Posts Tagged ‘Autonomous Robot’

1960 – Cycloidal Propulsion Omnidirectional Drive – Howard Hansen (American)


CLARK'S experimental cycloidal machine. Two non-drive rear wheels counter torque.
Source: Mechanix Illustrated, April 1963.
A revolution in land vehicles may come from this new invention which can provide perfect maneuverability.
PUT a pencil at the top of a sheet of paper and start making loops—as if you were practicing a capital O, As you make the loops, draw your arm slowly down the page. Note the trail you are leaving—like a spring that's been stretched out, Actually, the curve you are drawing is called a "cycloid" and what you have just done is to trace the path of a new propulsion system that may revolutionize land vehicles,
What we're talking about is a wheeled or castered vehicle that is the ultimate in maneuverability. It can move in any horizontal direction without steering through a turning radius. In addition, it needs no brakes, transmission, axles or steering system, One control stick does the whole job.
Dubbed the Omni-Drive, it was developed by the Clark Equipment Co, Clark's first unit is an experimental battery-powered single-rotor job with two non-drive trailing wheels to counter torque. The production model—probably available next year—will have two rotors so that no torque reacting trail wheels will be necessary.
How does the Omni-Drive work?
The experimental rig consists of an under-carriage (rotor) on which three casters have been mounted 120 degrees apart, When the caster wheels are angled so that they merely revolve in a circle (see diagram at lower right) the Omni-Drive has no horizontal movement, This braking action is accomplished by centering the single control stick.
When the control stick is moved (in any direction desired) the caster wheels turn at an angle to the braking circle. Now, as the undercarriage continues to revolve, the wheels "swing out" and "push back" in cycloidal loops—just as your pencil did, The upper platform (which, of course, doesn't revolve) then moves—as your arm did when you drew the looping trail down the paper,
To visualize better the operation of this unique vehicle, keep in mind that the rotor never stops revolving while the Omni-Drive is in operation, But movement of the upper platform and operator take place only when the wheels are angled so they move outwardly away from the center as they traverse half of their circle, and inwardly toward the center as they traverse the other half of their circle,
Clark's production Omni-Drive—the two-rotor job—will be able to do much more than the experimental single-rotor rig, It will, for instance, be able to turn on its own axis, The single stick will control velocity, direction, thrust, braking and steering. Remember, this is a vehicle in which there is no torque transmission between engine and wheels. The engine—battery, gas, electric or whatever—merely turns the revolving undercarriage. Add to this the fact that this device brakes while the wheels are still turning and you begin to see its unique possibilities.
This amazing vehicle is the brainchild of Michael Chucta and Jerome Susag, Clark engineers, and Cmdr, Howard Hansen, USN, who developed the application of cycloidal propulsion to land vehicles while he was seeking to invent a maneuverable lawn mower!
Clark foresees wide applications of its Omni-Drive in materials handling vehicles. But in addition it is expected to find many uses in gantry cranes, missile handling machines and TV cameras.
—Larry Edwards


CYCLOIDAL curve made by pen on paper—a continuous looping in a straight path.


PROPOSED application in a single-rotor maneuverable machine for towing aircraft.


BRAKING is accomplished when wheels describe perfect circle and vehicle stops.


UNDERSIDE of working model. All linkages are connected to a single control stick.



Source: THE HILLSDALE DAILY NEWS, Monday, January 14, 1963
Vehicle Shows New Type Of Propulsion
DETROIT (AP) — A new type of land propulsion was to be demonstrated and discussed today at the opening of the 1963 convention of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
With it, you can drive a vehicle in any direction — even up and down, like a bird. It conceivably could some day give you an automobile you could edge into a parking place—sideways.
It is called "Cycloidal Land Propulsion" and it grew from a Navy officer's search for a power lawn mower he wouldn't have to haul and tug to mow around 40 trees on a place he'd rented in Falls Church, Va., in 1958.
It needs no brakes or clutch or transmission or axles.
. . .
The inventor is Cmdr. Howard C. Hansen, now commanding officer of the Navy's Patrol Squadron 49, and he told the engineers today how Cycloidal Land Propulsion grew from his desire for a lawn mower that would power itself circularly around those Virginia trees.
Clark Equipment Co. is adopting Hansen's propulsion method to its industrial trucks (the kind that shuttle crates and boxes hither and yon in warehouses and factories.
. . .
Michael Chucta, engineer in the advanced products section of Clark's industrial Truck Division at Battle Creek, says a vehicle utilizing such propulsion "is remarkably simple to manufacture" and foresees its use by various special job vehicles.
It isn't yet ready for your automobile, or vice versa, and may never be. Top speed of a vehicle thus propelled presently is calculated at 10 miles per hour, and it multiplies the bumps.
Cycloidal Land Propulsion utilizes wheels — one to any number, but three currently is considered the most satisfactory alignment. They are mounted (something like casters on a dresser to a circular undercarriage that is whirled around by the vehicle's power plant.
. . .
The wheels bite outward and inward from center at various points on their circular rotation to give a vehicle propulsion.
Steered to run in a true circle they halt the vehicle and act as brakes, since the tires would have to be dragged along if it were moved while the wheels were running in a true circle. It stops itself thus.
In forward movement, the wheels point outwardly as they traverse half the circle, and inwardly, toward the center, as they traverse the other half.
. . .
A Naval aviator, Hansen designed his original cycloidal or omnidirectional vehicle for control with a stick similar to that used in an airplane. The vehicle moves in whatever direction you move the stick, and the further you move the stick the faster it goes in that direction.
A vehicle using only three wheels (or one revolving cycloidal unit) requires a trailing pair of wheels attached to the rear of the vehicle to absorb torque and keep the vehicle from tending to spin in the direction the whirling wheels are spinning.
But Chucta told his fellow engineers that a vehicle using two units, each spinning in opposite directions, needs no other wheels to remain stable and translate (which means move in any direction).
Such a vehicle also can yaw, throw one end around to where the other was, or swing its front or rear to and fro.


Caption: Three men, from left to right, Jerome R. Susag, Michael Chucta, and Commander Howard C. Hansen, most responsible for its development in land vehicles showed how cycloidal propulsion worked at the Society of Automotive Engineers meeting.

Patent Information:










Publication number    US3016966 A
Publication date    16 Jan 1962
Filing date    12 Oct 1960
Inventors     Howard Clair Hansen
Original Assignee     Howard Clair Hansen

Omnidirectional drive system for land vehicles

Self-propelled land vehicles are, of course, well known. Many such vehicles are particularly intended for use as tractors or prime-movers. A very important requirement of tractor or truck vehicles is that they be as maneuverable as possible. It is also important that the application of driving power and the consequent production of tractive effort be as smooth and controlled as possible in order that maximum tractive effort may be available with an efficient utilization of power. When the tractor vehicle is to be employed for towing large aircraft or is to be used as a forklift truck, maneuverability is of prime importance.

It is a principal object of the present invention to provide an improved land vehicle having a novel omnidirectional drive system which enables the vehicle to be completely maneuverable to move or translate in any direction over the ground from a standing start.

It is another very important object of the present invention to provide a land vehicle having a novel drive system enabling solely by means of direct mechanical linkage the application of power and the production of tractive effort to be continuously variable from minimum to maximum limits of mechanical advantage.

Another object of this invention is to provide a land vehicle which may be supported on many wheels in order to achieve high load-bearing capacity and great tractive capability but in which great simplicity of construction is achieved in a novel drive system in which all wheels transmit tractive propelling power yet are free-running and un-powered in the conventional sense.

Another important object of the invention is to provide an improved land vehicle whose orientation, direction of travel, and power and speed may be either simultaneously or independently controllable by manipulation of a single control column or level.

