Posts Tagged ‘Australian’

1912 – Dreadnought Wheel and “Big Lizzie” – Frank Bottrill (Australian)


1912 – Dreadnought Wheel and "Big Lizzie" – Frank Bottrill

A dreadnaught wheel is a wheel with articulated rails attached at the rim to provide a firm footing for the wheel to roll over, they have also been known as endless railway wheels when fitted to road locomotives, and were commonly fitted to steam traction engines.

Prior to wide adoption of continuous track on vehicles, traction engines were cumbersome and not suited to crossing soft ground or the rough roads and farm tracks of the time. The "endless rails" were flat boards or steel plates loosely attached around the outer circumference of the wheel which spread the weight of the vehicle over a larger surface and hence were less likely to get bogged by sinking into soft ground or skidding on slippery tracks.

Some references also use the term pedrail, but the pedrail wheel of 1903 is a more complex arrangement that incorporates internal springing.

Bottrill referred to the rails as "ped-rail shoes".

[Note: Where text is from another source, I’ve left to spelling of “Dreadnought” as is i.e. “Dreadnaught”, which has become the more popular spelling.]


"Big Lizzie" at Red Cliffs, Victoria, Australia.


Children looking at one of "Big Lizzie's" massive wheels.


Image from Bottrill's British patent GB191208844 (A) ― 1912-10-17 .


The smaller Austral-Otis Bottrill-wheeled tractor c1911.


Image source: Remarkable Australian Farm Machines: Ingenuity on the Land  By Graeme R. Quick

From `Megaethon' to 'Big Lizzie':
Attempts to go where the roads do not
MOVING A HEAVY vehicle across country can have its problems. Unless the ground is very solid, the vehicle is likely to dig itself in and resist all attempts to move it further. Mud, sand and dust can all cause this.
The obvious solution is to increase the bearing surface in some way, so the wheels are less likely to dig their way into the ground under the vehicle's weight. If the vehicle can lay its own bearing surface in front of itself, then pick it up again after it has passed over it, so much the better.
One early attempt at this approach occurred in 1850 when a Hunter Valley farmer named Cleve had a steam engine built in Sydney. He decided to take it home under its own power on the iron shoes it laid down in succession in front of its wheels. Cleve called his machine the `Megaethon', but the Aborigines who saw it called it the 'buggy buggy'.
Eventually Cleve had to get some bullock teams to come and rescue his engine. Its great weight made its progress very difficult.
The idea cropped up again when steam-driven traction engines be common in Australia, about the turn of the century. Used to haul wagons across country, for ploughing and for stationary power at all sorts of locations, these machines faced the need to travel across country in all sorts of conditions. In 1906, Frank Bottrill patented 'an improved road wheel for vehicles and travelling machines, especially useful for traction engines'. He called it the Pedrail or Dreadnought wheel.
As Bottrill's wheel rotated it placed a series of bearers one at a time upon the ground. Each bearer formed a substantial flat bed while it was on the ground and prevented the wheel from sinking. The engine was therefore able to exert its full tractive effort. For use in very loose ground the bearers could be fitted with studs.
Some versions of Bottrill's wheel had two sets of bearers side by side. The bearers were attached to the wheel by a system of U-bolts and wire ropes that allowed them to move in relation to the wheel, but kept them rotating with it.
In 1907 Bottrill used a 30-horsepower International tractor fitted with his


Big Lizzie in her last resting place at Red Cliffs, Victoria.

