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Homebrewed Robot Exoskeleton In Alaska 202

Posted by timothy
from the droids-you're-looking-for dept.
museumpeace writes "CNET has an article about a robotic exoskeleton ginned up by tinkerer from Alaska There are a few cool pictures. The audacity of Mr. Owens project, if you believe the article, compares to the efforts of the old Home Brew Computer Club when compared to the work of GE or Toyota. Inspiration here comes more from sci-fi and video games than from industrial competition. The article is a good roundup of MECHA related developments, some of which sprang from DARPA money, so I am glad at least a few of my tax dollars are having some real geek fun."
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Homebrewed Robot Exoskeleton In Alaska

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  • Dammit (Score:5, Funny)

    by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:44PM (#11162731)
    I thought they found an ancient robot skeleton buried under the ice or something, it's been a long week.
    • by skids (119237) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:58PM (#11162877) Homepage
      To build an operational mecha as a hobby is one thing.

      To build it outside in the friggin Alaskan winter... well, there's only one word for that:

      OTAKU!!!

      (which, by the way, is what is on my housemate's vanity plate, so I speak with first-hand knowlege)
    • Upright? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tangledweb (134818)
      Am I the only one who sees an 18 or 35 foot tall mech being build surrounded by scaffolding and thinks that the whole project would have been 75% easier if he judt built it lying down?

      A crane could easily stand it up later, but if it is going to work at all, it would need to be able to stand after a stumble anyway.

      Sure, it looks cooler standing, and probably annoys his neighbours more, but it seems like a very poor design decision.
      • If you build it standing up, it can be built from the ground up - create the feet, attach the legs, then the torso, etc.

        Build it lying down and you have to build it from the back up. It's a lot more difficult that way.
        • If you build it standing up, it can be built from the ground up - create the feet, attach the legs, then the torso, etc.

          EUREKA!

          THAT is what Voltron was trying to teach us! "Form feet and legs! Form arms and body! And then form the head!" Given Earth's current level of technology, this is the only sequence that will permit us to construct giant space combat robots!

          The dilemma, now, is to determine the motives of the mysterious entities that sent us message. Are we to build giant space robots to protect o
      • "Sure, it looks cooler standing, and probably annoys his neighbours more..."

        his neighbors the polar bears? He's in freakin alaska, unless the polar bears have freakin lasers on their foreheads I don't think he has anything to worry about, besides a 35 foot mech is the perfect weapon against his neighbors the polar bears with freakin laser on their foreheads.

  • by Shadow Wrought (586631) <shadow DOT wrought AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:46PM (#11162762) Homepage Journal
    Well I for one, welcome our new Alaskan Mecha overlords.
  • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:46PM (#11162766) Homepage Journal
    Y'know, it occurs to me that this is someone you don't want to piss off with a slashdotting. He's developing the perfect retaliation suit!
  • Sorry... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Blue-Footed Boobie (799209) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:47PM (#11162769)
    This is very cool, and geek-factor 11...

    But, I have a feeling the first step is going to put this flat on it's face.

    Anime-ish designs for Mecha (mobile suits) don't translate well into the real world.

    If it were me, I would be looking to emulate some of the designs from the original MechWarrior series. They seem a bit more realistic.

    Still, love to see this walk/work!

    • You mean the 60 foot tall 100 ton assault mechs? Yeah, I can see them being within the reach of hobbyists
      • Nice try, but no.

        Those of us that aren't going for the Prick Award would assume that I (just like the builder) would scale the design back within a reasonable realm.

        Do you watch Anime, because the Mobile Suits are larger that the 18ft proto he is building.

        I wish I could patent and sell common sense.

    • The article stated that this was a big challenge for the builder, and that he's tried to account for it by making the lower half of the body heavier than the upper half. Still, it won't be easy to handle the balance aspect. Probably won't be mounting PPCs on it anytime soon. ;)
    • Re:Sorry... (Score:3, Informative)

      by jangobongo (812593)
      But, I have a feeling the first step is going to put this flat on it's face.

      Mr. Owens say he has addressed this by making sure the lower half weighs far more than the upper half, and some other design modifications. The whole thing (pic [com.com]) weighs a ton and a half, though.

      I'd love to see a project like this tackled on "Junkyard Mega-Wars" [discovery.com]. Dueling Exoskeletons!
      • Re:Sorry... (Score:2, Insightful)

        Problem is, just making the lower half weigh more than the top != balance.

        Back in the day a friend and I were working on designs for a workable mech. About 10ft tall. Chicken-Leg design.

        For balance we used a custom designed counter-weight system that was tied into the drivetrain. From the models we built, it worked great - but only for flat surfaces.