Yet another important object of the invention is to provide a land vehicle that is completely maneuverable and controllable by the use of a single steering and power control column movable from a central position to any intended direction of movement of the vehicle and wherein the degree of movement of the control column from the central position in the intended direction controls the speed and the mechanical advantage of the tractive effort of the vehicle to increase the speed as the column is moved further.

Another object of this invention is to provide a land vehicle having a novel drive system the control lever of which may be manipulated with ease without necessity of aid from hydraulic power steering systems such as are frequently employed in conventional vehicles for the purpose of overcoming heavy control pressures.

Still another object of this invention is to provide an improved land vehicle that is completely maneuverable and highly controllable to be particularly well suited for use as an air port tractor or as a forklift truck or the like.

Yet another highly significant object of this invention is to provide a land vehicle which has no need for friction brakes in that the novel drive system of the invention inherently provides complete braking control over the vehicle.

In accordance with the invention, a vehicle main frame supporting the power source, drivers seat and controls 1s itself supported on at least one subframe that is rotatable beneath the main frame. One or more wheels supporting the vehicle are mounted on the periphery of the subframe. The power source may be connected to rotate the subframe and so long as the plane of rotation of each of the subframe wheels is maintained in tangential alignment with the rotation of the subframe, that is, so long as the axes of the wheel axles are radial with respect to the center of rotation of the subframe, the wheels will roll in a circular path on the ground and the subframe and the main frame will not translate in relation to the ground. The subframe wheels rotate on short shafts and are provided with kingpins and steering arms which are connected to a single control lever or column attached to the main frame of the vehicle. The control column is universally mounted and may be tilted in any direction and, so long as the control column bears a prependicular relationship to the plane of rotation of the subframe, the wheels are constrained to roll in a circular path on the ground as described above. When the control column is tilted in any direction away from the above-described perpendicular relationship, suitable linkage connecting the control column to the steering arms of the subframe wheesl causes the rotation of the subframe to vary the steering angles of the subframe Wheels; in sinusoidal fashion, thereby causing the subframe and the main frame to translate with respect to the ground. The interconnecting linkage is such as to cause the period of the sinusoidal variation of the steering angle of each wheel to be equal to the period of one revolution of the subframe, and such as to cause the phase-relationship between the rotation of the subframe and the steering angle variations to be determined by the direction in which the control column is tilted, and such as to cause the magnitude of the steering angle variations to be determined by the degree to which the control column is tilted. The arrangement is such, therefore, that the direction of movement of the vehicle is determined by the direction in which the control column is tilted, while the speed of the vehicle movement and, inversely, the mechanical advantage of the tractive effort are determined by the degree to which the control column is tilted. Thus complete maneuverability and controllability of the land vehicle are obtained with the use of a single control column. One or more trailing wheels may be fixed to the vehicle main frame to establish a heading for the main frame and to prevent contrarotation of the vehicle main frame, or a second subframe may be utilized to provide a means for controlling the heading of the main frame of the vehicle relative to the direction of movement of the vehicle over the ground.

Similar Drives used in Robotics:

Trochoid Drive by Osaka University – See Patent US8757316.

Publication date    24 Jun 2014
Filing date    7 Jun 2011

See other early Walking Wheels at the bottom here.
See other early Mobile Robots here.

1983 – “Kludge” Omnidirectional Mobile Robot – John M. Holland (American)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (24)

1983 – "Kludge" Omnidirectional Mobile Robot by John M. Holland.

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (22)

Kludge with legs contracted.


Kludge at a 1984 exhibition.


kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (23)

John M. Holland.

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (4)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (5)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (6)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (3)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (7)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (8)

The focus in this post is on the unique mobility base, and not on its navigation and sensor qualities.

Patent Information:

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (9)

Publication number    US4573548 A

Publication date    4 Mar 1986
Filing date    23 Jul 1983
Priority date    23 Jul 1983
Inventors    John M. Holland
Original Assignee    Cybermation, Inc.
Mobile base for robots and the like
US 4573548 A
A mobile base for robots or other devices requiring a transport mechanism is disclosed incorporating a plurality of wheels which are simultaneously driven and steered by separate drive sources so as to allow the mobile base to change direction without rotation of the mobile base. In an additional embodiment, each wheel is located on an extensible leg assembly which can be rotated to project outwardly from the mobile base and thereby provide additional stability to the base. This adaptive, retractable leg synchro-drive mobile base uses a third drive source to perform the extension and retraction of the leg assemblies and provides that the wheels maintain their orientation while extension or retraction occurs while the mobile base is in translation and that the wheel orientation returns to its previous state if retraction or extension occurs while the base is not in translation.

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (10)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (11)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (12)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (13)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (14)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (15)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (16)

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (17)

Source: Basic Robotic Concepts, John M. Holland, 1983.

Synchro Drive (Author)
The synchro drive system shown in Fig. 3-18 features three or more wheels (in this case four) that are mechanically synchronized to each other for both steering and power. Synchronization can be accomplished by the use of chains (as shown), or by gears. Each wheeled "foot" assembly contains a 90° miter gear arrangement as shown in Fig. 3-19. The housing of the foot is driven by the steering chain, while the inner shaft is connected to the drive chain. The

Fig. 3-18. Synchro-drive using chain coupling.

Fig. 3-19. Steering action of the synchro-drive foot assembly.
system offers some interesting characteristics when it is driven. Since the wheels steer together, the base does not change its rotational orientation when the robot executes a turn. For this reason, the upper torso of the robot (which contains the vision and ranging systems) is pivoted and mechanically linked to the steering chain. By driving the steering chain with a stepper motor (and gear reducer) the robot can execute very precisely controlled turns.
Notice that the miter gear (Fig. 3-19) must be on the opposite side of the power shaft from the wheel. This is because of the interplay between steering and wheel drive. If the power chain is stationary (the robot is not moving), and the steering chain causes the foot to execute one complete revolution, the wheel power shaft will experience the equivalent effect of one revolution in the opposite direction. With a miter gear having a ratio of 1:1 and located as shown, the wheel axle will revolve once in such a way that the wheel rolls around an arc as shown in the figure. This action is much easier on treated
surfaces than having the wheel pivot about its center line. With the 1:1 ratio, the robot will not wobble as the turn is executed, if the wheel radius (r) is equal to pivot radius (r'). Unfortunately, this may mean that in the inboard rotational position (the right-most wheel in Fig. 3-18A) is displaced sufficiently under the robot to cause a deterioration of the zone of stability. If the pivot radius (r') is shortened, the robot will appear to "belly dance" as the steering is operated. If this is objectionable, the miter gear can be selected to have a ratio equal to the ratio of the circumferences of the two circles associated with r and r'. This of course means that it will be the ratio of the two radiuses.
The system has some attractive qualities, but it is not overly stable because it cannot adapt to steep terrain. For robots operating on flat surfaces, it is a good alternative.
•    Efficiency: Fair to good
•    Simplicity of Control: Excellent
•    Traction: Good
•    Maneuverability: Excellent
•    Navigation: Excellent
•    Stability: Fair to poor depending on the number of wheels
•    Adaptability: None
•    Destructiveness: Excellent
•    Climbing: Poor
•    Maintenance: Fair to good
•    Cost: Low to moderate
Adaptive Synchro Drive with Retractable Leg Assemblies
The adaptive synchro drive represents a compromise between the complexity of a walking robot, and the simplicity (and poor stability) of the synchro drive. The requirement that led to this design was to provide a robot that could negotiate relatively steer ramps, and that could climb over mild curbs without falling over. The solution was to add a degree of adaptability to the synchro drive. This was to be accomplished in the simplest possible manner, and the result is shown in Figs. 3-20, 3-21, and 3-22.
The adaptive synchro drive has the same basic power and steering chain arrangements in the base as did the original system, except that at the positions where the wheels were, there are now pivoted

