Public link to the codebase, leg fitup

It’s been less than a week since we launched our Kickstarter and we are 72% funded. This is mindblowing! Thank you everyone for donating, for spreading the word, and for believing in us.

We’ve received a couple of requests about the code repository and realized we haven’t ever publicly shared the link. Presently the central repository is a collaborative sandbox and full of experimental code, we will be separating a release branch out soon. In the meantime, the link for the curious is here.

We’ve also had generous offers from remote developers who want to help. Thank you! We’ll be figuring out the right way to incorporate public contributions as we clean up the repository, stay tuned.

Heightmapped terrain is now supported in the simulator. This will let us simulate much more complex and interesting situations than we could previously. Here’s a short demo of what that looks like with Stompy walking blindly forward. The ground is red in honor of the Mars landing.

Continue reading Public link to the codebase, leg fitup

Our Kickstarter is live!

After months in the making, the day of our Kickstarter is finally here! Over the next 30 days we need to raise $65,000 to construct our designs and help take indie robotics to the next level.

So to all of our readers who are ready to see Stompy move out of simulation and into the real world, please spread this link! Because you want to advance open-source robotics. Because you want to see an awesome, giant robot in a world dominated by meat-popsicles. Whatever floats your boat.

Click this. Repost this. Your support means the world to us, please spread the word. Stompy is coming.

Swag Design Contest Winners!

So we just wrapped our Swag Design Contest up, and we’re proud to present the winners. If you read our previous post, you know that we were looking for entries for a Bumper Sticker, Supporter T-Shirt, and Team T-Shirt. These items are destined to become swag offered in our upcoming Kickstarter campaign, coming up next week!

We ended up with 37 submissions in the contest, and the team voted over the course of the past weekend on which designs they liked the best. Without further ado, we give you…


The Bumper Sticker:

Far and away the Internet's favorite hexapod-related slogan, this bumper sticker proudly proclaims your dissatisfaction with common modes of transport.

Continue reading Swag Design Contest Winners!

Improvements in Gimpy Rowing

Dearest Internet,

I’m happy to announce Gimpy’s somewhat spastic composure in his first few videos has been much mellowed by improvements in the controls code. Below you can see Gimpy scooting himself around Building 13 of the Artisan’s Asylum. Remember that Gimpy weighs about 400 lbs, and the battery cart strapped to him adds another 200 lbs.

Continue reading Improvements in Gimpy Rowing

Hilarious giant robot slogans

So we have this swag design contest going right now, ending next Friday, and we’ve had a number of designers mention that they’d love to see some examples of potential slogans. We’ve compiled a couple of our favorites here; feel free to add your own or give us feedback in the comments!

  • Giant Robots: Because life isn’t dangerous enough.
  • My other car has 6 legs.
  • If you have to ask why I build giant robots for fun, you might not like my new best friend/ride.
  • Robots: Man’s other best friend.
  • We build because we can.
  • I build giant robots. If you see me running, try to keep up.
  • Wheels are overrated.
  • Wheels are so Mesopotamian
  • Stompy: Dragging you into the future, 6 feet at a time.
  • Be nice to the robots. They’re bigger than you.
  • Robots: You’re what’s for dinner.
  • Humans: The other white meat.
  • 5 gallons to the mile. Wouldn’t have it any other way.


After months of fabrication, debugging, testing, more fabrication, and yet more debugging, we’re happy to announce that the leg cart rows itself right along! Check this out:

We have full inverse kinematic control of the test leg, and can get it to move the 600-pound cart in a straight line. The only catch, of course, is that we have to wheel the battery cart along behind the robot – hilarious shenanigans ensued. Next time, longer wires…

It’s still a little bit shaky, but we’re calling this good enough for now and moving on to the full-size prototype leg. We’re pretty sure our pistons on the test leg generate maximum forces that result in relatively low accelerations of our legs (the yaw piston produces around 800 pounds of force, to move a 150 pound leg), which is why everything’s so wobbly. We’re also pretty sure that slapping pistons that generate 12,000 to 18,000 pounds of force on 350-pound legs will take most of that wobble RIGHT OUT.

Now, on to the full size leg and Stompy!

Keep an eye out for my next update on how our full-size legs are designed.


Swag Design Contest!

So in case you didn’t know, we’re building Stompy, a 4,000 pound, propane-powered, 6-legged hydraulic walking robot that seats two. We’re about to put out a call to fundraise for the final robot via Kickstarter, and we want to have really awesome stuff to give away. If this doesn’t call for some cool logos, T-shirts and bumper stickers, we don’t know what does.

We, unfortunately, are all engineers, and those particular kinds of design skills have atrophied over the years, if they ever existed.

Thus, we introduce the Project Hexapod Swag Design Contest!

We would like designs for the following:

1. A bumper sticker. This is the reward for the first Kickstarter level, where you declare your undying love for giant robots by vandalizing nearby surfaces with adhesive-backed paper.

