Archive for May, 2010

1958-9 – GE Handyman – Ralph Mosher (American)

At the debut press conference, Handyman twirled a hoola hoop and wielded a hammer.

Handyman slave station being held up by a G.E. "O" Man.

Handyman was built between 1958-59 at Schnetectady, New York for the joint AEC-USAF Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program by Ralph Mosher.

The idea of CAMs originated nine years ago when the General Electric Co. was in need of an especially delicate manipulator to handle experiments with an atomic aircraft engine. Manipulators with the theoretical dexterity to turn screws, fit parts and assemble close-tolerance components were available. But they always turned out to be clumsier and more inefficient than expected. The company asked Mosher, a mechanical engineer in the General Engineering Laboratory, to try to design a manipulator that could handle the task.
"I realized that after a certain point improvements in mechanical dexterity added little to a manipulator's performance," says Mosher. "So I began wondering why a human being is so efficient and a slave robot so awkward. Soon it was obvious that the manipulator's operator was missing what he ordinarily experiences, a sense of feel."
Mosher toyed with several methods of restoring a tactile sense to a manipulator's operator before he hit on force feedback. The idea itself wasn't new; power steering, for example, which became popular in the early 1950s, uses the same principle. But no one had ever applied it to a high performance slave robot. When Mosher did, the difference was dramatic. "We didn't just make a better manipulator," he says. "Adding touch created an entirely new kind of robot."
From Mosher's work came Handyman, a pair of arms with pincer hands sensitive enough to pack eggs, strong enough to crush golf balls, and adroit enough to light a match. The robot proved to be the most effective linking of man to manipulator ever built.
But it did have serious drawbacks. One was the electronic force feedback system, which used sensors in the robot's pincers and arms to pick up and relay stress. The electronic equipment was bulky and far too complex to be practical. In addition, the cost of the servo mechanisms and follower racks was prohibitive for anything but specialized projects. General Electric put Handyman and similar CAMs to work in its own plants. But their complexity and expense nixed plans for continued development.

For a further description on Force and reflective feedback, see post here.

Video Clip - there is a video clip, but, alas, no preview is available. Here's the clip description:

Mechanical Man  Clip Description:
Schenectady, N.Y. — Manipulator-Mechanical Man

Cut Story:-Three shots Robot moving arms, 2 shots man operates same, Med Robot removes pipe from tube, Med operator, Med Robot twirling hoop, stops & holds hands together over head. Various shots Manipulator in action.

"Handyman"-Mechanical Man.

(18776) (NXO 2518)  16mm
Story number: 147-183

I found another video clip that has small snippets from the above video clip, but just showing the claw only.

Sadly it has been removed from Youtube.

Handyman has been made into a graffiti stencil.

1980 – Mr. Robotham the Great – Peter Holland (British)

The last of Peter Holland's Mr. Robotham series of robots, "Mr. Robotham the Great". Super lightweight at 6 1/2 pounds.

See complete pdf of Mr Robotham the Great in Radio Modeller December 1981 here.

See Peter's earlier robots from 1955 here.

1913 – the Thing (Martian Fighting Machine – Tripod) – H.G. Wells (British)

Tripod (The War of the Worlds)
From Wikipedia

Martian tripod illustration drawn by Henrique Alvim Corréa for a 1906 edition of the novel.Tripods or fighting-machines are a type of fictional three-legged walker from the H. G. Wells' classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, used by Martians to invade Earth.

The Novel
The tripods walked on three legs, had metallic tentacles underneath, an appendage housing the heat-ray, and a hood-like head. H.G. Wells first describes the tripods in detail:

Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine-tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.

– The War of the Worlds, Book 1, Chapter 10

Another eyewitness described them as "Boilers on stilts, I tell you, striding along like men" (Book 1, Chapter 14).

A London newspaper article in the book inaccurately described the tripods as "spider-like machines, nearly a hundred feet high, capable of the speed of an express-train, and able to shoot out a beam of intense heat" (Book 1, Chapter 14). Ironically, earlier newspaper articles under-exaggerated the Martians as being "sluggard creatures." The main character witnessed the tripods moving "with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds" (Book 1, Chapter 12).

The tripods are armed with a Heat-Ray and black smoke, a type of poison gas.

It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a light-house projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.

– The War of the Worlds, Book 1, Chapter 6

Their tentacles, which hang from the main body, are used as probes and to grasp objects. The tripods also sometimes carry a cage or basket which would be used to hold captives so the Martians could drain their blood. The height of the tripods is unclear, a newspaper article describes them to be over 100 feet tall (30 m). However, they can wade through relatively high water. The HMS Thunder Child engages a trio of tripods pursuing a refugee flotilla off the coast of England.

In the book the tripods are delivered to Earth in massive cylinders, shot from a sort of gun from Mars (in Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, and in the PC game, the Martians refer to this device as a "large-scale hydrogen accelerator"). Once they arrive on Earth, the machines are soon assembled. A London newspaper article cites unnamed authorities who believed, based on the outside size of the cylinders, they carried no more than five tripods per cylinder (Book 1, Chapter 14).

The depiction of the tripods in any medium only very rarely takes in account the fact that, according to the book, the Martians had never invented the wheel and never incorporated its principle in their technology — which presumably would include mechanical joints. This is in accordance with a lack of such joints in the Martians themselves — who are tentacled invertebrates after all — but makes designing a feasible walking machine very difficult.

Martian tripods drawn by Warwick Goble, criticized and disowned by Wells.The original conceptual drawings for the tripod machines, drawn by Warwick Goble, accompanied the initial appearance of The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. When Wells saw these pictures, he was so displeased that he added the following text to the final version of his book:

I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have been much better without them.