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (18)
Fig. 3-20. Synchro-drive leg assembly.
leg assemblies. A set of two chains in each leg transmits the drive and steering control to the same type "foot" assembly used in the synchro drive. Fixed to each leg at the pivot point is a chain sprocket connected to a third stepping motor and gear box arrangement. The power and steering shafts run concentrically through this sprocket into the leg. This arrangement allows the legs to rotate about their pivots (Fig. 3-23), thus changing the effective area of the base. As the legs rotate, the linkages are such that the wheels continue steering in the original direction. Since there is no capability of steering the wheels individually, they cannot be caused to "toe in" during collapsing. For this reason, a certain amount of rolling motion is required to allow this action to take place without damaging the surface on which the robot is running. To accomplish this, the action of the retraction (collapse) motor can be locked to the main drive motor. If the legs must be retracted in a short distance, the robot may have to roll forward and backward once or twice. Alternatively, it can execute a continuous turn with the drive motor turned off. Another disadvantage to this system is that the base orientation cannot be controlled. Thus if the robot approaches a load with the legs extended, it must make do with whatever the orientation of the legs might be. A modification to the steering chain may be added to overcome this problem.

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (20)
Fig. 3-21. Diagram of a synchro-drive with retractable leg assemblies.
This modification would consist of three movable idlers taking up chain slack between the wheels. In the normal position of these idlers, the wheels would all steer in the same direction. In the other idler position the wheels would all steer tangentially and the robot base could pivot on its own axis. Unfortunately, this reduces the simplicity and economy of the design.
Like the synchro drive, this carriage can steer through 360 degrees without moving. This eliminates the need for backing up. There are several advantages to avoiding this maneuver, including the elimination of rear facing obstacle detection systems and the elimination of polarity reversing circuitry on the main power motor. This second factor improves efficiency since solid-state polarity reversing circuitry always induces some power loss.
This whole arrangement is of course an elaborate compromise, but it was one that satisfied our needs. The lack of independent wheel steering control was traded off for the simplicity of control and economy of having only one drive and one steering motor. The two main sacrifices that had to be made were in the area of efficiency and maintenance.

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (19)
Fig. 3-22. Photograph of a synchro-drive with retractable leg assemblies (battery removed from foreground).
My experimental version of this system (named "Kludge") has been very successful, and the efficiency is better than expected. With 8-inch diameter tires and its legs extended, Kludge can climb over 4 X 4-inch timbers (actually 3.5 X 3.5 inches). My totally unbiased assessment of this approach is:
•    Efficiency: Fair to good
•    Simplicity of Control: Excellent
•    Traction: Good
•    Maneuverability: Excellent
•    Navigation: Excellent
•    Stability: Fair with legs retracted, excellent with them extended
•    Adaptability: Adaptable to ramps and small single steps
•    Destructiveness: Excellent with precautions mentioned above
•    Climbing: Poor
•    Maintenance: Fair (I hope)
•    Cost: Moderate

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (21)
Fig. 3-23. Rotational collapsing and the change of the zone of stability.

….I would also like to thank Mr. Robert Pharr of Roanoke, Virginia, whose mechanical expertise brought the mobile robot "Kludge" from a concept to a reality. Thanks must also go to my technician, Mr. William Grady Spiegel, for his support in breadboarding many of the circuits associated with Kludge and other systems discussed in this book…

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (1)

The Old Robots conveniently has a pdf of this article.

kludge-rajan85-1 001-x640 (2)

Source: ROBOTICS AGE January 1985 [edited]
John M. Holland
Cybermation, Inc.
When human beings attempt to solve a problem, they tend to match successful past solutions to the new situation. While this problem solving technique is extremely helpful in day-to-day situations, it can be misleading when we attempt to solve unique new problems. The trouble is that this whole conceptual process is so unconscious that we are unaware of the assumptions we make along the way. The problem of robot mobility is an excellent example.
When we start thinking about robot mobility systems, we immediately catalog the solutions to mobility problems in other fields. Most present-day mobile robots use a version of the mobility system originally designed for either a tricycle, a wheelchair, an automobile, a tank, an all-terrain vehicle, a wagon, or a combination of these. In some cases, the designer has turned to nature for inspiration and the result may resemble a spider or even an elephant.
Many mobile robots are well adapted to the problems they are designed to solve. For example, robots like the Ohio State University (OSU) Hexapod or the Odetics Odex I walker are required for certain rough-terrain applications. In fact, an article by R. B. McGhee, et. al. (see references) shows that walking robots may actually be more efficient than wheels or treads on soft surfaces. Still, it is very important to realize the original problem for which the technique was developed.
Attempting to apply existing vehicle designs to robots quickly points out the difference between the intelligence and sensory capabilities of a robot "driver" and a human operator. The robot driver will be a relatively stupid, nearly blind computer. Expecting a robot driver to perform the classical parallel parking maneuver for an automobile is optimistic in the extreme.Solutions based on animal models have an additional problem since animals are constructed from different materials than those available for the robot. For example, muscle tissue provides both an excellent lightweight servomechanism, and compliant springiness that can be used to store and recover kinetic energy.
Before designing a robot mobility system, we must determine the robot's intended capabilities and make several trade-offs for cost vs. performance.
The first major trade-off is between walking and rolling. While a walking robot can go almost anywhere, it will tend to be very complex mechanically, difficult to control, expensive to build, slow, and (on finished surfaces) relatively inefficient. Some of these difficulties can be eliminated, but only at the expense of making others worse. Depending on the applications, the ability to climb stairs, rubble, and undefined obstacles, may outweigh all other considerations. On the other hand, it may be more economical to replace stairs in the robot's environment with ramps, thus making a rolling robot acceptable.
There are always restrictions on the robot as well. These restrictions include the width and height clearance available, the maximum weight, the damage that it can be permitted to inflict on its running surface, etc.

As the robot design progresses, it is sometimes necessary to back up and modify or subdivide the original performance envelope. For example, two models of the robot may become necessary to fulfill all requirements, or perhaps an ability may be dropped rather than modify the robot's operating environment.
The example used in Table 1 evaluates applications we had in mind for our Cybermation robots and is an approximate evaluation of our first prototype. These robots would be expected to perform teleoperated and autonomous functions in demanding industrial applications, including explosives factories, clean-rooms, and nuclear reactor buildings. Thus, as reflected in the table, initial cost is not as important as the maintenance costs and reliability. The ability to climb steps was dropped in favor of requiring ramps and lifts.

The base consists of three wheel assemblies located on retractable legs. We call this the Synchro-drive since a set of chains is used to synchronously steer and drive all three wheels. The robot has three sets of motors, gear boxes, and chains; one for driving the wheels, one for retracting and extending the legs, and one for steering the wheels. Additionally, the steering chain is connected to a spine shaft running up through the center of the base. The robot's turret is mounted on a flange attached to this shaft, and rotates with the shaft in such a way that the turret always points in the same direction as the wheels.
This configuration gives the Synchro-drive some interesting capabilities. For example, the base does not rotate as the robot executes a turn. Not only does this save energy (by not requiring rotational acceleration and deceleration of the base), but it also allows the robot to maintain a sense of direction, by measuring the angle of the turret and base. One of the greatest advantages of the Synchro-drive is that steering and drive commands represent a pure polar coordinate reference system. This greatly simplifies navigation.
Furthermore, since the Synchro-drive has a true zero turning radius, it does not need reverse. This means that rear-facing sensors, and two (expensive) quadrants of the drive motor control can be eliminated.

Finally, the wheel assembly is designed to allow turns without translation. This was accomplished by off-setting the wheel from the center of the steering axis and placing its driving gear in such a way as to impart a rolling action during steering. The robot can thus turn in place, without damaging carpets, tile, or wood floors.


