We dream of a world where imagination becomes reality simply because enough passionate people decide that an idea has merit. We dream of robots of all shapes and sizes being made across the globe, because the high-end technology needed to make them is simplified, generalized, and made publicly accessible.
The first step in achieving that dream for us is building a rideable, 18 foot wide, 4,000 pound, 6-legged, engine-powered hydraulic walking robot named Stompy, and sharing exactly how we did it with the world.
Who We Are
We are Project Hexapod. We’re a team of 3 instructors, 1 TA, and 15 students based out of a makerspace in Somerville, Massachusetts called Artisan’s Asylum. We’ve spent the last four months running a class on how to design giant robots, and Stompy is the end result. Our instructors (Gui Cavalcanti, James Whong, and Dan Cody) are professional roboticists who have designed military and commercial robot legs, arms, prosthetics, walking machines, and more. Our TA (Adam Bercu) is a national champion Battlebots builder, and our students come from backgrounds ranging as widely as engineers working for defense contractors to professional programmers to electronics enthusiasts.
Why You Should Care
First of all, we’re building a giant walking robot that you can ride, and if all goes according to plan, we’ll be showing it off at a festival or fair near you. Depending on your level of support, you may even get to ride it or drive it – how about that?
Beyond that, though, your support for Project Hexapod will drive a personal robotics revolution (if we have anything to say about it). The past twenty years have seen an explosion of productivity in hobbyist robotics made possible by cheap, easy to use microcontrollers and RC servos. The hobbyist community has built a wealth of knowledge and infrastructure around these components, but RC servos severely limit the size of robot you can build.
Project Hexapod wants to make large-scale robots easier to build, and inspire people to build them.
Stompy is 6 giant steps towards that dream. Once we finish this robot, we’re releasing our plans, our CAD, our diagrams, the presentations from all the lectures we gave in class, our lists of materials and parts, everything. The construction and control techniques we’re using will drop the cost of controlled hydraulics by an order of magnitude or two from where they are now, and will make giant robots affordable to small groups of enthusiasts everywhere.
The robot isn’t just being built for fun, though – it has incredibly practical purposes, as well. With 6 force-sensitive legs and a ground clearance of 6 feet, the robot will be able to walk over broken terrain that varies from mountainous areas, to rubble piles, to water up to 7 or 8 feet deep – everywhere existing ground vehicles can’t go. Not only that, but while navigating such terrain, Stompy could carry 1,000 pounds at 2-3 mph, and up to 4,000 pounds at 1 mph. This is important because in disaster areas like Haiti’s Port Au Prince, it’s taken more than three years to clear the rubble out of some areas – meaning that throughout that entire time, people have had to be rescued or resupplied by helicopter, because no ground vehicle could reach them. Stompy (and the technology it represents) could easily reach people who can’t be reached by any other means in a natural disaster.
What You Get
We’re not your average Kickstarter campaign, so we don’t have your average Kickstarter levels. At a level of support of $100 or below, we’re going to shout your name from the top of the White Mountains, give you a ton of cool swag (designed by local artists Maria Stangel and Ecco Pierce), and list you as a supporter on our website. At the $10 level, that swag includes a bumper sticker proclaiming your desires for your other car:
The $20 level includes a robot apocalypse friendship bracelet that reads ‘FRIEND OF ROBOTS – DO NOT TERMINATE’; wear it to ensure your safety during the upcoming robot revolution! At the $40 level, you get this swanky Robot Evolution supporter T-shirt:
Finally, at the $100 level, we’ll send you a signed photo of the entire team in front of the finished Stompy, giving the camera cheesy thumbs ups! After the swag levels, though, things get…interesting.
At the $200 level, you get to choose between having 10 characters of your choice welded onto our chassis or supplying an inanimate object of your choice for Stompy to crush mercilessly. At the $300 level you get a ride, at the $1,000 level you get to drive, and at the $2,500 to $5,000 level you (or your company) get to be listed as a sponsor. At the $10,000 level we’ll fly you out to Boston for a weekend (if you’re in the lower 48 states – international supporters, call us beforehand!), give you free ice cream and burgers, and take field trips with Stompy to local rubble piles and scrap yards.
Contact us directly if you’re interested in higher levels; $25,000 will get you a Stompy appearance in the lower 48 states once the robot’s done, and $300,000 will get you another Stompy of your very own!
What We’ve Done So Far
Over the past four months, we’ve…
- Developed radically low cost computer controlled hydraulic joint designs
- Designed, built, and successfully controlled a half-scale prototype leg (affectionately known as Gimpy) to test our low cost designs
- Designed a simulation environment with models of hydraulic force and flow to test our robots before we build them
- Got our engine and hydraulic power unit up and running for the full scale robot
- Designed and posted our class presentations as we went
- Designed and ordered parts for a full-scale prototype leg
- Designed 80% of Stompy’s chassis
What We’re Doing Now
Right now we’re building a full-scale prototype leg to make sure our design methodology, actuator sizing, and finite element analysis are all up to snuff before anyone sets foot in the actual robot. Once we establish that, we’ll be finishing the design of our chassis – at the end of our four week Kickstarter campaign, we expect we’ll be ready to press print on our drawings and start cutting and welding steel!
What We’ll Do With The Money
We’re asking for a lot of money, and it’s all going straight into the hardware necessary to build the robot. We estimate that each leg will cost around $6,000, to cover the 350 pounds of waterjet-cut steel, high quality shock absorbers, three hydraulic cylinders, valves, sensors, and what have you. The body of the robot (which accounts for around 1,000 pounds of steel), consumables, electronics, and miscellaneous items like screws and wire make up the balance.
While $65,000 sounds like a lot of money for a project claiming to be low cost, bear in mind that an equivalent robot built with high-end technology could easily cost on the order of a couple of million dollars. As a point of reference, using our technology results in position-controlled hydraulic actuators that can produce 18,000 pounds of force, with strokes up to 2 feet in length… for all of $400 an axis. That’s less than some hobby servos. Most of the cost of this project is in steel and other components.
Once we get the money, we’ll order the thousands of pounds of steel, start the waterjet running at Excell Solutions (our contracted machine shop), and start welding everything together at Artisan’s Asylum. We’re budgeting 8 months to finish the robot, from the initial steel order.
Once we finish the robot, we’ll have a series of demo days and festivals where we give rides, let people drive, stomp things for fun, and more!
What We’ll Do With A Lot Of Money
We have big plans for what will happen if this takes off…
At $95,000, we’ll drop in what we call the “Performance Upgrade”. We’ll integrate a number of new sensors that will let us more accurately detect and respond to rough terrain, allowing for a smooth ride over a much greater variety of terrain. We’ll upgrade our hydraulic powerplant to allow for a higher ground speed. We’ll also add sensors that will allow for some amount of autonomy, for future robot development.
At $125,000, we’re going to install the “Flair Upgrade”. We’ll give Stompy an animatronic head, a killer paint job, a sound system, and (pending a full safety review of the robot once it’s built) flame effects.
At $300,000, we’re going to make this a Really Big Deal. We’re going to buy a waterjet cutter and install it at Artisan’s Asylum for public use, start a company devoted to creating open-source high-end robotic technology, and start developing a zoo’s worth of rideable robots. We’re not even kidding.
Any funding left over from the project will be put in a bank account and reserved for seed funding for future giant robot projects.