Pedrail wheels to plough 202 hectares of mallee land for the Victorian Department of Agriculture and 38 hectares of virgin country at Howard's Plain, Victoria. Then he used a 70-horsepower McLaren traction engine with Pedrail wheels on a large-scale land-clearing operation at Tintinara for the South Australian Government. He pulled three large rollers covering a span of 18 metres and cleared an average of 12 hectares a day, and sometimes as many as 20 hectares. Later the South Australian Government bought rights from Bottrill to fit two of its steam tractors with his wheels. The Queensland Government also arranged to fit them to some of its equipment.
In World War I, the Australian Light Horse in Egypt had the Pedrail system fitted to its field guns so it could haul them across the desert. The heavy sand made transport of the guns on their ordinary wheels quite impracticable, and for a time General Chauvel was forced to conduct a mounted campaign against the Turks without artillery support. Once the Pedrail was adapted for desert conditions and fitted to the guns, the problem was overcome. Guns fitted with Pedrails were first used in the attack on Salmana in May 1916.
Bottrill's best known application of his Pedrail was to Big Lizzie, a giant traction engine now on display at Red Cliffs in Victoria's Sunraysia district. The massive machine, powered by a 60-horsepower Blackstone crude oil engine, was built in Melbourne in 1914. Its range of gears gave it four forward speeds from 0.8 to 3.2 km/h, and two reverse speeds, 0.4 and 0.8 km/h.


Until Bottrill style wheels were fitted to artillery in the Middle East during World War I, the Australia Light Horse had to attack fortified Turkish positions without artillery support.

Big Lizzie set out from Melbourne in 1915 and went via Echuca, Kerang, Swan Hill, Ouyen and Mildura. Everywhere she went, her owners had to get permission from the various shires. From Ouyen she travelled along a bush track made by bullock waggons beside the railway. This was the only road. Where the turns in the track were too sharp for her 61 metre turning circle, Big Lizzie just made her own track through the mallee scrub. Her big wheels carried her across even the sandiest country. She had a six weeks stop-over in Kerang while all her wheels were taken off and altered.
Big Lizzie arrived in Mildura in October 1917. She was unable to cross the Murray, which was in flood. No bridge or punt could carry her, so she went to work in the district, carrying wheat, one 1919 load running to 900 bags.
Big Lizzie herself was 10.2 m long, 3.4 m wide and 5.5 m high. She had two flat top trailers, each fitted with Bottrill wheels. Each trailer was 10m long, 3.4 m wide and 2m high.
When the Victorian Government decided to make farms for soldier settlers in the Sunraysia area during and after World War I, Big Lizzie helped clear land at South Merbein, West Merbein, Birdwoodton and Red Cliffs, a task that lasted until 1924. She cleared land in other parts of Victoria until 1929, when she was abandoned.
She was finally brought back and given her place of honour at Red Cliffs.

Source: Australian Inventory, Leo Port with Brian Murray.


An early version was patented (British 11,357) by James Boydell in August 1846 and February 1854. Boydell worked with the British steam traction engine manufacturer Charles Burrell & Sons to produce road haulage engines from 1856 that used his continuous track design. Burrell later patented refinements of Boydell's design.

Boydell's design saw service with the British Army in the Crimean War where it was known as "The Megatherium war horse".

Source with references: Wiki

See other early Walking Wheels and  Walking Machines here.

1962 – Table-Clearing Robot – Meredith Thring (Australian/British)

"Working model of a table-clearing robot [Mk 2] designed to test the present-day feasibility of principles required for the house-working robot and other machines. The model has one 'sight' and two 'touch' sensors which enable the mechanical arm to pick up objects and place them on the rotating, clearing tray on top of the machine."


2065.27 | INVENTORS' EXHIBITION. London 13/01/1969

M/S table clearing robot. M/S as it lifts cup up from table. C/U cup being lifted from table and placed to one side. M/S as cup swings round to make room for another.

Clearing the table after a meal is a task which can be given to a robot. This one, like many other robots, does not have a human form like its counterparts in fiction. But it does its job well.

1. The mug is seen by a photoelectric "eye" and the "hand" is directed towards it.
2. Controlled by pressure sensors, the hand grips the mug firmly.
3. As the hand retracts, it puts the mug on a rotating turntable.

4. By its rotation, the turntable clears the mug out of the way. Far right: a close-up of the robot housemaid in action.

This table-clearing machine has a photoelectric eye which detects objects. This directs linkage; closes on them
lifts them back to the turntable.

