, DESIGNED BY GARRY UPTON

The three mandibles act as 3-D calipers for measuring. Razor-sharp bone protrusions above the wrist give the Neer a cutting blade he can’t lose, and a bony hammer plate under his forearm gives him a built-in hammer (something every engineer needs).

Long, dexterous fingers allow for precise movements (and are able to reach that screw dropped into a tight spot). To keep those screws and other small objects handy, Neer has a pouch on each leg. The membrane can close tight and hold objects securely, even while walking. This Neer has been known to clip several writing utensils onto the edge of the membrane.

Reversed knees make leaning over a workbench less tiring and eliminate the need for a stool or chair. Suction cup feet allow Neer to work from almost any angle and provide more options when pacing.

Long binocular eyestalks give the Neer great eyesight and the ability to look around for its only predator: the PHB (Pointy Haired Beast).

Of course, Neer does his best thinking after hours, and the black-and-white coloring gives him natural camouflage when he comes sneaking home late—again.

THIRD RUNNER-UP: ENJYNEARA, DESIGNED BY E. LAM

The Enjyneara are hybrid plant-animal creatures characterized by the lush, green, grassy leaves on their backs, which convert solar energy and reduce dietary requirements (the green scales function similarly, but to a lesser extent). This means less time hunting/gathering and more time for constructive engineering thoughts enabled by their well-developed brains. Other notable skin features are their yellow stripes, which help them measure distances relative to their own bodies, and the silvery scales at the bends of their limbs, which can be chemically activated to fluoresce upon darkness, permitting continued activities at night.

The most distinctive of their specialized senses are their sensitive ears, which observe environmental vibration, and three sets of eyes that allow different electromagnetic observations. More specifically, their head eyes are for general tasks and self-navigation; their hand eyes, with highly dynamic lenses, are for close-up to long-distance sight (also handy for seeing difficult to reach areas); and the tail eyes are for monitoring environmental conditions with dynamic frequency range.

A strongly supported backbone with strong midarms and lower limbs enables them to lift heavy objects and construct grand structures, whilst their nimble and steady (but weaker) forelimbs provide fine motor control for use in delicate situations. All of their limbs end with flexible digits, which enable a multitude of tasks, but the Enjyneara can also use the coarse bony masses at the ends of their midarm elbows to grind and prepare softer materials or the bony thorn digit at the end of each midarm for punching holes, engraving, or cutting softer materials. Finally, wings allow them to fly for observing or assembling tall objects, and their tail grip can manipulate or carry additional items.

HONORABLE MENTION: TWAIKSTERA, THE TWIN BEING, DESIGNED BY NITIN THOMAS KURIEN, AGE 13

Meet TWAIKSTERA, the twin being. He’s always been interested in how stuff works and has never been much of a fighter. Predators are always hunting him, so his top head keeps watch while the larger head works uninterrupted. (Sort of like parallel processing.)

He’s a hard worker, and because he spends so much time working, he doesn’t always have time to go in search of food. Instead, he sucks in microorganisms with the spiral absorbers on his back and enlarges them to a substantial size. A few microorganisms should keep him going for a month or two.

His hands are very flexible and can be used to handle very delicate things or to take stuff apart. Since ideas can come anytime, it’s good that he’s got four stable legs that double up as a chair for him to sit comfortably and have a brainstorming session between his two heads.

This gentle, unassuming creature is presently working on collecting clues to prove a crazy idea that came to his head: that this universe is just a video game in another universe.

HONORABLE MENTION: CRE ENGINEER, DESIGNED BY DARIO ASSANTE

When nature needed an engineer, nature created the CRE Engineer! He is smart and interested in everything that surrounds him. With his three lively eyes and big ears, he can monitor even the smallest and noiseless happenings. The long antennas on his face increase this ability. A bendable foot and flexible leg allow him to reach difficult positions. Two pairs of arms with different types of hands are useful for manipulating various objects and realizing complex creations. He also uses the two lower hands to draw, and he is a great designer!

A fifth arm in the back is really helpful to pick up objects. He seems funny and even a bit ridiculous, but all geniuses are a bit crazy, and he is a real genius. He likes eating so much (as do all engineers) that he has a well-rounded belly. That's okay because he doesn't have to run—his mind runs instead.

HONORABLE MENTION: GEEKOR, DESIGNED BY ROD GALLANT

Geekor the engineer. Geekor has green skin composed of chlorophyll so that he can absorb energy from the artificial lighting when he’s working those all-nighters.

Geekor has fine appendages for fine work as well as a claw for hitting a system that needs a good whack. Geekor can see in all directions, which allows him to analyze problems from all angles. Geekor has one up-close set of eyes for fine detail. Geekor can't run very fast because he has suction cups for feet. That means he’s very loyal—he won't be running off to that dream job anytime soon.

THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO PARTICIPATED

We received a lot of great submissions to this contest. Some of the other designs the judges liked were the incredibly modeled (yet outside the parameters of the contest) Admin by Олег Исупов (left) and Sluggle by Liz Frerking (right). If designing video-game creatures isn’t your cup of tea, check back for other contests that are more hands-on. Or tell us in the comments if you have a great idea for what Spectrum’s next contest should be.

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