        Mechs and bumps/hills/ditches are a realy tough design problem. But just balanced walking is a huge problem to tackle first. Honda poured billions in

  • by Suicyco (88284) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:51PM (#11162808) Homepage
    http://www.nfb.ca/grizzly/suit.html

    Now THAT would be cool.
  • I guess... (Score:4, Funny)

    by nebaz (453974) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:52PM (#11162809)
    it gets lonely in Alaska. :-)
  • MechWars! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sxltrex (198448) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:53PM (#11162818)
    I hereby demand a battle royale to the death between the homebrewed robot exoskelton and this guy. [improb.com]
  • by dabigpaybackski (772131) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:54PM (#11162827) Homepage
    Cute addition there with the head crests a la "Patlabor." And yet I'm still rather disappointed. Where is the 14' energy sword? Jet boosters? Particle beam rifle? Facetious, yes, but it is strange that amid these dizzying technological advancements, humanity's achievements in the field of robotics, circa 2004, are analagous to the state of automotive technology circa 1904. Nevertheless, that is some pretty damn fine backyard engineering.
  • Oh great, put the robots in the place where we can't live. They'll multiply... then they'll develope new, improved A.I. They will take over the economy with their new hoverdrive technology... We won't know if it is us or them who'll attack first-- I just know we're gonna have to scortch the sky because of this.
  • I once caught a fish this big......

    obscure movie reference...
  • by StCredZero (169093) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:57PM (#11162869)
    The control problems are not trivial, and I doubt that this guy will be able to solve them. But a lot of these problems have already been solved by Sarcos [sarcos.com]. In particular, look at this page [sarcos.com], especially at the "Sensuit" and the "Large Arm."

    The Large Arm is especially impressive, holding a freakin anvil like it was a stein of beer!

    If you could build the whole body of the Sensuit to a large enough scale that the whole pilot can be encased in a haptic feedback harness, you'd have a viable mecha.
    • Wow someone used the word "control". After working on a VERY, VERY... VERY simple servo motor control project I have to agree with the skepticism. Who knows though I am stupid, other people aren't. I also haven't dedicated any "real" portion of my life to control systems. Also someone else brought up the impracticality, which seems to be a logical arguement to me. But again I don't really know that much. Overall it is pretty cool for what it's worth!
      • Take a look at my Other Post [slashdot.org] for some links relating to the research that led up to the accomplishments of Sarcos. Not flashy stuff. Mostly concepts from old research. But if you put the concepts together, you realize that Mecha are indeed possible. Though I would agree with the other guy that pointed out that these are impractical for real warfare. But I would still watch a TV show with 2 human piloted mecha fighting!
  • Limited Usefulness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jgardn (539054) <jgardn@alumni.washington.edu> on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @05:58PM (#11162876) Homepage Journal
    The reason no one has ever actively pursued mecha is because they would be so inefficient. Tanks and such are built with a low profile, and if you ask frontline soldiers, they are only useful in limited roles. My army friend much prefers the new strykers because of their flexibility and reliability.

    A mecha would be standing 20 feet in the battlefied, an open and tempting target to everything from bombers to tanks to helicopters and to RPGs. It would have limited mobility, be extremely difficult to keep in working condition, and will have less load capacity than its tracked or wheeled counterparts. In short, it would look cool, but would be a useless coffin.

    In BattleTech, they make up for the obvious disadvantages of a mecha by giving them advantages over vehicles. Mecha are more reliable, more maneuvarable, able to take more damage and continue to function, and can carry more weapons. Even then, if you pit a balanced vehicle force against a balanced mecha force, ton for ton, credit for credit, the vehicles can easily overpower the mecha in most circumstances.

    I don't want to discourage this backyard project. After all, how many inventions were made when there was no necessity, but a necessity was found at a later time? But I do want folks to exercise a bit of common sense. If mecha were such a great idea, we'd have used them in WWII. We certainly had the technology to build them back then.
    • From the looks of it, that thing should have no problem converting to a big-rig, thus being the best of both worlds!

    • Why does the usefulness of a mecha have to be limited to war? Seriously, I think the guy's idea of using it at motor rallies is pretty good. It's also cost effective when you consider the price he's paying for it compared to the long term number of tickets that he'll sale. Also, when the technology advances enough some things like this could be very useful on construction sites. It could have the strength of a crane (a small one anyway), but be much more manuverable and versatile.
      • by k12linux (627320)
        Or how about disaster sites. Strong enough to pick up debris and slabs of concrete but agile enough to do it without knocking everything else onto victims.

