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AT-ATs Coming to a Forest Near You 433

Audent writes "Not strictly speaking anything any of us should classify as work related, or even open source, but holy shitbags! I want one of these. Plustech, a subsidiary of tractor maker John Deere, has built a six-legged walking logging machine that just has to be the prototype for an AT-AT walker. Imagine parking this puppy at the mall!"
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AT-ATs Coming to a Forest Near You

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  • It does look like a giant mechanical ant though. From the videos, it looks SLOW and LOUD.

    Still, I want one.
    • by The Dobber ( 576407 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:04PM (#3996322)
      Yes but if it fell would you hear it?
    • by bleckywelcky ( 518520 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:46PM (#3996519)

      Have you ever even been around any construction/industrial equipment or machinery in your life? That thing is not loud by any means. In fact, until I watched the videos, the impression I was getting from all the loud comments was that this thing sounded like a jet engine or something (kinda like my comp sounds, heh). This thing is suprisingly quiet. I mean, if you listen closely as it walks, you can even hear the chains on its feet dangle and clank as the feet pads move. Sure, it isn't museum quiet, but your typically lawn mower is probably louder than this thing. I'll agree that it isn't all that fast, but I think the speed is almost just right for walking through forests, you don't wanna run into trees going too fast now.
    • The site also shows a big simulator for training. It looks like your average 6-wheeled ATV. So, apparently they've experimented with a series of wheeled designs too. And they don't look like big green ants.

      On a side note, it rather reminded me of a grasshopper, not an ant.

      But I just want to see that simulator software GPL'd. Run it on Windows or Linux, I don't care. Even if it weren't turned into a game, it'd be cool for the geek factor! :)

  • by Kraphty ( 241741 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:46PM (#3996220)
    I noticed that in one of the videos is walks with three legs at a time, keeping a tripod, and in the other it moves one leg at a time. Is there a specific reason for this? Perhaps something to do with the terrain?
    • That's exactly how insects move, the alternating tripod method. For something with 6 legs its the most efficient and stable way to move.
    • by Sweetums ( 266193 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:17PM (#3996373)
      If I remember right, the alternating 3 leg movement is the best case for a 6 leg walker. There were some interesting experiments done with simple walking robots, disabling legs and such and watching how it parallelled insects with a damaged leg.

      I'd bet it depends on if there is an imbalance in weight distribution and one side can't pick up 2 legs at the same time, which would probably force it into one at a time movement. Just a guess though. Theres lots of research done on simple walking robots done with really minimal fedback control circuits. They do teh same stuff. Of course the extra degrees of freedom in the joints makes things a little harder.

    • Gaits: they're a tradeoff between efficiency (speed) and stability (not falling over). Insects seem to be the best example: starting with millipedes and centipedes, which move one set of legs at a time in a serial pattern over many legs...moving all the way up to cockroaches, which nearly always move with tripod gait, which allows them to skitter so quickly across floors and scare the living bejesus out of people.

      Props to EECS 391: intro to artificial intelligence...
    • On flat terrain it kept only 3 legs on the ground at a time. Walking downhill (in the other video) it kep more feet on the ground at a time.
  • by faeryman ( 191366 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:46PM (#3996223) Homepage
    the harvester advances forward and backward, sideways and diagonally. It can also turn in place and step over obstacles

    Good. Maybe then those pesky forest rebels will have a harder time wrapping thier grappling hooks around me when I'm out logging.
  • by sfled ( 231432 ) <sfled&yahoo,com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:49PM (#3996235) Journal
    ...a little bullet-proof glass, some armor & weapons...the little bitch is made for close-quarter urban demolition zone warfare.
    • Not at all (Score:5, Insightful)

      by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @11:00PM (#3996591)
      Those legs are way too vulnerable.

      Imagine rope or netting looped around a couple. I doubt they have much power for moving, simply strength for holding up. Think of your own legs when someone tied your shoelaces together. A puny little shoelace and you couldn't break it with your legs! One of the few things I believed in whatever Star Wars episode that was (New Hope?).

      The legs need armor, but trying to armor them individually and completely would add way too much weight and bulk.

      Consider a tank -- all that armor on the sides and some on the top. Battleships armored the individual turrets, but almost all the rest was on the sides and under the deck. Individual compartments were not armored. Not even magazines had their own armor, they were simply buried as deep as possible within the armor.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        One of the few things I believed in whatever Star Wars episode that was (New Hope?).

