A Glimpse at the Past: The Military’s First Quadruped
By James Mulroy
What’s 11 feet tall, walks on 4 legs and drinks gasoline? That’s easy–it’s General Electrics’ first quadruped war machine!
Development first began in 1962 at the General Electric Ordnance Department in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as part of a study for the US Army to build manned walking machine to get through rough terrain that other vehicles can’t; it was called the “Pedipulator“. In 1965, impressed by the results of the study, the Department of Defense asked GE to build the Pedipulator, and GE soon had a working model. That’s right, folks: GE and the military had a working quadruped before George Lucas even dreamed up the AT-AT walker (the first drafts of the Star Wars screenplay were written in 1973).
The quadruped was supposed to be designed to have 12-foot legs and to walk at a speed of 35 miles per hour. The operator, a fleshy human, was directly in charge of the machines movement–no microcontroller interface needed. By making movements with their own human limbs, the operator would tell the robot which limbs to move through the use of hydraulics. The Pedipulator was to be built large enough to contain not just the operator but also circuits, servos, and of course power units (gas tanks–this thing eats gas, right?) Check out Cyberneticzoo.com, a history of cybernetic animals and early robots, to get the full details.
While it’s no AT-AT walker (and I don’t see any laser cannons shooting from it), it’s definitely awesome to think that the US actually had a working quadruped back in the 1960s. The project was cut due to funding, but you can just imagine where the quadruped technology would be today–almost 50 years after its inception–had development continued.