Earlier Mk 1 version of Table-clearing Robot

Meredith Thring with his models of Domestic Robot

Cartoon from New Scientist, March 1963.

See other early Domestic Service Robots here.

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1991/2002 – Floorbotics Robotic Vacuum Cleaners – G. T. Duncan Ashworth (Australian)

The FloorBot is a robotic floor cleaner for the home. It's designed to automatically clean the floor while you relax, get a little exercise, or just head off for work. Press the start button and the FloorBot cleans in logical laps while sensing and navigating any obstacles in the area. When the FloorBot has finished cleaning it simply turns off. The development is the culmination of years of work in software development and real world simulation, advanced electronic engineering and mechanical design, 3D CAD design, and patented sensor systems. This was aided by comprehensive market research.

The core technology of the FloorBot is a highly flexible, platform independent navigation system, designed to suit many application requirements.
Intelligent mobile robotic appliances based on the FloorBot system could be further extended to provide a telepresence in the work area via integration with a vision system, and could be remotely controlled via Internet or BlueTooth technologies.

For full article see here.

Early brochure on the Floorbot V4.

A later model intelligent vacuum cleaner, the VR-8.

The Monash Museum of Computing History, Monash University have a Floorbotic Robotic Vacuum Cleaner on display at its Caulfield campus in Melbourne, Australia.

Patent Info – Navigational control apparatus and method for autonomus vehicles . See full patent details here.

Publication number US5321614 A
Publication date Jun 14, 1994
Filing date Jun 6, 1991
Inventors Guy T. D. Ashworth

See other early remote-controlled and robotic vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers in timeline here.


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1937 – The Robot Gargantua – “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor – (Australian/Canadian)

The Robot Garguantua.

gar·gan·tu·a -n.
A person of great size or stature and of voracious physical or intellectual appetites. [After the giant hero of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais.]

Like most, including myself, the true significance is lost in the title ("An Automatic Block-Setting Crane") and opening description of the original article published globally in Meccano Magazine, March 1938.

The original re-discovered documents now published in full book form.

In February 2013,  Chris Shute contacted me about "Meccano Robot Gargantua".
Although I was aware of it, but must admit to: 1. trying to keep away from industrial robots, 2. mistaking the robot taking it for an elaborate 'crane' when I first saw it, 3. didn't study it well enough to realise it was programmable, 4. assumed someone else more recently attributed to word 'Robot' to it, and lastly, 5. I didn't take note of its early publication date. I'd like to think my research is normally very good, but incorrect pre-conceptions let me down.. Anyway, I've now been corrected and amazed after reading Chris' story of The Robot Gargantua re-produced below.

"In March 1938, the Meccano Magazine published a brief article describing an automatic crane of stunning complexity. Have a look at Meccano Magazine, March 1938 p172, viewable via: . A single motor drove all the motions of this monster machine, capable of building complex structures from wooden blocks automatically. From the original photograph, it was difficult to tell if Gargantua was even made from Meccano, or whether it could really do all that was claimed. Nobody had ever built anything so ambitious in Meccano.
A full description and more detailed photographs lay hidden for nearly half a century until the Liverpool Meccano factory was demolished. Constructor Quarterly magazine published them in a book with notes by John Woollatt and the late Bert Love and Alan Partridge. The creator of Gargantua was a 21-year-old student, Griffith ‘Bill’ Taylor, the son of Scott’s Antarctic geologist. Bill died in 1996, having spent most of his life as a professor of civil engineering in Sydney, Australia. I built the ‘Robot’ programmer in June 1997 and met Bill’s widow and son. They encouraged me to build the whole crane, which I did during the following 12 months, about 400 hours work. Here's a picture of my reconstruction. The main features are:
 • A single motor drives all motions.
 • The grab can also rotate – power comes through the suspension cords.
 • Mechanical limiters protect against over-driving.
 • Control levers are situated at the base of the tower, not on the jib.
 • No electronics are used apart from five solenoids.
 • Sequences up to 3 hours long may be controlled by punched paper tape.
 • Contains over 4000 washers, 300 collars, 200 gears and 100 pulleys.
 • Non-Meccano parts: 4 bricks, 2 rollers, paper, wood, Ford Sierra fan motor.