Table 2. Evaluation table for the Synchro-drive robot with concentric shafts and fixed legs.

The Synchro-drive approach evolved after many (informal) cycles through the evaluation process just described, and yet the approach still had short-comings at the point shown in Table 1.
The prototype (nicknamed Kludge) showed that the basic mode of movement was largely superior to other modes being considered, but the chains were a real problem. First, chains don't like to operate in a horizontal plane, and at least 180 degrees of engagement or purchase is required on each sprocket. This meant that many idlers had to be installed, which lowered efficiency and increased costs. Secondly, the chains stretch over time and must be adjusted. Additionally, the chains took up a lot of room and forced the robot's center of gravity to be higher than necessary. As a general rule, chains are noisy and dirty by nature. Finally, the wheels had to be realigned each time the chains were adjusted or tightened.
Each of these problems could be lessened by one measure or another, but the approach kept coming up short of our goals.
The problem then became how to build a robot that had all the good qualities of Kludge but was clean, reliable, easily assembled and repaired, had a lower center of gravity, and required no realignment. It wouldn't hurt if the new approach was (in the jargon of the patent office) clearly novel as well. This would allow us to obtain patent protection for the engineering investment.
The solution was to use a unique combination of concentric shafts and bevel gears. With this configuration, the moving parts could be enclosed inside hollow tubes comprising the robot frame members. This eliminated pollution, and greatly reduced maintenance. Accurately keyed gears kept the steering in alignment at all times.
The second production prototype (K2A) contains only a handful of different types of bearings and gears that are used repeatedly throughout the design. Furthermore, the new approach allows the batteries, drive motor and gear box to be slung between the leg members, lowering the center of gravity. By doing this, and by extending the fixed legs slightly beyond the edge of the base, the robot is about 80 percent as stable as the first Kludge prototype with its legs fully extended, and about 160 percent as stable as the first prototype with its legs retracted. Although an extensible-leg version using concentric shafts is planned, the cost savings on the current model outweigh the loss of high-end stability, at least for most current applications.
The result of these improvements is shown in Table 2. Notice that for the relatively small loss of stability, the savings in other areas are substantial. As an additional advantage, the maneuver required for extending and retracting the legs was eliminated.
The emergence of mobile robots as an important economic reality will require the rethinking of the basic precepts of mobility. These new mechanical "beasties" will encompass an enormous variety of forms, each governed by the niche it is intended to fill. Exactly as in nature, those robots that best fill the requirements of their niche will flourish and evolve, and those that are hastily or ill-conceived will become extinct.
We have used the Cybermation Synchro-drive as an example, but the basic process of fitting a solution to the problem can be used in the development of any robotic system.
McGhee, R.B., KW. Olson, and R. L. Briggs "Electronic Coordination of Joint Motions for a Terrain Adaptive Robot." Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc. Warrendale, PA.
Raibert, M. H., et al. "Dynamically Stable Legged Locomotion." The Robot Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. September 1981.
Holland, J. M., Basic Robotic Concepts. Howard W. Sams Publishing Co, 1983.

"Kludge" was a prototype. It evolved into the successful K2A then the K3A, subject to another post.

The company Cybermation became Cybermotion, and now KineLogic.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.
See other early Mobile Robots here.

1979 – “Rodney” Self-Programming Robot – David L. Heiserman (American)


"Rodney", the Self-Programming Robot is based on the book How to Build Your Own Self-Programming Robot by David L. Heiserman [TAB, 1979].


ByRamiro Molinaon September 18, 2013
 This book is geared towards those that have good knowledge of electronics and are willing to jump into a project that involves CPU based control. It outlines how to build a wheeled robot controlled by an Intel 8085 CPU, programmed by hand in binary using an array of switches that bumbles around a room on its own.


ByBenjamin Graylandon November 26, 2000
If you have an interest in robotics, and a decent knowledge of electronics, then this book is certainly worth reading. Despite its age, the information it provides is applicable today.
Heiserman tells of his own robots, specifically Rodney, who can program himself. One example given was of Heiserman handicapping Rodney, by scratching his processors and removing one of his wheels – Rodney learned to move about efficiently in a short period of time, with no assistance. Similar anecdotes are spread throughout the book.
But most importantly, the book tells the reader how they can construct a robot similar to (or exactly the same as) Rodney. Schematics, wiring diagrams and so forth fill a large portion of the book – providing a clear method for construction.
Overall, this is certainly an interesting book. Even if you don't plan to build yourself a robot, the anecdotes are both entertaining and amazing enough alone.


Classes Of Robotic Self-Learning. Source: here.

It is useful to define intelligence as in robotics according to David L. Heiserman 1979 in regards to the self-learning autonomous robot, for convenience here called "Rodney".

    While Alpha Rodney does exhibit some interesting behavioral characteristics, one really has to stretch the definition of intelligence to make it fit an Alpha-Class machine. The Intelligence is there, of course, but it operates on such a primitive level that little of significance comes from it. ….the essence of an Alpha-Class machine is its purely reflexive and, for the most part, random behavior. Alpha Rodney will behave much as a little one-cell creature that struggles to survive in its drop-of-water world. The machine will blunder around the room, working its way out of menacing tight spots, and hoping to stumble, quite accidentally, into the battery charger.

    In summary, an Alpha-Class machine is highly adaptive to changes in its environment. It displays a rather flat and low learning curve, but there is virtually no change in the curve when the environment is altered.

    (2) BETA CLASS

    A Beta-Class machine uses the Alpha-Class mechanisms, but extends them to include some memory – memory of responses that worked successfully in the past.

    The main-memory system is something quite different from the program memory you have been using. The program memory is the storage place for Rodney’s basic operating programs-programs that are somewhat analogous to intuition or the subconscious in higher-level animals. The main memory is the seat of Rodney’s knowledge and, in the case of Beta-Class machines, this means knowledge that is grained only by direct experience with the environment. A Beta-Class machine still relies on Alpha-like random responses in the early going but after experiencing some life and problem solving, knowledge in the main memory becomes dominant over the more primitive Alpha-Class reflex actions.

    A Beta-Class machine demonstrates a rising learning curve that eventually passes the scoring level of the best Alpha-Class machine. If the environment is static, the score eventually rises toward perfection. Change the environment, however, and a Beta-Class machine suffers for a while, the learning curve drops down to the chance level. However, the learning curve gradually rises toward perfection as the Beta-Class machine establishes a new pattern of behavior. Its adaptive process requires some time and experience to show itself, but the end result is a more efficient machine.


    A Gamma-Class robot includes the reflex and memory features of the two lower-order machines, but it also has the ability to generalize whatever it learns through direct experience. Once a Gamma-Class robot meets and solves a particular problem, it not only remembers the solution, but generalizes that solution into a variety of similar situations not yet encountered. Such a robot need not encounter every possible situation before discovering what it is suppose to do; rather, it generalizes its first-hand responses, thereby making it possible to deal with the unexpected elements of its life more effectively.

    A Gamma-Class machine is less upset by changes and recovers faster than the Beta-Class mechanism. This is due to its ability to anticipate changes.

Robotics: Robot Intelligence: An Interview With A Pioneer
Posted here on 2008-06-06 @ 19:28:20 by r00t.


A short and informal email interview with a pioneer in the field of hobbyist robotics, David L. Heiserman.

Mr. Heiserman is the author of six volumes on the subject, published by TAB Books over a span of 11 years, from 1976 to 1987. These books describe, in detail, several robotics and simulation projects he developed during those years. Each was written and designed in such a manner as to allow the reader the ability to follow along and construct each project themselves.

