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Where Jules Verne Meets Star Wars: GE's Walking Truck 57

An anonymous reader writes "This July 4th weekend, millions of Americans will head to the air-conditioned confines of their local multiplex to take in Harry Potter, Captain America and other summer blockbusters. A military relic that foreshadowed a sci-fi vehicle featured in perhaps the most popular summer movie of all time – Star Wars – is on exhibit at the U.S. Army Transportation Musem at Fort Eustis: GE's Pedipulator, or 'Walking Truck,' developed for the U.S. Army in the mid-'60s. GE's quadroped was first imagined and lumbered through its testing paces in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, starting in 1962, 15 years before George Lucas's AT-AT walkers debuted on the big screen."
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Where Jules Verne Meets Star Wars: GE's Walking Truck

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  • Apparently all these moviegoers are in another dimension, as neither Harry Potter nor Captain America will be in theaters in ours this July 4th weekend...
  • ugh.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2011 @03:07PM (#36587694)

    Turn in your nerd card subby. AT-ATs debuted in The Empire Strikes Back - 1980. That would be 18 years after 1962.

  • The "walking trucks" (AT-ATs) didn't appear until Empire Strikes Back, right?

    • Oh don't worry. Lucas is working on correcting your memory. In the next edition you will see scout AT-AT's scouring the jundland wastes for the droids.

  • It would be interesting to see this project restarted with the tremendous advances in computing. The application of artificial intelligence could help alleviate many of the problems GE had with the constant manipulation of complex controls, particularly for traversing terrain.
    • Better yet, skip the four legs and go straight to bipedal motion. I want my own mechwarrior damnit!
    • Well, yes, it has restarted. Not for transporting people, but walking robots for transport duty in rough terrain are coming up quite nicely. See Big Dog [], for example.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      yes yes it has been done recently:

      The issue with hydralics other than how slow these things are it would be insanely loud. There would be no mystery to where these things are opperating.

  • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @03:13PM (#36587754)
    I found a video of the contraption that is shown in one of the pictures of TFA here []. Conspicuously, it only shows a daring engineer rocking back and forth in the cockpit, while never showing the legs of the thing actually moving. Would be great if anyone could dig up more video of this. Needs more brass wheels and handles to qualify for proper steampunk, though.
  • These types of walkers might be practical. Unmanned robotic vehicles able to walk up steps and open doors might be the next "drone". Smaller versions could search homes of suspected terrorists without fear of getting blown up.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @03:22PM (#36587808) Homepage

    That's a well-known early development in walking machines. Technically it's closer to being an exoskeleton than a robot. It's slaved to the limbs of the guy inside, and is dependent on his balance reflexes. That didn't work out too well.

    It took a long time to get legged machines to work well. Most early work was about gait and foot coordination. It turns out that balance is more important than gait, and slip control is more important than balance. It finally all came together with BigDog. (BigDog demonstrates that the technology was finally far enough along that throwing $20 million at the problem was a win. Money alone is not enough; see the Flight Telerobotic Servicer [], on which NASA blew over $200 million in the late 1980s. DARPA also funded a 6-legged walking truck [] in the 1980s, but it never got beyond a slow walk on easy terrain.)

    The GE walker dates from an era when American industry tried to push the state of the art with ambitious internal research projects. That's rare in the US today. But in Germany, there's Festo []. Every year, Festo does an impressive robotics project. [] They've done a flexible manta ray which swims through water; it's highly maneuverable and moves and looks like a real manta ray. Most recently, they built a robot bird, which flies around gracefully and under good control.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      I remember seeing a four legged running robot on Nova. It to a VAX to control it. At the time I thought "well that is useless it takes a freaking VAX". Well now that I have the power of many VAXen in my cell phone it doesn't seem that bad of an idea at all.
      We have so much computing power in our hands that things like this are getting much easier. Of course I do not think we will ever see Mechs for the simple reason that a tank is a much smaller target and can probably be better armored.