It's been suggested that the fighting machines (Wells called them "the Things") inspired the AT-ATs (Snow Walkers) in the Star Wars movie "The Empire Strikes Back". The 'idea' may have been inspired by WOTW, but the design was certainly borrowed from Syd Mead's Walking Cargo Vehicle c1970 (published in the US Steel Interface portfolio and later in his book SENTINEL).

1955 – Phant Walking Tank (Dan Dare) – Frank Hampson (British)

Pic of cover of Eagle – 20 Jan 1956 Vol 7 No. 1.

Phant Walking tank.

Concept working drawings including the "walking tank" [top left]. From Frank Hampson's "Ideas Book".

Dan Dare – Rogue Planet 1955-7

The above images were taken by David Buckley when we travelled to the British Science Museum to study W. Grey Walter's Electro-mechanical Tortoise on display there. An exhibition of Frank Hampson's work on Dan Dare was on at the same time [Dan Dare & the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain – June 2009].

In 1985 a biography of Frank Hampson was published ("The Man Who Drew Tomorrow") which provided a unique insight into the "Hampson" years of Dan Dare and the Eagle. Immensely sadly however, 1985 was also the year of Frank's untimely death due to a heart attack.

The only previous reference I could find to a "walking tank" was Hutchinson and Smith's "Super Tank" concept from 1940.

1969 – Walking Cargo Vehicle – Syd Mead (American)

Text below from Syd Mead's book SENTINEL

The four-legged, gyro-balanced, walking cargo vehicle shown on pages 80-81 is from the US Steel Interface portfolio series [published in 1969 – see image below]. The environment is arctic and the mission is to deliver goods and critical supplies to an isolated exploratory colony beyond the DEWline. Like several of the preceding designs, the 'feet' can be rotated and locked to form powered wheels for rolling over smooth terrain but, seen here in the walking mode, they are covered with ice that is breaking up into radial slivers as the pneumatic pods flex. Defining this part of the design concept more closely, Mead explains that "the largest land animal now extant is the elephant. As he puts his weight on each foot the metacarpals and tarsals fan out from the ankle and the foot spreads, distributing the pressure. Conversely, as the weight is retracted the foot contracts and never gets stuck in the mud. The same principle was incorporated here; the 'foot' structure would be alternately inflated and deflated in the walking mode to duplicate the natural function of the elephant's foot. As a matter of fact, when I did this the US Government had already funded a military project for a walking machine [RH-2010 – the GE Walking Truck] and had built an analog computer-co-ordinated prototype that successfully walked over loosely stacked railroad ties. The seated driver not only operated extremely sensitive hand and foot controls that duplicated and amplified his motions, but also had calculated feedback that allowed him to 'feel' the feet making ground contact!"

Note – RH 2010 – With the slender, flat-sided legs and gimballed feet, its easy to see where the Star Wars [1980] AT-AT designers got their inspiration from.

Update: 17 May 2010 – I located this interview given by Joe Johnston, who worked for ILM during the production of Star Wars.

BTL = Below The Line

Former Industrial Light and Magic art director Joe Johnston became a feature film director over 20 years ago when he came aboard Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and has not looked back.

BTL: What aspect of being the Industrial Light and Magic art director informed your career as a film director?

Johnston: I was the storyboard guy on all three Star Wars films with help from my guys in the art department. It was being able to go into the cutting room with George Lucas to do storyboards to alter these sequences. We’d need a new board for this moment. I’d ask why, and he’d explain it. He was not only generous with his knowledge. It was like being in an intense one-on-one film school. That was more responsible for me getting into directing. He started letting me direct second unit in the mid ’80s. Then I went to USC for a year. It was the input with George in the cutting room that inspired me to want to be a director.

BTL: What were your proudest moments from your time at ILM?

Johnston: Even though I was art director, what we were mostly doing was designing spaceships, with some environments, costumes and creatures. George would come to us and say, we need a vehicle that transports the Imperial troopers from their landing site to the rebel base. We would do drawings. George had three rubber stamps – wonderful, Ok and not OK. We came up with the snow walker. That is my favorite of all the designs that I did. On Star Wars it was me and Ralph McQuarrie at home doing illustrations. The X-Wing, Y-Wing and Millennium Falcon were my design. Empire was my most rewarding. The snow walkers were from a brochure by Syd Mead for US Steel of these walking trucks going through the snow – we turned them into walking tanks.

Then Designer for ILM, Joe Johnston paints the snow walker.

US Steel Interface portfolio series 1969.

The Walking cargo vehicle idea is revised and used again in 1984, published in another of his illustrated books, "Oblagon: Concepts of Syd Mead," showing cargo carriers clumping across a moonscape on robotic legs, moving like steel elephants.  The contraction of the foot as it retracts is more evident in this illustration than the original 1969 version.

Running of the Six Drgxx, 1983, Kronoteko  DRGXX are 160' tall.

The Running of the Six DRGXX: (Bottom) – This was done as one of publicity posters for the First (and last, as it turned out) Tokyo International Sport Fair [1983]. It features six 120 foot high automated, robot DRGXX (the 'R' is backwards in the actual title; the double 'XX' is pronounced like the soft French 'X,' and the coloration is a muted series of ochres, darkish browns and cooler greys. The picture is also one we are asked about most frequently. It has extraordinary retention impact. It can be viewed as an example from the publication "KRONOTEKO".

Later, Syd Mead designed one of the floors (called Dimension III: Gammon 3) of the entertainment building "Dr. Jeekhans", in Tokyo (c1990). He designed a casino-looking racing game with unique creatures called "Racimals".  The game looks like a miniature version of the "Running of the Six Drgxx".

Just to complete Syd Mead's Walkers in one post, here's a conceptual drawing he made for the "Power Loader" in the movie "Aliens".