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Robotics Technology

DIY 18-ft.-High Robotic Exoskeleton 206

Posted by kdawson
from the who-can-replace-a-man dept.
Hacx sends along a piece from PopSci that begins "Carlos Owens had handled all kinds of machines as an army mechanic, but he always dreamed of using those skills for one project: his own 'mecha,' a giant metal robot that could mirror the movements of its human pilot. Owens, 31, began building an 18-foot-tall, one-ton prototype at his home in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2004. Working without blueprints, he first built a full-scale model out of wood. Moving on to steel, he had to devise a hydraulics system that would provide precisely the right leverage and range of movement. He settled on a complex network of cables and hydraulic cylinders that can make the mecha raise its arms, bend its knees, and even do a sit-up. ... He foresees mechas having uses in the military and the construction industry, but acknowledges that right now they're best suited to entertainment. The first application he has in mind: mecha-vs.-mecha battles, demolition-derby style."
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DIY 18-ft.-High Robotic Exoskeleton

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  • ...what could possibly go wrong with this thing??

    But someone please please film this thing; I suspect when something blows out on it, it will indeed make for some awesome youtube footage.

  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:25AM (#28277003)

    Wasila, Alaska? The killer app for this device is to put a set of high-heels on it and have it run as the GOP Veep candidate in 2012 - all puny mortals bow down before Mecha Palin, or be crushed!

    Only the Obamabot can save us!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      Wasila, Alaska? The killer app for this device is to put a set of high-heels on it and have it run as the GOP Veep candidate in 2012 - all puny mortals bow down before Mecha Palin, or be crushed!

      Nah, Giant Mecha Palin should run for Prez and her VP can be La Pequena Palin [youtube.com]

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      I was figuring Gov Palin could take care of the mecha problem, since she could clearly see this from her house.

    • to put a set of high-heels on it

      Don't forget to put the lipstick on it....

  • Too big. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onion2k (203094) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:26AM (#28277009) Homepage

    The whole idea of mecha robots is plain wrong. It's not necessary to make an exoskeleton that big. In a military (or 'gaming') situation it'd just present a bigger target. All you need is a minimal amount of armour with enough power to augment picking up large amounts of weight, and possibly some system to dampen recoil if you're holding a projectile weapon.

    (Oh dear. I'm actually arguing that mecha robots are a poor weapons system design on the internet. Is this what my life has become? Maybe I should go outside?)

    • Re:Too big. (Score:5, Funny)

      by sakdoctor (1087155) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:47AM (#28277119) Homepage

      Unfortunately, years arguing on the internet have left your muscles too weak to function.

      You'd need some sort of mechanised exoskeleton before thinking about venturing outside.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:55AM (#28277161)

      People are approaching the idea of mecha ass-first.

      These proposed engineers of mayhem mostly treat "BIG FUCKING ROBOT OH YEAH" as an end in itself. In any semi-realistic context mecha should be seen as something that naturally evolves into being as agile, versatile exoskeletons are made progressively more powerful; you have to work up to big with a design where everything else works superbly, you can't work from big down. Otherwise any advantage gained by size will be hugely offset by the sad fact that the thing moves like a turtle in molasses.

      Mecha become reasonable when they can move and maneuver with the same agility as a human being -- think Eva, which can run, dodge and so on with considerable finesse. (Here's waiting for those carbon nanotube aerogel artificial muscles, by the way.) But since we can't even do that for a human-sized exoskeleton, any effort to build a mecha that's not severely dysfunctional is going to be impotent.

      • by Sockatume (732728)
        They're also approaching the idea of mecha with the assumption that they're an intrinsically good idea. There's a reason why there are no one-tonne bipeds in nature, and no ten-tonne land animals altogether. "Naturalistic" mecha fiction tends to have to come up with contrivances for why they're useful, and they don't often make sense. There was a grand (in-fiction) rant in the "Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual" about how "powerloaders" could simply step over obstructions, but the pressure on the fee
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by camperdave (969942)
          There's a reason why there are no one-tonne bipeds in nature, and no ten-tonne land animals altogether.

          There used to be plenty [wikipedia.org].
        • I'm curious if a legged transport might provide more versatility than a wheelchair. It doesn't make sense to cruise to K-Mart in a legged vehicle but for dealing with more rugged terrain or say stairs legs make more sense. The problem I see is we want to make exoskeleton's in our own image. Fine it is a cool technical problem to get a biped to walk but four legs seems to be a fairly stable model in nature and has fewer balance issues. The issue would then be figuring out how to best conserve energy. Pr
      • Mecha become reasonable when they can move and maneuver with the same agility as a human being -- think Eva, which can run, dodge and so on with considerable finesse. (Here's waiting for those carbon nanotube aerogel artificial muscles, by the way.) But since we can't even do that for a human-sized exoskeleton, any effort to build a mecha that's not severely dysfunctional is going to be impotent.