        You doubt the Star Wars documentaries?
  • by FyRE666 ( 263011 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:50PM (#3996240) Homepage
    I imagine someone's already working on a hack to make this bad-boy dance the funky chicken. It'd be cool to watch a bunch of them dancing in sequence...
  • evil (Score:4, Funny)

    by khold ( 164649 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:51PM (#3996245)
    Now all we need is to put the friggin laser [slashdot.org] (the high powered laser mounted on a jet) and mount it on the friggin 6 legged logging machine.
  • AgroMech's! (Score:2, Funny)

    by xdroop ( 4039 )
    Cool -- Nice to see the underpinnings of BattleMechs are coming along nicely. I'll be flying my Phoenix Hawk LAM any century now!
    • "I'll be flying my Phoenix Hawk LAM any century now!"

      Yeah, but then you'll get sued by Harmony Gold for copyright infringement.

      Although a few medium lasers would sort that particular problem...

  • In the movies it lifts its feet like a cat. This is the cool ass machine of the year.
  • ~Imagining~ (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kedanoth ( 591243 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:52PM (#3996257)
    Imagine parking this puppy at the mall!

    Yeah, that would rock, until I see an old lady with a cart full of soda cans pass me at full speed on the mall's perimeter road. ~sob~

  • by MisanthropicProggram ( 597526 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:54PM (#3996264)
    It's nice to see someone trying to lower the impact on forests, but if this machine costs too much to opperate, it won't sell. Margins are EXTREMELY important to logging companies. That's why they have to low ball the Fed. Gov. to harvest in public forests and why the US logging companies lobbied our Government to impose those protectionist tarriffs on the Canadians.

    If this company wants to make a go of this, they're going to have to make a military version. I don't know about you, but if I saw one of these things comming at me, I'd run for the hills!

    • by lingqi ( 577227 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:03PM (#3996316) Journal
      would probabbly look a lot like the "tank" in [Ghost in the Shell]. which would make sense, IMO, because the manuverability would be *so* superior to track-driven tanks.

      well, with a couple decades of engineering work to make it move faster and more adaptable, anyway.

      at the mean time, i want to see a consumer version for *real* off-roading. and the crane thing can be used to grab hot women out of their convertables while dozing around downtown LA.
      • by Saeger ( 456549 )
        Sure, legged maneuverability is great, but you'll have to trade off speed and ruggedness for something the size of a tank ('AMIE' from the movie Red Planet is a cool beast though).

        A conventional tank's armor protects its means of locomotion pretty well (like a tortoise), but legged creatures have it all hanging out there.

        Just concentrate your attack on the weak joints and it's game over.


        • by lingqi ( 577227 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:53PM (#3996559) Journal
          hmm... you know...

          1) if you rip the belt / track with a mine, etc; a conventional tank is out of service. i assume a military version of a walker can walk with 4 or 5 out of the six legs, albeit slower, etc

          2) there are "armored" creatures in nature too where the legs are not exposed. think armadillo for example

          3) same goes for humans as to the "attack on the weak joint". that's why there are such things as ARMOR. hell, take a look at a medieval knight and how every joint they have are armored.

          lastly, with *enough* manuverability you no longer even have to worry about being hit (as much), because you can
          a) dodge the damn shells (lateral movement)
          b) get to them before they get to you (terrain adaptability advantage)
          c) get to a place where they can't get to you or where you would have a significant tactical advantage (climb a steep hill / up side of a building, etc)
          • Major problem is...trees.

            There's not a lot in the way of terrain that can't be negotiated by a tracked vehicle. Yes, there are some steep slopes that are tough to climb, but frequently those are covered with trees. Hard to drive a tank through trees.

            Modern MBTs have a speed of 30+mph over broken terrain. Outside of Mechwarrior, no legged vehicle of anything like the mass of an MBT comes near that speed.

            Legged battle machines seem like a cool idea, but I don't see the advantage that outweighs their fragility.
        • Just concentrate your attack on the weak joints and it's game over.

          No, I played that game [lucasarts.com]. I had to shoot a magnetic grappling line at it and fly around it [lucasarts.com] a few times. Then it fell over and blew up.