However, the books aren't plans so much as they are guides. They form a complete encyclopedia for a compelling subject of study, which Mr. Heiserman has termed "Robot Intelligence" and/or "Machine Intelligence":

Build Your Own Working Robot – #841 (ISBN 0-8306-6841-1), HB, © 1976
How to Build Your Own Self-Programming Robot – #1241, (ISBN 0-8306-9760-8), HB, © 1979
Robot Intelligence…with experiments – #1191, (ISBN 0-8306-9685-7), HB, © 1981
How to Design & Build Your Own Custom Robot – #1341, (ISBN 0-8306-9629-6), HB, © 1981
Projects in Machine Intelligence For Your Home Computer – #1391, (ISBN 0-8306-0057-4), HB, © 1982
Build Your Own Working Robot – The Second Generation – #2781, (ISBN 0-8306-1181-9), HB, © 1987

I first read these books as a boy in grade school, and continued to study them periodically through high school. As an adult (now almost 35 years old – where did the time go?), I collected the set for my library. Along the way, I wondered what Mr. Heiserman did with his robots, and whether he planned on publishing anything more about them or his experiments. This interview and other email conversations with him have helped to answer these  questions.

PG: What, and/or who, inspired you to pursue the research of machine intelligence?

DH: I saw the robots in sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s, and I wondered how it would be possible to build one.

PG: Was Buster the initial platform for your research, or were there prior (but unpublished) platforms and/or systems you used prior to Buster?

DH: There was a prior version in 1963. I can't remember the name, but it was strictly radio controlled — vacuum tubes, no less.

PG: During the period your books on robotics and machine intelligence were published, TAB Books seemed to provide a haven for similar authors. Did they provide or do anything special to encourage this?

DH: No.

PG: Were you ever in contact with any of the other robotics experimenters (published by TAB or otherwise) during the period your books were published?

DH: No.

PG: Rodney seemed to anticipate the experiments carried out in "Robot Intelligence" and "Machine Intelligence". Were these projects inter-related?

DH: The books are pretty much a technology-based sequence. I had no idea about doing machine intelligence when I did the book on Buster.

PG: Did you ever bring together the software concepts developed in "Robot Intelligence" and "Machine Intelligence" with an actual hardware platform, or did you view the software environments you created as a better avenue for development of your ideas on machine intelligence?

DH: "Projects" was an attempt at hardware implementation, but I was more interested in computer simulations by this time. I never published my work for several weak reasons; one of which was that I was beginning to catch so much nasty flack from the amateur and quasi-professional AI community. I won't go into all of that, but let's just say I am enjoying some quiet satisfaction today.

PG: Why was the decision made to create the second generation Buster as a "hard-coded" robot, rather than continue with programmable machines as represented by the earlier Rodney?

DH: Well, I think it was because I was losing a segment of people who were not sophisticated enough to do any programming.

PG: What are the major differences between Buster as described in the original "Build Your Own Working Robot", and the Buster described in "Build Your Own Working Robot – The Second Generation"?

DH: Second Generation had better hardware designs.

PG: Whatever happened to Buster (I-III)?

DH: Buster I is somewhere down in the crawlspace of my house. The others were scrapped or given away a long time ago.

PG: What about Rodney?

DH: I gave him to a high school science class. I imagine it is gone.

PG: Do you have any current photos of Buster and/or Rodney (assuming they still exist)?

DH: No.

PG: Were any other later hardware platforms built (but left unpublished)?

DH: Rodney had a short-lived expression as a commercial product sometime in the early-to-mid 80's. It was the RB5-X, manufactured by RB Robot Corp in Golden, Colorado. I was rather well compensated for the work, but the company and my compensation soon evaporated.

PG: Are you still involved in robotics and/or machine intelligence as a hobby or otherwise?

DH: No. But I like to tinker with my own version of artificial neural networks.

PG: Do you intend on writing any further books on robotics in the future?

DH: Not as a hobby machine. Over the years, I've used my models of machine intelligence to play with ideas about extraterrestrial intelligence.

PG: Are there any thoughts or advice you would give to today's robotics and/or machine intelligence enthusiasts?

DH: Let a machine think for itself. Let a community of machines think for themselves and share their knowledge and skills.

But keep your hand on the plug.

I feel that Mr. Heiserman's work is still relevant for today's robotics hobbyist, especially for those interested in machine learning. His techniques and programming methodologies can be easily applied to modern microcontroller and PC-based systems. There are many avenues available to explore in this research, and Mr. Heiserman has forged a path ahead of us to follow. If you are interested in robotics, you owe it to yourself to pick up a volume or two of his books, and explore.

Andrew L. Ayers, March 2008

The RB5X Connection:

Heiserman also wrote some software for the personal robot RB5X.  From an interview …

RN: Did you ever consider taking any of your robot designs commercial as kits or assembled robots?

DLH: I never did it on my own initiative, but Rodney appeared on the market as RB5-X. It was advertised as educational tool, and we had a couple of RB5s running around in the science center here in Columbus. The company was RB Robot, Inc., in Golden CO. When RB when bankrupt, someone else bought the rights and inventory. I don't think the machine is around anywhere these days. I was just a token consultant for the company, anyway.

David Hieserman had already built "Buster" the robot, but was developing "Rodney" the "Self-Programming" robot at the time. RB5X software utilized "Rodney" technology.

The RB5X robot comes with what the company calls Alpha and Beta level self-learning software. This "Artificial Intelligence" software, developed by David Heiserman allows your RB5X robot to learn from it's experiences.

Self-Learning Software / Artifical Intelligence
The RB5X comes complete with "Alpha" and "Beta" levels of self-learning software, which which empowered the robot to absorb and employ information from its surroundings. Developed by leading robotics author David Heiserman, this software allows RB5X to progress from simple random responses to an ability to generalize about the features of its environment, storing this data in its on-board memory.
Self-Learning: This small, first step toward true "intelligence" enables the robot to learn from its own mistakes. For example, you could set the RB5X down in a room and let it roam about randomly. It will probably run into walls several times, perhaps a desk, and maybe even a person. As it rolls around the room, it will "learn" in its own computer-like fashion where the obstacles are in a room, thus avoiding them in the future. The self-learning software are on "Alpha" and "Beta" levels, which were developed by the robotics author David Heiserman for the purpose of giving robots a simple way to "learn" from their experiences, somewhat like humans do.

See other early Mobile Robots here.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1968 – Android Space Manipulator (Concept) – General Electric (American)

Android Space Manipulator

Robots May Tend Ailing Satellites -One of the frustrations of scientists is "burned out" satellites, those which, because of a malfunction or a worn-out part, inertly orbit the earth, doing no worldly good. "Such a satellite becomes a million dollar bit of space debris for lack of a two-dollar part. It would be impractical if not impossible in most cases to send an astronaut to do the job and in the few cases, where practical, the expense would be prohibitive. The answer would seem to be a highly sophisticated robot space vehicle which could be manipulated by ground control. A National Aeronautics Space Administration contract to make design studies of such a "space repairman" has been awarded to the General Electric Space Systems Valley Forge, Pa. In its ARMS (Application of Remote Manipulators in Space) project, GE scientists envision an orbiting space complex consisting of tender (home base) satellite and one or more robot repairmen [text illegibie].