        That'd be cool anyhow. Even if it wouldn't be as fun as picking up your neighbor's house and hiding it while he is gone to the store. Too bad the huge footprints leading to the new location of the home would probably give you away.
    • by leftie (667677)
      Mechas make perfect forklifts and industrial machines. There's some use for combat mechas in exotic terrain... mountains, underwater, etc

      They'd make excellent car crushers, too :)
      • Read the follow-on colonial marines handbook that explains some more into the so-called Caterpillar walking forklift. The unit uses gryoscopic stabilization similiar to what segways use, only that the gyros "uncouple" when the user tries to walk with it, causing the unit to become naturally unstable, but within tolerances that are norm with walking. I mean, after all, we humans are naturally unstable while standing.

        As for working in the soft soil or mud with them, forget it! The PSI/Square inch of pressure
    • I believe there was a coldwar statistic that stated the life expectancy of a tank in a NATO-Warsaw pact land war was about 6 minutes.
      • Different conditions, differently equipped enemy. The M1A1 Abrams seemed to have survived pretty well in the last two Gulf Wars.
        • Tanks are fine for semi-open country, at least when nobody's throwing tactical nukes or shooting with depleted uranium shells, but they have some vulnerabilities in cities. During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Russians were invading Budapest, and the locals would take out a strip of cobblestone street, pour gasoline in it, and light in when a tank crossed, with negative results to the tank. Probably newer tanks are a bit better protected, but it's still a risk.
    • Maybe mecha is not suitable for battlefield applications, but I could imagine warehouse and loading dock situations where they might be more useful.

      That environment would cause less equipment stress (no terrain, no weather, no small/large arm fire) and would allow for smaller, lighter (no armor) and more simply constructed mecha.
    • Yeah but can a tank climb a building and snatch helicopters out of the air like king kong?
    • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @06:22PM (#11163101) Homepage
      I'm not too sure where that figure of 20ft for the height comes from.

      I don't think there is any inherent reason why powered exo-skeletons would need to be anything like that big and provided they are reliable and able to cope with much the same terrain as general infantry I think they'd be quite effective in any battle situation.

      I would guess the benefits an effective exo-skeleton could bring are in increased carrying capacity for the solider allowing them to carry more food, ammunition etc which would allow them to operate longer in the field with less reliance on supply lines.

      Another aim would be to design a skeleton which enabled the solider to move more quickly and over longer distances than would normally be possible and maybe provide some increased protection from unfriendly weaponary.

      I don't think anyone is suggesting building giant robots because as you say they would just be too easy to target and destroy.

      I am guessing again that the key components in such a suit would be a lightweight, reliable powersource which preferably doesn't need a massive amount of fuel and strong lightweight materials for the skeleton it's self - this is in addition to all the wizzery needed to actually get the skeleton to function in the first place.

      Any army which does develop an effective exo skeleton would be able to field a very dangerous weapon indeed, something capable of deploying powerful firepower, fielded in dispersed units of hard to hit small units, capable of sustained attacks into your territory, able to be inserted quickly and secretly in helicopters, parachutes etc.
      • But that would fall under the heading of powered armor, rather than a true 'mech.

        It may be hairsplitting on my part, but if we're going to talk about actually building devices that have their roots in SF, we should use the appropriate terms.

        Aside from that, though, you're right. Powered armor is far more likely to be practically useful than a honest-to-$deity 'mech.

        • I agree, what I was describing is powered armour and not a 'mech'

          I guess if you could develop better localised defences, e.g. intercepting cannon shells, rockets etc before they hit you - leaping quickly out of the way of incoming materiel etc then mechs might have a place on the battlefueld.

          However I don't think they would ever be versatile enough on different terrain since all the weight is going to be concetrated into their feet which would limit their area of operations to hard rocky areas which can b
      • by StCredZero (169093)
        If you have a mech that's approaching 20 ft tall, then you can have a cockpit that allows a full range of motion for the pilot in a full-body haptic feedback harness. (See this site for a full-arm haptic harness [est-kl.com].) Short of a direct neural interface, this is the only way you're going to provide force-feedback. If you don't have force-feedback, then you won't be able to control a bipedal humaniform robot well enough to do real combat.

        But if you dispense with dynamic balance, then you can build mecha on
      • by BrynM (217883) *

        I'm not too sure where that figure of 20ft for the height comes from.

        Same here. My first thought of a battlefield mech is the Robotech [google.com] Cyclone [robotech.com]. That seems versatile to me - but hard to build without Protoculture for a fuel source.

        The whole transformer idea is what makes mecha seem useful to me. Maybe I'm just a little old school.