      • So by the time we invade Iraq, these will be about 100 feet tall, manned by Desert Storm Troopers and equipped with laser guns? This gives Saddam time to equip his air force with grappling hooks. Only I thought this scene was supposed to take place on the tundra...
        • Re:military version (Score:2, Interesting)

          by nelsonal ( 549144 )
          Actually by the time we invade Iraq, even if we had them, they would sit unused. Deserts are almost ideal for tank battles. I still have an excellent book by a military stratigest, written from the stand point of being at the WWII African battles, he actually went down to study these. Since by and large tank strategies haven't changed alot since WWI or even before, the strategy didn't change the peices just got bigger. Our tank heavy forces are nearly unbeatable. That is one of the main reasons Desert Storm, was so much more successful than Vietnam. Wheeled and tracked vehicles don't have many disadvantages to walkers on flat open ground. This might get used in heavly damaged urban areas, but that would be about it.
    • It's NEVER profitable [wri.org] on its own.

      Why doesn't the government pull the money out and then we can all go straight to growing hemp [thehia.org] for all our pulp needs?

      And you could use the zero THC varieties, so don't go crazy with the "evil weed" bullshit, ok?

    • It's nice to see someone trying to lower the impact on forests, but if this machine costs too much to opperate, it won't sell. Margins are EXTREMELY important to logging companies.

      Clearly you've never seen one of these loggers operate. They're pretty common because in spite of their high initial costs, they are extremely efficient.

      The harvester head grips a tree near the base and cuts the tree off. The arm is strong enough to control the descent of the tree so it doesn't fall back on the operator. (see the Phase I photo)

      As soon as the tree hits the ground, the two wheels that you see will pull the trunk through and trim the trunk to lengths specified by the operator - to maximize the use of each log. As it pulls the log through, the branches are stripped and left on the ground to decompose. And it's FAST.

      The whole process from grabbing the virgin tree to loading the logs on the truck takes about 15-30 seconds. It's absolutely amazing to watch how fast it works, especially if you've ever had the privilege of taking a tree down with a chainsaw. It can take a tree down every 60-120 seconds - look at the length of the boom on the harvester in the top photo.

      Look at the videos on the simulator page. It shows more of the process. In fact, the simulation looks a little slower than these do in practice.

      The wheeled vehicles are problematic because of the amount of debris this process leaves behind. The walker should be able to cruise through forests, plucking out trees without compacting the ground, or destroying much other foliage.

      The next real problem is extracting the logs from the forest where they're left. It'll cut a truckload of logs in 15 minutes. There must be a legged forwarder in development that just brings logs to the trucks to haul off.

      I think they also incorporate forest management systems in these as well. The harvester measures the diameter of the tree when it locks on so the operator can reject a tree which is too small. I think there's a GPS device in the harvester that records the locations of the trees for the forwarder to find, but also to track which trees are going to mature when. The next season, they can optimize where they cut.
  • Silly submitter... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Flamerule ( 467257 )
    We must be careful with our Star Wars nomenclature. Both in tactical operation area (um, the woods), size, and appearance, this wood-cutting thingy most closely resembles an AT-ST [starwars.com], not an AT-AT [starwars.com]. I think this may invalidate the numerous rebel grappling-hook jokes I see popping up. Unless that rope they used to trip 1 or 2 of the walkers in Return of the Jedi were grappling hooks....
    • Actually, there was an AT-AT in Return of the Jedi, in one shot on the lower-left side of the screen.
    • No, I'd say they're closer to AT-PTs [galactic-voyage.com]. Though not strictly Star Wars canon, the design is much closer.
    • I hope there's somebody there to slap you...
  • by Lurkingrue ( 521019 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:59PM (#3996298)
    Does anyone else think this looks like one of Dr. Seuss' worst nightmares?

    Somewhere, a Lorax is crying...
  • by TheWickedKingJeremy ( 578077 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:00PM (#3996302) Homepage
    Trooper: Sir, small green AT-ATs approaching!

    Rebel Officer: Damn! Are you sure?

    Trooper: Yes, can't you hear it? ... Its that loud "lawn-mower" sound... Kind of like a trash-compacter...

    Rebel Officer: Oh yes... Whats the ETA?

    Trooper: Well, given their current rate of speed, I would say 2... no make that 3 weeks.

    Rebel Officer: Good work Trooper - We had best begin to pack up the base and move out by no later than... noon tomorrow.

    Trooper: Roger roger.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:03PM (#3996318)
    For all those people out there who think you whip an invention up on a weekend should take note of the time it took them to go from prototype to phase 2.