        The biggest limitation of the Alaskan mecha, is that it has no force-feedback. People who can't feel their own limbs, or the resistance of the ground and objects against them are *incredibly* clumsy. So are robots that try to move with no kinesthetic sense.

        Sarcos corporation has developed Haptic Interfaces which give you force-feedback. The military has been working towards humanoid full-body haptic harnesses since the 1970's, actually with really good progress since the 80s.

        Look at the example videos on

      • Otherwise any advantage gained by size will be hugely offset by the sad fact that the thing moves like a turtle in molasses.

        Turns out that turtles will probably swim just fine in molasses. [umn.edu]

    • Re:Too big. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Renraku (518261) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:08AM (#28277231) Homepage

      They are actually a poor system.

      You don't get decent speed or armor, you don't get awesome firepower like a 120mm cannon.

      Basically, powered exoskeletons are not strong enough to withstand an RPG attack, aren't fast enough to dodge them, and aren't armed enough to deal with anything beyond a few AK-47 wielders.

      How do we fix it? Easy. Make them pretty much immune to small arms fire. Make them faster. Adopt tactics to cover each other. Implement scanners and other intelligence devices so you know where the enemy is coming from and maybe where those IEDs are hidden.

      • Re:Too big. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Bluesman (104513) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @08:33AM (#28278025) Homepage

        Maybe we could have one with large treads on it so that it could cover large distances quickly, and strong plating and explosive armor so that it would be immune to all but the largest projectile. And why stop at one operator? It could be large enough to hold a small crew of people who could operate the machine as a team, and possibly provide some sort of situational awareness/intelligence function.

        All you'd need then is a turret with a large cannon on it and you'd have the perfect military land robot.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by BlackCobra43 (596714)
          I like that idea. Maybe each member of the crew should operate a smaller, individual vehicle that can clamp onto the mecha's main structure, acting as its "arms" or "legs" or "head". Perhaps some sort of rallying cry would help synchronize the assembly process, something alongs the line of "VOLTROOOOOOOOOON"
        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          Well then try and get rid of the people. People are soft and squishy and they have parents and families that get upset when they don't come back.
          Then you could make it even smaller, lighter, and cheaper.

      • I agree with you, in the context of a weapon. But consider how useful this could be for construction. The ability to lift large objects (like beams) into position could be quite useful.

        A four-legged version might be more useful, however.

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        The biggest vulnerability in the powered exoskeleton is the soft center -- that human controlling it that it needs to protect or else it becomes completely non-functional. If only there was some way to protect the operator by putting her in a bunker somewhere, and control the "exoskeleton" by remote control! Then you wouldn't need all that armor, and the entire payload could be comprised of fuel and weapon systems.
    • by ls671 (1122017)

      You mean just like the Crysis suit ? ;-)

    • The whole idea of mecha robots is plain wrong. It's not necessary to make an exoskeleton that big. In a military (or 'gaming') situation it'd just present a bigger target. All you need is a minimal amount of armour with enough power to augment picking up large amounts of weight, and possibly some system to dampen recoil if you're holding a projectile weapon.

      The basic concept of the exo-skeleton is you get to be superman without having to be a kryptonian. You're as powerful as a tank, can blast things just by moving your arms, it's scifi fantasy.

      Those trying to come up with a practical justification say it's the next advancement of the tank which is all about letting a human being go into combat with serious protection. But if you think about it, the only reason why tanks are manned is because automated systems aren't good enough to let them operate autonomousl

      • by rezalas (1227518)
        The exo-skeletal combat suit will happen, just not in the way people want it to. Units like this would be of great use for land forces during occupation or high intensity situations where robots are not suited to be due to the mixed set of combatants and non-combatants that are common to urban warfare. Special Forces will most likely some day have breach and patrol squads of these for specialized purposes like breach and sweep missions or scout and intercept. While robots are good at killing, they'll likely
        • The exo-skeletal combat suit will happen, just not in the way people want it to. Units like this would be of great use for land forces during occupation or high intensity situations where robots are not suited to be due to the mixed set of combatants and non-combatants that are common to urban warfare. Special Forces will most likely some day have breach and patrol squads of these for specialized purposes like breach and sweep missions or scout and intercept. While robots are good at killing, they'll likely never be suited for situations where death isn't the sole option. Mixed situations like this is where mobile suits like this would excel. I don't ever see the application of giant robot suits the size of cities mind you, but small combat suits that allow a man to get in and out of buildings without taking the roof off (or perhaps breaching the roof as an option?) would be a boon for the military (which is why they are developing them!)

          But there's no need to put the person inside. You could operate them by remote and make them smaller, no need to fit the human form so they can be optimally shaped for the mission. That's the part that people keep overlooking, that the remote control or autonomous AI could get that good.