      • "I would guess the benefits an effective exo-skeleton could bring are in increased carrying capacity for the solider allowing them to carry more food, ammunition etc which would allow them to operate longer in the field with less reliance on supply lines."

        Think this through... How much fuel would such a system need? How often do you think it would need to be repaired?

        I highly doubt such a system would reduce a soldiers reliance on supply lines.
        • Yes, I agree. My definition of an 'effective' exo-skeleton is one which does not require a significant quantity of fuel and does not break down. Practically this may well be impossible to achieve.
      • the US millitary Already has a working (leg only) exosuit. [berkeley.edu] Right now it's meant as a gear/supply transport platform... The current practical applications would allow a land based party of infantry to carry rations and munitions for miles and miles away without needing any airdrops of supplys or ther currently employed methods for getting goods into terain not accessable by conventional vehicles.

        Some possible configurations for the suit on a 'real' battle field include a 'practical' flame thrower. you co
    • Please back up your statement that "If mecha were such a great idea, we'd have used them in WWII. We certainly had the technology to build them back then." Any links on bipedal robots?

      I think you are mistaken that we've had the technology for automated bipedal motion / balance since world war 2. I think it is a very challenging robotics problem. I know for a fact that active research is being done in this area. Projects like Honda Asimo and Sony QRIO and there are several other lower profile projects.
    • Ah, but to get a 20ft tall battle robot to show up on the front could, at least in certain countries, help inspire fear and awe in the opposition.

      A lot like the fictional cybernetic tank, the Ogre (from Steve Jackson games [sjgames.com]). While not Mecha styled, it too could be easily overwhelmed by the opposition. But often used as intimidation and sometimes as a lure to draw opposition to it and away from the rest of the attacking force.

      True, most likely a useless coffin...if the operator is truly inside. What the
    • Maybe a mecha wouldn't be efficient for war-fare, but it could for civil tasks like carrying heavy objects on a construction site, rescue missions where ALOT of strenght is needed but accessibility is limited. There are alot of situations where such machinery would be very usefull.

      Why always with the killing? ^_^

      General rule; first invent/creat/build, then get someone else to think up evil applications with said innoncent invention :P

    • I fought this argument on Usenet way back in (pauses to search Usenet archives...) 1992.

      On one side were those who felt that artificial muscles could make mecha more viable than tanks, on the other side were those who pointed out that if the muscles were so great, you could just use them to power a tank instead of a walking coffin (to use your terminology.)

      Eventually I came up with a compromise position: Put the mechs on bicycles. [google.com]
    • A mecha would be standing 20 feet in the battlefied, an open and tempting target to everything from bombers to tanks to helicopters and to RPGs. It would have limited mobility, be extremely difficult to keep in working condition, and will have less load capacity than its tracked or wheeled counterparts. In short, it would look cool, but would be a useless coffin.

      Which is why you won't build a 20-meter tall mecha. Instead, you build about human-sized one, pack it with all the top-secret ultra-advanced mi

  • Although I do agree that it'll probably fall flat on its first step. Cool backyard project though.
  • This is the beginning I tell you. We must destroy SkyNet while we still can!
  • by K8Fan (37875) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @06:07PM (#11162962) Journal

    The things men do when there are not enough women around. I guess it keeps his hands from going crazy on those long alaskan nights.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It is obvious that this was not designed by rogue chicken scientists. It is nowhere near sleak enough.
  • by StCredZero (169093) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @06:11PM (#11163009)


    Forget this guy in the post. He clearly doesn't have a clue. But the problems have been largely solved in the past several decades with DARPA money.

    If you put a full body haptic interface around someone strapped into a huge robotic body, you'd have it. (See the Immersion Corp link.) But the thing would have to be freaking huge. A full-body haptic cockpit would be something like a sphere 8' in diameter, implying a mecha 30 foot tall!

    Perhaps have the cockpit controlling separate and much smaller mecha body remotely, and just have the haptic controls on one of those motion simulation platforms.
    • Why a haptic interface? The thing doesn't have to have a massive number of motions to be useful. I'd think that a more videogame-controller like interface could be sufficient. Such an interface wouldn't need the cockpit to be so large.
      • The haptic interface is not to give a lareg degree of motions. Force-feedback is what is critical. Controlling and balancing an entire body in combat is going to be next to impossible, unless the thing is statically balanced -- in which case it will have all the dexterity/manuverability of a walrus on dry land. But for *real* humanoid to humanoid combat at a large scale, the movements are going to have to be dynamically balanced. If you could work up a full bady haptic interface, you could then use a pe
  • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @06:12PM (#11163023) Homepage
    Sure, it wouldn't be as "sexy" as the X-Prize, but wouldn't some privately sponsored prize money do wonders for this longtime human dream? Call it, say, the Mecha Prize, and offer a few million bucks to whoever builds the first mecha that can go a half mile, pick up a Dodge Neon and move it in the air for 50 feet, then return to the starting line. Or something similar.