    As for the comment about a better and more efficant way to cut down trees. Look out west... the culling of dead timber (and underbrush) would have gone a long way to limiting the amount of fuel available for forest fires.

    As for it walking slow, its only in phase 2... wait until they've got all the shit sorted out. I imagine this thing one day will be faster and more stable on uneven ground than a convential wheeled logger.
    • "the culling of dead timber (and underbrush) would have gone a long way to limiting the amount of fuel available for forest fires."

      Yes, damm those evil trees! Cut them all down I say! They're a danger and a threat to humanity!

      It's time for the US to launch the War on Foliage!

      Bomb the trees!

    • As for the comment about a better and more efficant way to cut down trees. Look out west... the culling of dead timber (and underbrush) would have gone a long way to limiting the amount of fuel available for forest fires.

      Also remember that a lot of the damage is not the removal of the tree itself, but the gouging and compaction that occurs when wheeled and tracked vehicles are used to drag the tree out. If you look at satellite imagery, log landings and snigs take longer to recover than surrounding areas. This sort of vhicle could also make it easier to disperse logging operations, which would also promote a more speedy recovery.


  • needs claws (Score:5, Funny)

    by mr_burns ( 13129 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:15PM (#3996363)
    HAIL ANTS!!!!

    This thing needs pneumatic claws so it can grip the sides of mountains and buildings. Walking a cliff face or wall vertically or horizontally would be a requirement for any kind of urban deployment of this technology

    Also, it should look more like an actual giant armored space ant.

    turret with high powered water/foam/fire cannon would be a nice option. Perhaps with harpoon/grappling hook gun with high test line on gear reduced winch. That way it would be able to swing from building to building and fight fires, mothra or those angels from evangelion.
    • Also, it should look more like an actual giant armored space ant.

      Have you seen an actual giant armored space ant? You must be the same guy that said this walks like a six-legged cat.

  • rover (Score:4, Funny)

    by !splut ( 512711 ) <{sput} {at} {alum.rpi.edu}> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:17PM (#3996374) Journal
    I think we've found the perfect replacement for those boring Mars rover designs. I'd like to see this think hobbling around the red planet taking mass spec measurements of things.

    And when the Martians come to investigate the lander, it'll be alien stompin' time! Ka-krash!
  • My ten-year-old is in love with it. Oh, cool! will it ever be seen at state fairs in the NW?

    I wonder if we can convince Deere to have one at the state fair in Iowa.

    • The tool depends on the task.

      In some areas it might make sense to consider draft horses and sledges and drag the trees to the nearest road. They're probably cheaper to operate and less impact on the terrain. Certain types of soft terrain or areas where you may not build roads are examples. If the cutting is done when the ground is frozen, movement is easier. Adding modern materials or design (tracks?) to the sledge could reduce the number of draft horses used.

      Six legged walking machines definitely have a hi-tech coolness, but are a young technology. Four legged walking machines have been refined by us for thousands of years for the specific task of dragging heavy things.

  • speed bumps (Score:2, Funny)

    by Garion911 ( 10618 )
    Awesome! Now I'll never be bothered by speed bumps, I can just step over them!

    Oh wait...

  • Great... yet another mechanism to destroy the Pacific Northwest's (formerly) vast forests, after "buying" them from the corrupt US Forest Service.
  • Considering that these things burn some kind of fuel, and that they harvest wood which can also be used as a fuel (or turned into methyl alcohol to create fuel), what do you suppose the ratio of fuel spent to fuel harvested is for these puppies?

    I'd bet it leans heavily to one side, specifically the spent one.

    • It can't be worse for fuel than using helicopters, which is quite common when logging rough mountain sides where road building is expensive, and has undersirable environmental effects (even more so than for flat land).

      Big trees are worth quite a bit of money.

  • (sniff sniff) "Sir! I think your car stepped in something on the way to work this morning."
  • Whew! (Score:5, Funny)

    by eyepeepackets ( 33477 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:39PM (#3996475)
    I'm so glad I saw this article here before I ran into one while hiking and found myself wishing I had brought a change of underwear. Not only that, but I'd probably never, ever again eat those funny mushrooms.

    Thanks Slashdot!