      • The idea of mechs is that they go where tanks don't. This could theoretically be possible for a stable walker with 4+ legs. As it is we have different grades of tank; if heavier armor were all that mattered they'd all be MBTs. Probably not going to have humanoid combat robots any time soon, though. Powered armor is substantially more likely.

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          Powered Armor is actually more likely. I do agree with you on that one. Today anything but MBTs are really rare. You have a few light tanks but mostly you have MBTs. The issue with Mechs is they tend to be tall and the goal with tanks is to be as low as possible so they are hard to see. Even a four leg walker is going to be pretty tall. Thing is that wheels are actually more efficient over flat terrain. Legs work well on very rocky. Thing is that any Mech is going to be a great target for an AH-64, A-10, an

          • by hitmark ( 640295 )

            I wonder if urban will be the battleground of choice of these things. Tanks seems to have a real problem with urban areas.

            • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

              Tanks and Armor in general do best in an open plain they are really optimized for that. If are are going to try an build armor for an urban environment you would make very different trade offs. For one thing speed probably wouldn't matter as much since you are not likely to need to go 50 MPH. Armor would be the big factor. You would want heavy protection on top and all sides. You will probably not need a 120MM gun since odds are that you are not going to engage other tanks at long distances. Again a walker

          • I would argue a drone IS a mech, doesn't matter if the operator is inside or far away in some comfy air conditioned room.
      • Agreed, I think Mech-Suits/Dreadnought (40k, hell yea) will exist only as a nerdy graduate students final project. The cooler they are, the less practical they seem.
  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @03:24PM (#36587852) Homepage

    Check out this robo-mule. It runs of a two-stroke engine and can withstand a kick to the side. The way in which it corrects itself in realtime is no different than that of a real animal. In fact, the motion is kinda creepy. A four legged headless beast. []

  • Eighteen years before, not fifteen. AT-ATs didn't show up until The Empire Strikes Back, in 1980.

    • But Lucas had obviously planned for the AT-ATs already in 1977, just like he always planned on making the prequels so they could be viewed in episodic order in such a way that this would ruin every surprise in the 'later' 3 movies.

  • Commercial example of this technology here []
  • by demonbug ( 309515 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:50PM (#36588870) Journal

    This July 4th weekend, millions of Americans will head to the air-conditioned confines of their local multiplex to take in Harry Potter, Captain America

    Sounds good. I'm curious to see how they combined the fantasy wizardry of Harry Potter with the comic book antics of Captain America. I'm also curious to see whether they will address the back story - obviously there must be quite an interesting tale of how Harry abandoned his homeland and became a symbol of American values.

    Or maybe I should learn to read ;)

  • Dragline excavators have been available in walking models since engineer Oscar Martinson put a Monighan dragline crane on his invention, the Martinson Walker in 1913. Type "walking dragline" into youtube and watch those bad boys boogie in slow-mo!
  • The AT-ATs are awesome machines, though they did not debut on the big screen in 1977. They first appeared in 1980, in The Empire Strikes Back.

  • In 1958 GE made a full-body exoskeleton called (no kidding) Iron Man. It was capable of picking up refrigerators! To quote Hizook []:

    Ralph Mosher, an engineer working for General Electric in the 1950s, developed a robotic exoskeleton called Hardiman. The mechanical suit, consisting of powered arms and legs, could give him superhuman strength. Mosher subsequently made a simpler version that permitted him to sit in his chair and pick up refrigerators.

    • Bah! The exoskeleton wasn't "called" Iron Man... I meant to say "akin to" Iron Man. The early force / torque control that they developed strongly reminds me of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Incidentally, GE's Hardiman actually predated that novel!
  • At 1997 John Deere developed Plusjack [] in a venture Plustech [].

    Unfortunately, it was too slow compared to wheeled counterpart even if it made very little damage to forest floor. But for very sensitive environments a man and a horse are more efficient considering the cost of the harvester. Only 3 units were build, one is at display at Lusto forest museum [].

    A competitor, owner of Ponsse, Einari Vidgren was claimed to say: "If they make walking harvester, we make a running one".

  • Hey, how about that badass walking rocket launcher the aliens had.

    Pretty realistic looking if you ask me. []

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!