This complex could easily be put into a continuous 24-hour orbit by a booster such as a Titan III-C. The tender would be controlled by radio from a ground station, receiving instructions and navigational information on satellites requiring repair. Before the rendezvous with the disabled satellite, however, the tender and its resting repairman would have to make a linkup with a repair kit, containing replacement parts or modules, launched into orbit from the earth. After this docking the tender, repairman and repair, all joined in one complex, would change orbit to close on the satellite needing repair. The intricate maneuvering required to complete this rendezvous in the vastness of space and the ensuing repair job would be directed from earth. This is made possible by "eyes" in the space units. The tender would be equipped with at least one television camera and the robot repairman would have one or, more probably, two. The direction and focus of the cameras could be adjusted from earth. The robot repairman is a box-like creature with three multi-jointed arms and pincer-like fingers that can be operated by remote control. In addition to the information supplied by the TV camera, the manipulators will also feed information, much like human muscles and limbs when performing a job. This enables the ground-control station to make adjustments to properly conduct the repair. The repairman will be maneuvered by miniature attitude control rocket nozzles which can be operated from earth. Present space vehicles are not designed for such easy repair. Satellites of the future would be designed so that trouble-prone, sensitive or exhaustible parts would be located on the outer surface in easily replaceable modules. GE studies indicate that the ARMS project would pay off after 12 satellite repairs, another way of saying that the costs of the repair system would equal the replacement cost of 12 non-functional satellites and any succeeding repairs would be pure gain for the space system. And, of course, should one of the repairmen develop a malfunction, he will be operated on by another robot.

Source: Oakland Tribune (Newspaper) – September 15, 1968, Oakland, California 

The spacecraft has an approximate weight of 530 pounds and is approximately 12 inches deep by 40 inches wide by 75 inches high (including antennas). It has two electric bilateral manipulator arms that are slave to a master control system in a remote site. The system has a payload capability of about 500 pounds and a mission duration of 10 hours (Interim – Kugath, 1969).

Subsystem Description

 Translation Subsystem

     The propulsion is accomplished by a common blow-down monopropellant hydrazine subsystem. It would have large rendezvous engines for translation to the worksite and smaller thrusters for attitude control and maneuvering.

Stabilization/Control Subsystems

 The attitude-control subsystem functions in two modes, 1) it stabilizes only the remote manipulator spacecraft; and, 2) it also stabilizes the worksite by a three-axis, rate-integrating gyro package. A momentum storage device reduces the thruster usage at the worksite.

 The spacecraft maneuvers are performed automatically; the inputs to the guidance computer are produced by (docked satellite). The attitude reference is supplied.

 The optical (video) system consists of two cameras  which

1) give the operator a three-dimensional display,

2) provide redundancy in case of a camera failure, and

3) serve as range finder to supply data to guidance/control subsystem for rendezvous and docking.

Actuator Subsystem

  This subsystem consists of three docking/stabilization arms and two manipulator arms. The manipulators are bilateral, slave type that resemble the human arms but

are not anthropomorphous. The manipulator characteristics are shown 'in Table 5-6 and dimensions are given in figure 5-22. Table 5-7 gives the weights and estimated power requirements for the remote manipulator spacecraft.

Volume 2, Final Report – Prepared for Marshall Space Flight Center – 9 April 1970.

Footnote: August, 2014 – This 1968 GE concept is the closest that resembles the Robonaut R2. The Robonaut R2 is currently the only humanoid robot in space and was delivered to the International Space Station in 2011. The current version can only operate internally, though.  There is an earlier dextrous dual-arm robot, called Dextre, delivered to the ISS in 2008, but this is not humanoid in shape and size.

Robonaut R2 shaking the hand of Station Commander, Dan Burbank.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

1973-8 – Daedalus ‘Wardens’ (Concept) – Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

An autonomous Warden building, servicing and maintaining Daedalus.

 Above image source: Robots, by Peter Marsh, 1985

Autonomy and the Interstellar Probe – Sourced from here.

by Paul Gilster on March 19, 2013


…..The span between the creation of the Daedalus design in the 1970s and today covers the development of the personal computer and the emergence of global networking, so it’s understandable that the way we view autonomy has changed. Self-repair is also a reminder that a re-design like Project Icarus is a good way to move the ball forward. Imagine a series of design iterations each about 35 years apart, each upgrading the original with current technology, until a working craft is feasible.

… The key paper on robotic repair is T. J. Grant’s “Project Daedalus: The Need for Onboard Repair.”

Staying Functional Until Mission’s End

Grant runs through the entire computer system including the idea of ‘wardens,’ conceived as a subsystem of the network that maintains the ship under a strategy of self-test and repair. You’ll recall that Daedalus, despite its size, was an unmanned mission, so all issues that arose during its fifty year journey would have to be handled by onboard systems. The wardens carried a variety of tools and manipulators, and it’s interesting to see that they were also designed to be an active part of the mission’s science, conducting experiments thousands of kilometers away from the vehicle, where contamination from the ship’s fusion drive would not be a factor.

Even so, I’d hate to chance one of the two Daedalus wardens in that role given their importance to the success of the mission. Each would weigh about five tonnes, with access to extensive repair facilities along with replacement and spare parts. Replacing parts, however, is not the best overall strategy, as it requires a huge increase in mass — up to 739 tonnes, in Grant’s calculations! So the Daedalus report settled on a strategy of repair instead of replacement wherever possible, with full onboard facilities to ensure that components could be recovered and returned to duty. Here again the need for autonomy is paramount.

In a second paper, “Project Daedalus: The Computers,” Grant outlines the wardens’ job:

    …the wardens’ tasks would involve much adaptive learning throughout the complete mission. For example, the wardens may have to learn how to gain access to a component which has never failed before, they may have to diagnose a rare type of defect, or they may have to devise a new repair procedure to recover the defective component. Even when the failure mode of a particular, unreliable component is well known, any one specific failure may have special features or involve unusual complications; simple failures are rare.

Running through the options in the context of a ship-wide computing infrastructure, Grant recommends that the wardens be given full autonomy, although the main ship computer would still have the ability to override its actions if needed. The image is of mobile robotic repair units in constant motion, adjusting, tweaking and repairing failed parts as needed. Grant again:

    …a development in Daedalus’s software may be best implemented in conjunction with a change in the starship’s hardware… In practice, the modification process will be recursive. For example the discovery of a crack in a structural member might be initially repaired by welding a strengthening plate over the weakened part. However, the plate might restrict clearance between the cracked members and other parts, so denying the wardens access to unreliable LRUs (Line Replacement Units) beyond the member. Daedalus’s computer system must be capable of assessing the likely consequences of its intended actions. It must be able to choose an alternative access path to the LRUs (requiring a suitable change in its software), or to choose an alternative method of repairing the crack, or some acceptable combination.

Background information on "Project Daedalus":

Project Daedalus – Interstellar Mission – Sourced from here.

Daedalus Interstellar Probe

Daedalus Interstellar Probe – image copyright Adrian Mann[not included]

This was a thirteen member volunteer engineering design study conducted between 1973 and 1978, to demonstrate that Interstellar travel is feasible in theory. The project related to the Fermi Paradox first postulated by the Italian Physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1940s. This supposes that there has been plenty of time for intelligent civilizations to interact within our galaxy when one examines the age and number of stars, as well as the distances between them. Yet, the fact that extra-terrestrial intelligence has never been observed leads to a logical paradox where our observations are inconsistent with our theoretical expectation. This original question from Fermi seemed to also reinforce the prevailing paradigm at the time that interstellar travel was impossible. Project Daedalus was a bold way to examine the Fermi Paradox head on and gave a partial answer – interstellar travel is possible. The basis of this belief was the demonstration of a credible engineering design just at the outset of the space age that could in theory, cross the interstellar distances. In the future scientific advancement would lead to a refined and more efficient design. The absence of alien visitors would therefore require a different explanation because Project Daedalus demonstrated that with current, and near future, technology, interstellar travel is feasible. Therefore, another solution to the absence of extra-terrestrial visitation was necessary.

There were three stated goals for Project Daedalus:

    (1) The spacecraft must use current or near-future technology
    (2) The spacecraft must reach its destination within a working human lifetime
    (3)The spacecraft must be designed to allow for a variety of target stars. The final design solution was published in a special supplement of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1978.