2. A supporter T-shirt. This is the shirt you get at one of the low-to-medium Kickstarter levels that screams “A bunch of nutjobs up in Boston have built a giant, life-endangering walking robot, and it’s so amazingly cool I bought this shirt to support them.”

3. A team T-shirt. This is the shirt that the 19 robot builders get to wear to fairs, job interviews, first dates, etc. It has to say “I build giant, life-endangering robots for fun, and if you have to ask why you wouldn’t understand the answer.” We’re looking for a comical front design here; the back would be designed later to include sponsor logos, team member names, and other shout-outs.

For those designs, we are putting up the following prizes:

1. A $100 prize for winning a category (up to $300 for winning all 3)

2. A free ride on the finished Stompy robot

3. If you win all 3 categories, free driver training on the Stompy robot instead of a ride

Both T-shirts are restricted to 4 colors or less so that they can be silkscreened cheaply; the bumper sticker will be digitally printed, and can be whatever colors you want. The supporter T-shirt will be one-sided – you choose whether it’s the front or back. Entrants (except for the bumper sticker) must be capable of producing color-separated files that could be sent to a screenprinter. Upon submitting a design to the contest, you grant Project Hexapod a non-exclusive license to it for the indefinite future.

We would like the swag to be comically self-aware of how large, dangerous, and awesome this project is, all wrapped up into one design. Significant bonus points will be awarded for catchy slogans, cartoonish depictions, and humor. Ideally, a conceptual Stompy would be pictured in part or in whole, in a way that we could make into a logo.

Enter the contest by emailing with the subject line “Swag Design Contest -” followed by “Bumper Sticker”, “Supporter T-Shirt”, or “Team T-Shirt”. Attach your image files to the message, along with any description you think is necessary. In your email, indicate if you are willing to modify the design given feedback or not. Enter as many different designs (in separate emails) as you’d like!

All entries must be received by noon on Friday, July 20th. Entries will be voted on by the Project Hexapod team, and winners will be notified by the following Wednesday.

Here’s some art from our most recent development to spur some creativity:

Gimpy’s First Controlled Movements

Ladies, gentlemen, undecided, and robots,

First I am pleased to announce that the Leg Cart has a name. It is now known as Gimpy.

We have been working hard trying to move Gimpy in a controlled way. “Controlled” here has a specific meaning… we mean we are controlling the joint with electronic feedback through a computer. If you’re new to control theory, the image below should give you an overview of what we’re trying to do.

Overall we are making progress and have demonstrated good closed-loop position control of our joints. We also exposed some system-level problems and snapped an actuator mount…

We have done additional tests since filming the video, but a combination of hardware problems (see our last post about ) has eaten most of our development time.

The knee joint in particular is prone to accumulating air and developing massive levels of uncontrollable backlash. We hypothesize that one of the reasons for this is that the knee actuator is the highest point in our hydraulic system, so when our system is unpowered bubbles will try to rise in to the knee. We are going to experiment with raising the pressure on the return lines and co-locating the knee control valve with the actuator, both of which could help with the air problems.

The whole reason we built the test leg was to learn the ‘gotchas’ of our component selection. These setbacks are expected and welcome, because now we can avoid them on the hexapod proper.

Long live Stompy.

Systems Integration Hell

Hello everyone!

Apologies for the lapse in our updating – we’ve been in three solid weeks of Systems Integration Hell with the Leg Cart, trying to get our hydraulic system to achieve good position control on the hydraulic actuators. Because we’re purposefully developing with really low-end technology, we keep running into components that just don’t cut it – so slowly but surely, as we replace the components that just don’t cut it and upgrade the system, we’re building up a solid hydraulic powerplant. James will post a video of the position control we’ve managed so far a little later, but for now I want to talk about our hydraulic system.

So, this was our first pass at a layout for a low-cost (relatively – it still cost between $1,500 and $2,000 for all the components you see here), prototype hydraulic powerplant:

Our initial prototype hydraulic system

The central idea was to use a giant electric motor to spin up a gear pump while we work on getting our propane powerplant up and running. Because a gear pump displaces a fixed amount of fluid every rotation (and because there’s no guarantee that any pistons are moving while the motor is on), that fluid needs to go somewhere. The standard answer for a low-cost hydraulic system is to insert a relief valve on the pressure line; the relief valve allows pressure to build up to a set point, then the valve opens and dumps any remaining fluid into another set of lines. In this case, we dumped all of our remaining fluid into our return pressure line. Because the line was connected directly to our reservoir, the return fluid was at atmospheric pressure. We used the following components to create this system:

This version of the Leg Cart system didn’t last for too long. The reservoir kept the return pressure at atmospheric pressure, and that meant that the knee cylinder (which was above the oil level in the reservoir) was constantly full of air – we’re talking a couple of inches of piston movement worth of air, at all times. Once we understood exactly how much air was in the lines, we knew we needed to increase the pressure on the return side so that return fluid would force its way through the entire system. We did that by modifying our hydraulic system like this:

First upgrade to the Leg Cart hydraulic system

We added a check valve that had a cracking pressure of 65 psi to the return line, right before the filter. This meant that no return fluid would flow into the reservoir unless the return line was at or above 65 psi. While adding a check valve to increase return line pressure isn’t something I had seen done before, I figured it might work, and would be the cheapest solution.