    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      Did you miss the part about construction? A large mecha like that could be used to easily lift and place large steel beams or concrete forms into place. Something that is done by cranes and guys climbing all over a structure trying to pull yank and maneuver a multi-ton beam into place. Imagine how easy it would be to dig a trench and then lay 36+ inch concrete pipe for drainage systems. Just grab a bucket and dig with both "hands". Would be much faster then a guy with a joystick. Then just let go of the buc

  • by gadget junkie (618542) <gbponz@libero.it> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:34AM (#28277053) Journal
    In Here [commongate.com] there's a video of an experimental Raytheon exoskeleton for the US army. It seems that we're a long way from seeing something like "starship troopers" especially because there's a conspicous umbilical cord in the Video, probably for the external power source and computer controls. While Moore's law can cope with computing requirements, there's nothing similar in power production, and especially in power density.
    Novody would want a battery powered exoskeleton with a 10 minutes charge.
  • That's been working on this since 2004 [engadget.com] and has likely been posting about here before?

  • mecha-vs.-mecha battles, demolition-derby style

    Or Mechwarrior style (character inside robot), or OMF 2097 style (robot remotely controlled by character). Repair costs for those things can be pretty high, even for just getting a few scratches in the battle.

  • Red eyes!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by tikram (1262046) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:23AM (#28277303)
    It has red eyes! It means it's a decepticon! RUN FOR YOU LIVES!!!!!!!!!
  • Creators Website (Score:2, Informative)

    by axek (622617)
    The website for Carlos Owens is http://neogentronyx.com/ [neogentronyx.com], where he has a few more photos and other projects...
  • Not exactly a Cyberdyne Systems research object, but a good start :-) Give it a couple of hundred of revisions, and we have on our hands a human terminator with a neural net capable processor, hyperalloy endoskeleton that withstands molten steel exposure and can run at above 60mph for prolonged periods of time and lift objects five times its weight, a plasma fusion reactor for power source good for 200 years of continuous operation, and naturally a very perverse attitude towards all things human.

    • Well, the amazing thing is that this is some hobbyist's project, not a multi-million dollar research project. The fact that it works at all, or even that it doesn't collapse under its own weight is enough for me to be impressed.

       

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      You say that as if you think it's a good thing! Turing test: FAIL.
  • Well, it's a great day for science! Not only we have this news item, but we have an illustration of it [girlgeniusonline.com] too!

  • by cheros (223479) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @07:20AM (#28277561)

    If he hasn't built in any restrictions I predict a posthumous Darwin Award the moment the guy tries to absently scratch his nuts :-)

  • Surely in this day of high speed wireless communications, it makes absolutely no sense for the person to be physically "inside" the "mecha", or on the same continent for that matter. Of course I'd hate to see one of these babies turned into a zombie...

    • Of course I'd hate to see one of these babies turned into a zombie...

      Redefining "war driving".

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Mechas make no damn sense!

      There just cool, as is the idea of being inside one and controlling it.

  • 18-Foot Mecha Exoskeleton

    The first application he has in mind: mecha-vs.-mecha battles, demolition-derby style.

    Time: 4 years

    Cost: $25,000

    Am I the only one thinking this guy has way too much space in his backyard, money lying around, and time on his hands?

    • by phrostie (121428)

      i'm thinking i need more spare time and space in my back yard.

      i think he's got it right.

  • That's why my Colossal Tammy Tinkle Doll was such a failure.
    Oh, you don't understand me.
    We're finished!
    *runs out of the room crying*

  • Captain Mifune [wikipedia.org], is that you?
  • Like in Robot Carnival's "A Tale of Two Robots"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdOieEsk918 [youtube.com]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdqhD5NAv9w [youtube.com]

    "I am Jonathan Jameson Volkeson the Third, no doubt the worlds most brilliant scientist. I will not let the course charted by my peerless intellect be stopped by you or anyone."

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @10:05AM (#28279037)
    Then, I'll be ready to invest. Or run. "ALASKA'S LIBERATION IS IMMINENT!"
  • ... missile salvos can it survive?

  • Ob Meme (Score:3, Funny)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @11:19AM (#28280109)

    I for one... oh nevermind.

  • We've got to get this thing together with this guy. [improbable.com]

  • Everyone knows "Robot Wars" with the excellent Barbara Crampton already predicted this. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107979/ [imdb.com] It will be buried once the Chinese take over and only brought out to defeat our overlords!
  • but in all reality they wouldn't work structurally or practically.

    Still, I love me a good robot fight.

  • I would like to see a pleo made out of one of these.

  • I'm thinking the power supply is a small diesel engine from a tractor. There appears to be an over abundance of metal used, but that could be "slimed" down later. What I think is most interesting is the location, a place where Artic Circle Testing could accomplished with little transportation costs. Temperatures at Alaska range from the very hot to the very cold. Just a funny thought, what would it look like if one of the Inuit Tribes were to use it to hunt Whale? That would make an entertaining summer movi

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