The two-stage engine configuration was powered by inertial confinement fusion using deuterium and helium-3 pellets. Electron beam diodes positioned around the base of the engine exhaust would impinge on the pellets and ignite them to produce large energy gain, at a rate of 250 detonations per second. This would continue for a boost phase lasting over 3.8 years followed by a cruise phase lasting 46 years and travelling at over 12% of the speed of light until the 450 tons science probe would finally reach its destination of the Barnard’s Star system 5.9 light years away, which it would transit in a matter of days due to its flyby nature.
Daedalus Interstellar Probe compared with Saturn V Moon rocket

Daedalus Interstellar Probe compared with Saturn V Moon rocket – image copyright Adrian Mann

In the final study reports all of the main vehicle systems were considered including the structure, communications, navigation and the deployment of mitigation sub-systems to deal with the bombardment of interstellar dust. The pedigree for Project Daedalus derives directly from 1950-1960s Project Orion, a vehicle that used Atomic and Hydrogen bombs to propel the spacecraft. The main issue with Orion however was the existence of several nuclear test ban treaties which forbid the use or testing of such technology. Project Daedalus proposed to shrink this technology down to the size of pocket coins but still take advantage of the enormous energy release from a fusion based fuel.

The Project Daedalus study was primarily led by Alan Bond, Tony Martin and Bob Parkinson and even today the study distinguishes itself from all other studies as the most complete engineering study ever undertaken for an interstellar probe. Even if Daedalus is not the template for how our robotic ambassadors will someday reach the distant stars, at the very least it will be a crucial part of the journey for getting to that first launch. Rigorous engineering assessments are the only way to provide reliable information on what is possible today or in the near-future.

Source: Here

The Daedalus Future – Stephen Baxter, 11/11/13 – Sourced from here.


This paper explores the future society assumed by the Project Daedalus team as background to the building of their starship.

The plausibility of Project Icarus – like Daedalus before it – will depend to some extent on the plausibility of an imagined future society that might have the capability and will, socially, economically and technically, to mount such a project. In their introductory essay in the Daedalus final report ([1] ppS5-S7), Bond and Martin noted that ‘Without such a background the results of the study would probably be naive, and would certainly be incorrect’ (pS6).

The Daedalus project was inspired by the propulsion system choice, so the team had to envisage a society that would naturally support a pulse-fusion starship using He3 as fuel. The team drew on precursor work such as Parkinson’s papers [2] [3] [4] on the nature of a society on the brink of interstellar flight, and as Daedalus progressed it became possible for the team to envisage such a society more clearly, a society defined not just by what the team imagined it would be capable of but also by what it would not be capable of.

But what kind of society was this?

The sketch by Bill Dillon included in the final report (pS4), of the construction of Daedalus at Callisto, gives some indication. Along with an array of specialised craft surrounding the immense bulk of Daedalus itself, we glimpse a wheel-in-space habitat and an astronaut performing an EVA. This is evidently a society capable of mounting a manned construction operation on a massive scale above a moon of Jupiter – and has the will to devote such resources to the peaceful end of scientific exploration.

The purpose of this brief review is to summarise the ‘Daedalus future’ as specifically as possible, as depicted by clues and assumptions spread throughout the report. The hope is that this review will help us more clearly to imagine the assumed ‘Icarus future’ that will underpin the plausibility of our own starship.

Earth and the Solar System

Bond and Martin, in their introduction to the Daedalus report (ppS5-7), described a future Earth that was populous and energy-hungry. Against a background projected from the then-current ‘world energy crisis’, they predicted a demand for future energy sources of ‘minimal impact on the environment of Earth, which will by then be required to house about 1010 people’ (pS6).

What could such sources be? Bond and Martin noted the ‘apparent disadvantages’ then associated with nuclear fission (pS6). But the team did not envisage capabilities much beyond fusion. In their essays on the propulsion system, Martin and Bond said: ‘It is generally hoped that magnetic fusion reactors . . . will be operational . . . before the end of the century’. But producing antimatter for example was seen as requiring ‘large extrapolations of modern-day capabilities’ (pS45).

As for the fusion fuel choice, Martin and Bond go on to suggest a reliance on He3 because of its “cleanness”: ‘The deuterium-helium 3 reaction . . . [is] at present the only “clean” fusion reaction which can seriously be considered for application in reactors, from the point of view of achievable containment conditions and temperatures’ (pS7).

In his essay on propellant acquisition for Daedalus (ppS83-S89), notably the 30,000 tonnes of He3 required, Parkinson backed up this conclusion. With He3 impossibly scarce on Earth – the 1970s estimate of availability from various natural sources was one part in 104 to one part in 107 (pS83) – one option would be to breed the fuel load in ground-based fusion reactors, using either a D-D or D-T reaction. To produce the fuel at a rate of 1500 tons a year for 20 years (the team’s target timescale), either route would require power levels at multiples of Earth’s total present-day output, as well as consuming heroic quantities of other fuels and creating vast amounts of waste. Parkinson opined that a society capable of devoting such resources to a starship might find some other propulsion method easier, such as a laser-powered photon sail. Besides, a fusion-based society would be motivated to use any He3 available in a ‘clean reactor network’ on Earth (pS84).

Therefore, said Parkinson, the tapping of extraterrestrial sources of He3 ‘becomes a logical supply of propellant not simply for Daedalus but for mankind’ (pS84). Bond and Martin estimated that an import of 1000 tons of He3 per year from extraterrestrial sources could supply the world’s energy at 1970s levels; presumably more would be required for the more populous world of the future. And ‘the provision of the fuel for a starship may be merely an upgrading of this level of activity’ (pS7), a sensible projection if the 1500 tons per year for Daedalus is accepted.

The society of the future then would be populous, energy-rich, environmentally conscious, and connected to an interplanetary web of resource extraction and transportation, just as Earth is globally interconnected today: ‘That community will already be employing nuclear pulse rockets for space flight, and will probably be transporting helium 3 from the outer planets to the inner planets on a routine basis’ (pS7).

To build a starship would however require political will, and peace: ‘It seems probable that a Solar System wide culture making use of all its resources would easily be wealthy enough to afford such an undertaking [as Daedalus], and presumably in order to have reached the stage of extensive interplanetary flight would also have achieved reasonable political stability, and an acceptance of this new environment’ (pS7).

The sketched future scenario was in the end quite specific: ‘In summary, then, we envisage Daedalus-type vehicles being built by a wealthy (compared to the present day) Solar System wide community, probably sometime in the latter part of the 21st century’ (my italics) (pS7).

But people would still be people. In their essay on the mission profile ([1] ppS37-S42), Bond and Martin assume in passing that the mankind of the future era of the launch date will be much the same as today, with a ‘useful working life of about 40 years’ (pS38).

Space Operations

An interplanetary society this might be, but Parfitt and White in their paper on structural material selection (ppS97-S103) assumed that most materials for spacecraft and spaceborne structures, including Daedalus, would come from the Earth-moon system. For reasons of economy their choice of materials for Daedalus therefore concentrated on those most abundant on Earth, such as aluminium, ‘even if this imposes a small mass penalty’ (pS99).

In-space construction techniques were assumed by Strong and Bond in their paper on the vehicle configuration (ppS90-96); because Daedalus would not have to withstand the rigours of a planetary launch (and because the ship’s acceleration would be low), the main systems could be hung from a ‘slender structural spine’ (pS90). Bond and Martin sketched the construction programme: ‘The vehicle would be assembled in the inner Solar System, the exact location depending on where the manufacturing complexes may be located at that time. It would be fuelled either in Lunar or Jovian orbit depending on the source of helium 3. During preceding years several engineering mock-up and flight test vehicles would have been flown in an extensive test programme to develop system reliability to the required level’ (pS40). In his paper on navigation (ppS143-8) Richards suggested a full-scale rehearsal flight through the solar system (pS143).