This system successfully removed a lot (though not all) of the air from our lines. When we ran our joints through their range of motion, they more-or-less bled themselves (with the exception of the problematic knee joint – more on that later) by forcing any air into the return line system after the pistons cycled through their range of motion. Then, however, we ran into a whole other problem… our motor and pump started heating up so much that they couldn’t be touched for longer than a second or two after only very brief runs. In addition, our high pressure started dropping after only a few minutes of runtime. In any hydraulic system, if things are getting really hot really fast, and pressure is dropping in a pressure regulated circuit, something is very wrong.

Let’s take a quick, related detour. One thing I haven’t talked about yet is our electrical system. If you read up on our MT2119 series-wound DC motor, you may have noticed that it can reach around 100 horsepower at peak load. At 12 volts (what we’ve been running it at thus far, to keep total flow down to appropriate levels for a single leg) and 1500 psi, the motor draws over 330 amps. In our first video, you saw us run the whole platform off of two deep cycle batteries; these lasted for less than 10 minutes of total runtime. To give ourselves more runtime, we created… a monstrosity:

The battery cart. (Thanks to Sparr for the photo!)

What you see there are 4 red deep cycle 6-volt batteries, 2 black deep-cycle 12-volt batteries, and 12 SLA motorcycle batteries, all wired together at 12 volts. All told, they represent something like 500 to 600 amp-hours of (relatively) safe electrical capacity. The wires are all sized appropriately, and the only alligator clips that are involved are attached to a 10-amp battery charger.

What we discovered after about a week of having no idea what was going on was that this giant battery pack was capable of providing enough power  to supply 1500 psi when it was fully charged… and then wasn’t able to supply the necessary torque to maintain 1500 psi after about 15 minutes of runtime. This meant that the motor was turning our gear pump, but since the pressure wasn’t high enough to crack our relief valve, the fluid was getting stuck in our dead-end high pressure line and our gear pump was pumping fluid back through its own internal leakage pathways. This turned into a mechanical thermal runaway condition, where the more we pumped, the hotter the pump got, the hotter the trapped fluid got, the thinner the fluid got due to temperature increases, the more fluid the pump pumped, and so on and so forth.

OK. We successfully diagnosed the (incredibly bad) problem – now to do something about it. We tried adjusting the RV-2H Relief Valve we bought, only to realize it was… a total piece of crap. No amount of turning would adjust pressure up or down from the factory setting. We threw it out in disgust and bought ourselves a Parker RPL-16-A, rated for the flow of the final robot and adjustable from 500 to 5,000 psi. It arrived, our tests were much more successful, pressure was maintained at 1,000 psi throughout hours of testing, and the pump stayed cool.

So here’s where we stand now:

  • The system is finally running predictably and relatively cool
  • We believe our pump seals are damaged due to the thermal runaway condition and the fact that the pump reverses dramatically when we shut the system off (because there’s no check valve on its output, and the remaining hydraulic pressure spins it backwards)
  • We believe we’re sucking in air through the damaged pump seals
  • We believe the check valve we used to increase the pressure of the return line is sticking closed and interrupting the return flow, leading to poor position control
  • We’re still noticing significant amounts of  air in the knee actuator, and think it’s due to the fact that we can’t bleed the cylinder well because the hoses running to it are too long (and potentially some damage from installation)

So, all that being considered, we’re upgrading the Leg Cart to the following system:

The latest upgrade to the Leg Cart system

We’re changing the following:

  • We’re swapping in a brand new Prince SP25 gear pump, which has an identical displacement per revolution, mounting plate, spline shaft, direction of spin, and rating as our allegedly damaged Parker pump. This unit has SAE fitting outputs instead of face seal fittings.
  • We’re removing as many NPT and face seal fittings from our supply and pressure lines as we can to decrease the possibility that air is entering through them.
  • We’re adding a low-cracking-pressure check valve immediately after the pressure output of the pump, to prevent pump backspin.
  • We’re adding a low pressure adjustable relief valve to the return line to (hopefully) allow for better flow control on the return side of the system.
  • We’re adding a low pressure dial gauge to the return line to see if there are actually pressure fluctuations, and if they correspond to hiccups in our PID control.
  • We’re moving the knee piston proportional valve to the thigh itself, so that the lines from it to the piston are very short. Hopefully, this will allow the piston to self-bleed much more than before, and hopefully reduce the amount of air trapped in it on a regular basis.

Whew. Fingers crossed that this upgrade solidifies our hydraulic system – it’s been a pretty torturous couple of weeks to get to this point.

Keep an eye out for a post from James with a video and discussion of our latest position control efforts!