This is the only known complete reconstruction of Gargantua. I believe it was probably the world’s first truly programmable place-and-put robot. I feel it deserves a place in the history of robotics."

Chris continues in a second email.

"I believe Bill Taylor submitted his article to Meccano Magazine late in 1937, after completing the machine. Roman numerals on his typed manuscript read "MCMXXXVII". His notes say the machine was "the result of 3 years "effort". The lead-in time for publication, and the surface mail time from Toronto to Liverpool would be considerable. Many mechanisms used in Gargantua are unique, and would have made good magazine features individually, at the time. It's puzzling why neither the magazine nor Meccano did not exploit Gargantua more. A Pathe Newsreel in July 1937 featured a Meccano loom, for example. Bill Taylor was born in August 1916, making him only 21 years old at the time of completing Gargantua, while still studying for his engineering degree. A remarkable acheivement. I've attached a picture of my reconstruction of the 'Robot' (as it was called) i.e. the device that pulls and pushes the pre-existing 5 control levers for the crane. Mine is the same size as the original. Each lever, top left, has a central neutral position and can move linkages to large dog-clutches in transfer gearboxes dedicated to each motion. The crane can be driven manually if the "Robot" linkages are disconnected. Then the lever ends must be squeezed to release any lever from its locked position, like an old semaphore railway signal lever. The 'Robot' is driven by the same single motor as the crane, via a driveshaft seen just right of the control levers. A Meccano Dog Clutch can disconnect this drive. A 5-digit counter, like an old electricity consumer meter, top right, is used to count the revolutions of the motor. My paper tape transport is slightly modified, using a capstan and rubber pinch roller, as in a reel-to-reel tape recorder, for constant paper speed, and therefore constant sized holes cut in the paper. When drive to the take-up paper drum is engaged, a light brake is applied to the feed drum, to keep the paper taut, and simultaneously, 5 wipers press down on the paper. When a hole arrives, a circuit is made to one of 5 solenoid coils. In the original device, these were home made (mine are 1960s standard Meccano parts). Power for the coils would originally have come from 4 large 1.5 volt dry cells (seen in the original magazine picture, about the size of a beer can). Mine use 12 volts from the motor supply. Lower right, I've added a cable to 5 pushbuttons for manually firing the coils during demonstrations. The (weak) solenoids do not actually engage any gears. Instead, they cause some of the main motor's power to act upon the control levers. Five differentials are driven from the motor through their RH half-shafts. A light brake on the LH half-shaft causes the diff cage to spin fast but with less torque, reduced still further by 1:5 gearing to a shaft above carrying a 2" rod in a Handrail Coupling. When the solenoid is energised, its core moves a rod left to jam this spinning rod, whereupon the LH half shaft will turn, overcoming its light brake. A 7:1 reduction to a shaft above moves a long linkage to the relevant control lever. After a quarter-turn of this shaft, a roller and sprung linkage will flick the solenoid rod right, thus releasing the differential cage, and movement of the control linkage stops. The quarter turns permit a sequence of Forward-Neutral-Backward-Neutral to be engaged for each drive. This seems an elaborate device to engage/disengage gears, but it does the job well, using only a single coil for each motion, requiring only 5 possible holes in the paper roll (3 1/2" wide, used for adding machines in the 1930s). Since the same motor drives both the paper and the crane, synchronisation is reliable. the distance between holes equates to the number of motor revolutions allocated for each operation. In practice, when any motion is required to arrive at an end-stop position, a few extra revolutions are given, to overcomes light discrepancies caused by slippage, for example of the string/pulley drives in the grab. All motions have mechanical limiters at their end-stops, so this is not a problem. The tower-buiding was planned on graph paper and a table of the required motor revolutions for each motion is calculated. (e.g.opening the grab requires 150 revs). From this, it is possible to write a 'program' of events (= paper holes) defined by motor revolutions starting at 00000. The program is transfered to the paper roll by disengaging the drive to the 'Robot' and cutting a hole over a wooden backing strip. For stacking 24 blocks, over 500 holes must be cut. An error of 1mm on the paper roll could translate into about 1"for a block's position. Editing/correcting of the program is done with sticky tape. But the system works. Errors are generally down to the 'software', not hardware."

