Archive for March, 2010

1932-3 – Mechanical Horse – D. G. Alzetta (Italian)

The above image from Popular Science April, 1933.

The Harford Courant Mar 6, 1933 p16

Italian Designs Mechanical Horse From Steel Tubing
Device Looks Like Grasshopper Stepping Along Road

Spezia, Italy—(AP.)—A mechanical horse, designed to substitute for the farm animal or even light tractor, has been invented by an engineer here, Signor D. G. Alzetta.
Propelled by a motor of only 5 horse power, the uncanny mechanical animal not only carries a person but pulls a light farm vehicle over rough ground.
The metal beast presents a weird appearance as its long skinny legs carry it along at a fair speed. It reminds the spectator of a huge grasshopper, or better still, of something seen in a bad dream.
The mechanical animal is made entirely of light steel tubing. The joints have been carefully worked out. Signor Alzetta says he studied equine anatomy to produce them. 
The driver sits amidships, on a spring-equipped motorcycle saddle, The motor is directly in front of him. Ahead rises the ominous-looking head and shoulders, he controls the "critter" by motorcycle handlebars and a lever. He starts it off at a walk and can get it up to a trot, but not a gallop.
Signor Alzetta's next development is to equip his quadruped with a higher-powered motor, to see if it will draw a plow.
"I see no reason why legs should not be as fundamentally a motive force as wheels," Signor Alzetta said.
"Practically everything that nature permits to move, except the enormous forces of the sea and glaciers, gets there on legs. Wheels were the invention or afterthought of men."

Source: Hartford Courant March 3, 1933.

One of the English-written press reports was from Jan 1933, so this "Mechanical Horse" (Meccanica Cavallo) was built in 1932 or earlier. Maybe there is an Italian person out there who has better images or a more complete story on this Mechanical Walker. 

1983 – “Six-Legged Hydraulic Walker” – Ivan Sutherland (American)

1983 "Trojan Cockroach", a Six-Legged Hydraulic Walker by Ivan Sutherland.

The Sutherland Walker was a six-legged all-terrain robotic designed by Sutherland Sproull Associates with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University under contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The robot used a gasoline motor to power its legs and required a driver to operate it via foot pedals. The machine would keep three legs on the ground at any given time, eliminating the need for balancing systems, though also limiting the speed of the system. Each leg could move forward, backwards, and side-to-side, allowing it to navigate across uneven surfaces.


Image found at Adam Megacz images here.


Marc Donner driving the walker "hands-free!"

See the complete Scientific American article pdf here.

From D. J. Todd's book "Walking Machines" (1985)

Sutherland's Hexapod
This machine, designed by I.E. Sutherland of Carnegie-Mellon University and Sutherland, Sproull and Associates, is significant in being the first man-carrying computer-controlled walking machine (Raibert and Sutherland 1983; Sutherland and Ullner 1984). Its design is also interesting for its use of a leg geometry and hydraulic circuit design intended to reduce the control burden on both computer and driver by automatically coordinating joint motions in ways suitable for walking.
The hexapod, whose basic geometry is shown in Figure 6.7, is about 2.5m long and the same width. It weighs about 800kg and is powered by a 13kW gasoline engine driving four variable displacement pumps. The walking speed in the alternating tripod gait is 0.1m/s. It can also walk sideways at rather more than half this speed.
It has an unconventional arrangement of its hip actuators. Two cylinders are mounted in a 'V' above the leg. It is possible to set the valves so that as one shortens the other lengthens in such a way as to produce horizontal movement, whereas if they both move in the same sense they move the leg vertically. (A third actuator for the knee produces sideways movement.) This hip arrangement is one instance of what Sutherland calls a 'passive hydraulic circuit'. Such circuits achieve joint coordination in two ways. First, actuators are sometimes connected together in series so that as oil flows out of one it must flow into the next. This forces the actuators to move the same amount. Second, if two or three are connected in parallel they will automatically share any applied load equally. In this connection their collective movement is actively controlled by a pump, but their differential movement determined only by the relative loading of the actuators.
The hip connection for horizontal movement consists of putting two actuators in series so that as oil flows out of the fixed end of one it flows into the fixed end of the other. The motion is exactly horizontal only if the plane of the cylinders is inclined at 45° (Sutherland and Ullner 1984). A series connection is also made between the front and back actuator-pairs on each side to coordinate their movement during the propulsion stroke. This arrangement is shown for one tripod-set of legs in Figure 6.8 [not shown-RH]. In this illustration legs 2, 3 and 6 are being driven together. Each side has a separate pump so only legs 2 and 6 are connected together; the coordination between this pair and leg 3 is achieved by non-hydraulic means. Other series connections are possible.
The parallel connection is used for various purposes such as raising and lowering a set of legs, and to connect the knee actuators. If the three knee cylinders of a supporting tripod-set of legs are connected in parallel then although their collective sideways movement can be controlled by a pump, their differential movement is free and compensates both for the movement of the knee in an arc during forward rectilinear walking and for the larger sideways knee movement which must occur during a turn. This knee coordination is perhaps the most successful application of a passive hydraulic circuit.
The valves are all directional, not proportional or servo, spool valves, which are relatively cheap and simple but cannot control speed. Speed is regulated by manual control of the displacement of the pumps. The combination of the main propulsion pump and sideways motion pump flow rates governs the speed and direction of walking and the rate of turn. The pump displacements are controlled by pedals and a joystick.
The role of the on-board computer is to switch the valves on and off in the sequence appropriate to the specified gait. It can interrogate joint angle and leg force sensors, and the driver's controls. Several types of program have been written to test different methods of control, and a special language (OWL) has been developed (Donner 1983). The robot, which was built as a way of learning about hydraulic actuation, has now been scrapped.

See other early Steam Men and Walking Machines here.

1952 – Maze Solving Computer – R. A. Wallace (American)

In 1952, Richard A. Wallace built a Maze Solving Computer as a model of "machine learning". His definition of learning is "The ability to modify a response to a stimulus because of past experience with the stimulus."  see full pdf here.

1933 – Maze Learning Machine – Thomas Ross (American)

The Thomas Ross Maze Learning Machine showing its feeler tracking the slots of this comb-shaped maze.

See complete Scientific American 1933 article titled "Machines That Think" – pdf here.

1977 – Newt – Ralph Hollis (American)

"Newt" updated showing manipulator.

In an email response from Dr. Hollis (2010),  I learnt that his old robot is called "Newt," not "NEWT."  (It is not an acronym.)  He is planning to put  together a small web site with lots of pictures and background on Newt, its predecessors and follow-ons.  Ralph will send a pointer when that gets done.

Ralph Hollis still has Newt, which he refers to as Beta-Newt, and it evolved quite a bit from 1977.  Ralph still has pieces of a 1957 relay-based robot, and Alpha-Newt which preceded Beta-Newt.

Dr. Ralph Hollis is currently  Research Professor
Director, Microdynamic Systems Laboratory

The Robotics Institute
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213 USA

The full Byte article on "Newt" is in the pdf here.

See other early Cybernetic Creatures and Models here.