As for other structures in space, in their paper on communications (ppS163-171) Lawton and Wright envisaged ‘the use of a very large array (VLA) “Cyclops” type system as the receiving antenna for the radio link. This can be either sited on Earth itself or (preferably) in space but in the vicinity of Earth’ (pS165). Indeed, it was anticipated that such arrays might be in operation for other purposes by the time Daedalus was launched. Cyclops [5] had been a 1972 study by NASA advocating an array of 1000 radio telescopes 10 miles across for the purposes of SETI.

Parkinson however ruled out very much larger structures. In his essay on propellant acquisition for Daedalus (ppS83-S89) Parkinson considered mining the solar wind for He3, but the number density of He3 nuclei in the solar wind is such that ‘to capture the propellant requirement in 20 years would require a cross-section of some 1011 km2 – or a circle 30 times the diameter of the Earth. Even allowing for large numbers of collecting units operating close to the Sun, it is difficult to imagine the individual collecting units having diameters less than thousands of kilometres’ (pS84). Parkinson remarks that a society capable of handling magnetic fields on this scale could well prefer alternative propulsion schemes.

Similarly an interstellar ramjet, which would require the control of electric and magnetic fields over very large length scales, was considered ‘not within a reasonable extrapolation of modern technology’ (pS45) by Bond and Martin in their notes on the choice of propulsion system.

The main space operation described was of course propellant acquisition. In his paper on the topic (ppS83-89) Parkinson speculated on specific sources of extraterrestrial He3. Mining Titan’s atmosphere might be relatively straightforward: ‘The extraction plant would not be mass-limited, and manned operation would ensure fairly continuous operation. In addition the escape velocity is low and transport costs would be minimal’ (pS89). However the available resource on Titan was probably limited; ‘one starship-load would take away 0.1% of the total available’.

Parkinson settled on mining Jupiter’s atmosphere, envisaging 128 ‘aerostat’ extraction factories, each weighing 130t, operating for 20 years in the Jovian atmosphere, with a power expenditure of ~500MW. Parkinson briefly speculated on the operational requirements of this spectacular venture (pS89): ‘Jupiter’s radiation belts make manned operations difficult within the satellite system, and so it is expected that most of the operation will be unmanned. Callisto, which appears to be outside the hazardous radiation zone, could be used as a base camp, and if manned operations have to be conducted in an orbit at the fringes of the Jovian atmosphere a well-shielded “transfer station” might be placed in an elliptical orbit between Callisto and the minimum altitude orbit.’


Artificial intelligence was seen as key to the success of Daedalus. Grant, in his paper on Daedalus’s computer systems (ppS130-142), gave a clear description of the requirements of those systems, including systems control, data management, navigation, and fault detection and rectification. All this would be beyond the influence of ground control, and so ‘the computers must play the role of captain and crew of the starship; without them the mission is impossible’ (pS130).

In his paper on reliability and repair (ppS172-179) Grant pointed out that Daedalus would have to survive ‘for up to 60 years with gross events such as boost, mid-course corrections and planetary probe insertions occurring during its lifetime’ (pS172). A projection of modern reliability figures indicated that a strategy of component redundancy and replacement would not be sufficient; Daedalus would not be feasible without on-board repair facilities (pS176). AI would be used in the provision of these facilities, partly through the use of mobile ‘wardens’ capable of manipulation.

A high degree of artificial intelligence was also a key assumption for Webb in his discussions of payload design for Daedalus (ppS149-161). Because the confirmation of the position and nature of any planets at the target system might come only weeks before the encounter (ppS153-S154), it would be the task of the onboard computer systems to optimise the deployment of the subprobes and backup probes.

In addition, during the cruise the wardens could construct such additional instruments as ‘temporary (because of erosion) radio telescopes many kilometres across from only a few kilograms of conducting thread’ (pS154), and even rebuild or manufacture equipment afresh after receipt of updated instructions from Earth (pS156). One intriguing possibility was a response to the detection of intelligent life in the target system, in which case ‘the possibility of adjusting the configuration of the vehicle for the purposes of CETI (Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in the post-encounter phase should always be borne in mind’ (pS151).

Grant foresaw the continuing miniaturisation of hardware, as was already evident in the 1970s, and envisaged Daedalus being equipped with hierarchies of ‘picocomputers’ (pS132). The design of the controlling artificial intelligence could only be sketched; it would have to be capable of ‘adaptive learning and flexible goal seeking’, which would necessitate ‘heuristic qualities’ beyond the merely logical (pS131). Grant imagined the system being capable of in-flight software development – indeed, Grant speculated that pre-launch Daedalus, given a general design by a human team, would be able to write most of its own software! (pS141).

This theme of humans working in partnership with smart machines is evident elsewhere. Parkinson (pS89), describing the Jupiter atmospheric mining operation, noted that ‘The degree of autonomy demanded of unmanned components in the system is illustrated by the fact that the delay time of communications between Callisto and a station within the Jovian atmosphere will be about 12 seconds.’


Summarising the Daedalus future, Parkinson argued that ‘[An] undertaking on the scale of Daedalus fits naturally into the context of a Solar System wide society making intelligent use of its resources, rather than a heroic effort on the part of a planet-based society’ (pS89). That society would evidently be capable of massive manned operations conducted at Jupiter, but would be limited to fusion as a power source, would not yet be capable for instance of building gigantic structures to harvest He3 from the solar wind, and would be suffused with artificial intelligences working mostly in partnership with humans. The fuel required for Daedalus would represent a sizeable increase in the extraction effort already extant at Jupiter to satisfy the terrestrial energy demand, but not the establishment of an entirely new capability, and not an increase in capacity of orders of magnitude.

The Daedalus assumptions have of course been extensively revisited, in internal Icarus discussions and elsewhere. Forty years on it does seem unlikely that the Daedalus future will come to pass ‘sometime in the latter part of the 21st century’. Recently Zubrin [6] has sketched a developed solar system with fuel transportation networks on an interplanetary scale, and Hein et al [7] tested the assumptions behind the use of interplanetary sources of He3. Parkinson meanwhile [8] revisited the idea of using He3-powered pulse-fusion rockets for interplanetary transport.

These retrospective considerations are however irrelevant to the success of Project Daedalus in its time. The ‘Daedalus future’, the social and economic basis the team assumed would be in place to support their interstellar mission, was logical, reasonable as a projection from the time the report was written, internally consistent, an essential underpinning to the feasibility of the report, and a model for our work on Icarus.


[1]        A. Bond et al, Project Daedalus Final Report, British Interplanetary Society, 1978.
[2]        R.C. Parkinson, ‘The Starship as Third Generation Technology’, JBIS 27, pp295ff, 1974.
[3]        R.C. Parkinson, ‘The Starship as an Exercise in Economics’, JBIS 27, pp692ff, 1974.
[4]        R.C. Parkinson, ‘The Starship as a Philosophical Vehicle’, JBIS 28, pp745ff, 1975.
[5]        J. Billingham et al, ‘Project Cyclops: A Design Study of a System for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life’, NASA Ames, report CR114445, 1972.
[6]        R. Zubrin, ‘On the Way to Starflight: Economics of Interstellar Breakout’, in Starship Century, eds. J. and G. Benford, Microwave Sciences, 2013.
[7]        A. Hein, A. Tziolas and A. Crowl, ‘Architecture Development for Atmospheric Helium 3 Mining of the Outer Solar System Gas Planets for Space Exploration and Power Generation,’ IAC-10-D4.2.6, 2010.
[8]        R. Parkinson, ‘Using Daedalus for Local Transport’, JBIS 62 pp422-426, 2009.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.