Chris has an expanded version of his story published in 2007. see pdf here.

Historical Significance

I've largely left Industrial Robots out of my website, but I feel that The Robot Gargantua deserves to be recognised as the first currently known Pick-and-Place Robot built, so I'll add a page on the short history of Industrial Robots.

The First Industrial Robots:

The Babbitt invention of 1892, mentioned in many Industrial Robot timelines, is not a robot at all under any definition. The Babbitt Crane patent has no mention of anything automatic, is not programmable and is under manual control using hydraulics.  Also no evidence of it being built, none that I've found, anyway. It appears to be an arm to grasp and remove hot ingots from a furnace. It may look robotic in today's terms, but that's as far as it goes.

  • 1935-7 – The design, construction, and submitted manuscript of The Robot Gargantuan.
  • 1938, March – The publication of The Robot Gargantua in Meccano Magazine.
  • 1938, April – Pollard's Positional spray painting robot patent was filed in April 1938. This I would call a robot by current definition.
  • 1939, August – Roselund filed his spray-paint robot patent – less of a robot than Pollard's due to the cam-drive nature, which , although good for repeatability, not good in re-programmability which defines an Industrial Robot.
  • 1954, March – The Brit Cyril Kenward filed his patent , beating the Devol patent by a few months .
  • 1954, December – Devol's patent filed and granted in 1961. 

[Update 2 Mar 2012 – Pollard's son, Pollard Jr., produced an earlier patent for an automatic spray-painting machine. Filed on 29 Oct  1934, granted on 27 Aug 1940. From an article on parallel robotics by Ilian Bobey in 2003, the patent consists of two parts: (1) an electrical control system and (2) a mechanical manipulator. The control system consists basically of perforated films, the hole density of which is directly proportional to the speed of each motor. The mechanical manipulator, on the other hand, is a parallel robot based on a pantograph actuated by two rotary motors at the base. Pollard Jr.'s patent was eventually issued on June 16, 1942, but, in the meantime, a license was granted to the DeVilbiss company in 1937. In 1941, DeVilbiss, later to become the first industrial robot supplier, completed the first prototype under the direction of Harold Roselund. Roselund's spray painting robot, later patented in 1944, was not a parallel robot and used only the control system proposed by Pollard Jr. ]

Control Unit – photo by Chris Shute.

Above: Detail of Control Unit


The gripper.

All photographs by Peter Haigh – see supersize originals here.

1964c – Walking Wheel Stair Climbers – Meredith Thring (British)

Stair-climbing wheels

Wheels that shoot out spring-loaded "legs" enable an experimental British vehicle to climb stairs and other obstacles. The vehicle, powered by batteries, is the "miniclimber," developed by Prof. Meredith Thring and Brian Shayer at Queen Mary College, London University. The small machine travels at about three mph. On level ground, the weight of the miniclimber pushes the climbing legs back into a hub that's located alongside each conventional wheel. The developers foresee the climber's use by handicapped persons.

Source: Popular Mechanics, June 1967.


Click on above image to see Video clip of the Step-climbing carriage.