    I have no doubt that someone as creative as Rutan is out there, and with a little incentive and the promise of some real financial gain could use modern actuators and pressure pads and gyro sensors and so forth to finally create a useful mecha.

    I also have no doubt that (unlike Spaceship One) a mecha that could complete the above test would immediately be of great value in quite a few industrial and/or emergency applications.
    • offer a few million bucks to whoever builds the first mecha that can go a half mile, pick up a Dodge Neon and move it in the air for 50 feet, then return to the starting line.

      Interesting idea, but how would you differentiate a "mecha" from a forklift in this contest?

      It seems to me that a "mecha", like its human inspiration, is most useful as a creature for general purposes, unlike a spaceship which is meant to carry a specific load to a specific location. Thus, the contest should be designed to prove fl

    • DARPA, as above posters mentioned, paid for some moderately effective teleoperated suits or parts of same. But that that same DARPA DOES offer prize money for the autonomous vehicle cross country race [at which all contestants failed miserably] so you might not need private donations to get this prize money.
  • Suit (Score:2, Funny)

    by OneArmedMan (606657)
    Honey!, Where did you put my Super Suit !?!
  • Let's hope his server has a hefty exoskeleton as well...
  • "...and a gas engine mounted on the back to generate the power needed."

    i hope he's got intentions to incorporate some sorta personal heating system....-40 and metal is not a good combination
  • http://www.paralinks.net/paralinksarchives/hawking exo.html
    • http://www.paralinks.net/paralinksarchives/hawkin g exo.html

      Actual, operational link:

      http://www.paralinks.net/paralinksarchives/hawking exo.html [paralinks.net]

      Please use the URL feature that will auto-link a URL, as shown under the Submit button on the Post Comment page. Those of us who perfer to click rather than copy-paste and then fix the link.

      In your post it has a space that's not in the actual link, dunno why /. does that to a line of text, but the URL thing doesn't add spaces [to the ACTUAL LINK - the text
  • Anyone? Not the Berkeley exoskelton thing. I seem to recall, back in the 90's, showed up in pop sci... some kind of strap-on device that was supposed to augment your leg motions. (military was interested or actively developing, if I recall) I think it was mostly mechanical, I'm not sure if it merely multiplied the movement or affected the force, and if I recall the bulk of the legs/levers stuck out behind and below the user. (kind of like thick flamingo legs, or some other animal similar but more cool)
  • Motion Control (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iamlucky13 (795185) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @07:51PM (#11163761)
    Owens said he can't afford top-of-the line equipment, like infrared sensors and electronics that would govern the motion. Instead he's using a hydraulic system to transfer the motion of his limbs to the larger structure,
    It sounds like he's basically he's relying on his own sense of balance to control this thing. We do it unconsciously as adults, but it took us a long while to learn and a lot of falling down. It may be possible he's got everything figured out and the control is natural enough that he'll just climb in and start walking. Somehow, though, I imagine him lifting the first foot and getting his center of gravity outside the edges of the other foot. Then he's got to shake off the bruises, bring a crane over to lift the thing up and repeat until he gets the hang of it. That's assuming his hydraulics are fast enough and he has enough degrees of freedom to keep the thing balanced to begin with. Having a heavy legs like he mentioned will reduce, but not eliminate the danger of shifting the weight to far out.

    This is way cool and it'd be awesome to see it work, but I'm officially a doubter.
  • Other amateur Mecha (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheSync (5291) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @08:08PM (#11163877) Journal
    On this page [tinyurl.com] there are photos of exosuits which were at Robonexus in October in a mecha lifting contest.

    Mechanicus [machinegod.com] is another home-made exoskeleton from Austin, TX.
  • This reminded me of this guy's anit-bear suit, http://www.nfb.ca/grizzly/suit.html [www.nfb.ca]

    for which he won an Ignoble Prize. http://www.improb.com/ig/ig-pastwinners.html#ig199 8 [improb.com]

    • Yeah, I know, reply to my own post is lame, but I forgot to mention that I have seen video (on TV) of the guy putting the suit through some rather amazing tests--including getting crashed into by a car at 35 mph--and he WAS inside the suit!
  • Now, all I want to know is: when can I order one for myself? Not that I have any earthly use for such a device, but it's just too damn cool!

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