  • Is wrap the legs of these things with cables a few times, and *CRASH* the walkers come tumbling down... Come on, haven't they ever seen Empire Strikes Back?
  • by big tex ( 15917 ) <torsionality@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:56PM (#3996569)
    if you think the logging machine is cool, check out the Spiderplow http://www.spiderplow.com

    I worked on a crew that used one of these, installing fiber optic cable down the median of an interstate. The frickin' thing can go through the legs of highway signs, climb off of an 18-wheeler trailer SIDEWAYS, and stand on 1 leg while it's ripping.

    The controls seem to be a little more involved than the logger, though. It's got a panel of about 30 two-way levers to control all of the motions. each leg can extend/retract, swivel forward/back, raise/lower, rotate each wheel right /left independently, plus about a dozen controls for the fiber burying blade.

    Spiderplow = more bandwidth.
    John Deere Forester = toilet paper.

    It's ovious which one is the high-tech toy for the nerds :)
  • I watched the videos, and I can't imagine this thing hauling logs around and keeping balanced. What would this actually be used for in a logging operation?

  • Go to the John Deere home site http://www.deere.com/en_US/deerecom/johndeere_worl dwide/index.html - no mention of "PlusTech" at all. If you look closely at the photo's of the machine and the video you'll notice they look 'artificial' -- a little too clean and crisp compared with the background. Also, if you're going to video your state-of-the-art vehicle wouldn't you get a better location for your camera than back behind a boat-load of trees and bushes? Funny how the web site is unfinished (i.e. the boaring elements to fake up havn't been done -- but the fun graphics have). Well executed mind-you, but someone should tell the guys (or gals) who did this that it's "April 1" they should have been shooting for, not "August 1"
  • I want to see them make one that can go as fast as a Zoid.

    With weapons to match.

  • by Archfeld ( 6757 ) <treboreel@live.com> on Friday August 02, 2002 @12:08AM (#3996833) Journal
    the actual pictures make me think Terminator, one of these coming out of the foggy woods, on a hunting day....hilarity is bound to ensue :)
  • If anybody has read anything about the history of the Battletech universe, WorkMechs, the predecessors to BattleMechs, were developed in the 21st century. Only 900 years until total Mechwarrior happiness!
  • I'm sold, do they have any color other then Deer Green?
  • by happyclam ( 564118 ) on Friday August 02, 2002 @01:41AM (#3997118)

    Seriously, remember the game "Cootie" when you were kids? (Those of you who aren't kids anymore anyway.)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    These walking machines are great for reducing damage while logging by reducing the need for road building and reducing the tracks they make on the ground.

    All present walking machines share one big problem though, they are inefficient. This one needs a big diesel to generate constant hydraulic pressure, most of which is used just to keep it standing. Hardly any is left to propel the machine forward.

    Animals typically use almost no energy to stand, and get most of their locomotion energy back through tendons etc.

    Another problem is that bugs fall a lot. The six legged gait is not particularly stable at speed. Fast bugs switch from six to four leg gait when they speed up, and even two leg gait for sprints.

    So this machine is stuck with the dead-slow one-at-a-time gait or the tippy six leg tripod gait, which is still pretty slow, and it has to have a big ass engine because of the inherent inefficiency.

    I guess JD figures all of the above are worth it to silence the whining Greenies who cry over every tree. I'd say this year's fires are a pretty good argument in that direction. I expect to see a bunch of these things running up and down in the next few years, thinning the over grown bush.

    Hope this works out for JD, as in a few years these things will hit the used equipment market. Then we can hot rod 'em!

  • With regard of Yesterday's news [slashdot.org] a better title might have been:

    Talibans: AT-ATs are Coming to a cave Near *!You!*

  • by ciryon ( 218518 ) on Friday August 02, 2002 @05:24AM (#3997546) Journal
    Someone could easily disable it by flying an aircraft with wire around its legs!

  • by jbarr ( 2233 ) on Friday August 02, 2002 @09:36AM (#3998185) Homepage
    ...the cutter mechanism on the end of it's boom. That is REALLY cool. I saw a show on TLC (I think it was Modern Marvels or something) that showed how this cutting head works. It grabs onto a tree trunk, cuts it off, rolls the length of the trunk stripping off the branches, and then rolls back over the trunk cutting it into pre-determined lengths. It estimates these lengths by determinig the tree's length by using the tree's diameter and stored "tree data" based on tree type. Seeing this thing in action leaves your eyes glued to the TV and your jaw glued to the floor!!!
  • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Friday August 02, 2002 @09:43AM (#3998221) Homepage Journal
    Nothing perambulates like a Deere...

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