Towards the end of the Newsreel,  Bernard (Bob) Morris sits in a step-climbing carriage; hooks come out of the wheels to pull the carriage up a small stairway; this was designed for the use of Thalidomide victims. [The British Pathe blurb on this newsreel incorrectly says the driver is Charles Ford when in fact it is Bernard (Bob) Morris. Thanks Andree McDade for this correction – see Comments below].

Prof. Meredith Thring with his Stair-climbing Chair.

Fig. 6-11.

Source: Robots and Telechirs, M. W. Thring, 1983.

Thring has worked on an electrically powered carriage with three or four rimless wheels to enable handicapped people to climb stairs freely, which essentially places its spokes (rubber-tipped) on the step in front of it so that like a human foot it has no tendency to roll down the inclined plane formed by the corners of the step, because the weight is always carried on a horizontal surface.

The motion on the staircase is not perfectly steady because the point of contact of the spokes may be very close to, or even right on, the edge of the step, or it may be up to the distance between the spokes from the edge. However, it is considerably smoother than any system which rolls along the step and then climbs up to the next one, and there is a certain smoothing effect between the front and rear wheels.

Figure 6.11 shows an early working model of this kind of machine with four driven wheels having twelve rubber tipped spokes on each. By having driven front and rear wheels it gradually changes angle as it comes to the beginning and end of the stairs. If the spokes are too sharp they wear the rubber tips very fast, but if they are too thick they tend to come on the rounded corner of the step more often and can roll (on the downward movement) or slip (on the upward movement) on to the next step. The optimum number of spokes is also a very important consideration. The wheel should have a radius (when the spoke is loaded) slightly greater than the height of the highest step to be climbed, so that as it rolls forward on the step below the spoke comes forward on to the next step. If there are too many spokes the spoke always begins to lift from a point very close to the edge of the step-tread, and the smoothing effect of the edge going deep between the treads is lost. If there are too few, the reciprocating motion when going on the level ground at higher speed becomes excessive. Twelve spokes give noticeable oscillation at 3 m.p.h. on the level. The amplitude of the oscillation is inversely proportional to the square of the number of spokes, so 16 or 20 would be better from this point of view though more expensive.

There are two problems which must be overcome in a final design.

(i) Stability. It is desirable that the seat carrying the person shall tilt so that this seat remains approximately horizontal when the chair ascends or descends stairs. If the chair is pivoted about a point above the centre of gravity of the person so that this levelling is automatic on the pendulum principle, then his weight will be thrown in the downstairs direction on the tilting of the chair, making the system fundamentally unstable. It is, therefore, necessary to tilt the seat about a pivot close to the ground or to slide the seat upstairs as the carriage tilts. In either case the weight has to be lifted and thus the levelling mechanism must be powered, unless the movement is carried out by the driver before reaching the stairs at the same time as he changes to low gear for stair-climbing. It is also possible to have front- and rear-wheel drive only when in the climbing mode.


Steering a system of this type requires front- and rear-wheel drive when it is climbing stairs. Moreover, it should have very good mobility corresponding, if possible, to complete rotation about an axis within the framework. This rules out conventional steering methods unless the driven front wheel can be rotated up to 90° in each direction, a proposal which is being explored at UNAM in Mexico.

My own solution is shown in Fig. 6.12. It is preferable to have only three wheels because, when climbing a spiral staircase, which is not a plane surface, a four-wheeled system would require very soft springing to adapt to the surface. By making the front wheel with rollers at the end of all the separate spokes (Fig. 6.13) this wheel will give positive drive for moving forward, but can roll freely sideways. Thus, if the two rear wheels are driven by separate motors, which can be reversed, and the front wheel is driven by a differential gear so that it runs at the arithmetic mean of the speeds of the two rear wheels, it is then possible to rotate about the mid-point of the back axle. The front wheel need not be driven except in the climbing mode and the drives to the rear wheels have to be reduced by a 6:1 ratio mechanical gear in order to give the necessary increased torque.

See Thring's other things here.

See other Walking Wheels and Walking Machines listed here.