Watching Star Wars as a seven-year-old has inspired a British engineer to create a two-tonne robot that has walked into the record books.
Matt Denton, from Hampshire (UK) has now built the Largest rideable hexapod robot, which measures 2.8 m x 5 m (9 ft 2 in x 16 ft 4 in) and weighs almost two tonnes.
Seeing the four-legged AT-AT robots in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back struck a chord with the young Matt who has seen his animatronics career come full circle; from building small models at home he’s gone on to work on Harry Potter and, appropriately, Star Wars while his hexapod has made it into Guinness World Records 2019.
The hexapod robot, called Mantis, can be driven from inside its cockpit or operated remotely by Wi-Fi, and its 1.9 tonnes (4,188 lb) of bulk is powered by a 2.2-litre Perkins turbo diesel engine, allowing it to walk at a top speed of just over 1 km/hr (0.6 mph).
It boasts 18 degrees of freedom via two three-axis joysticks and 28 buttons, and has a Linux PC as its 'brain'.
The Linux PC uses HexEngine software to control the movements each leg; the unit receives commands from the hexapod’s Operator Interface and sends feedback.
Building of the hexapod robot begun back in 2009 after Matt had built more than 20 smaller hexapod machines with various shapes and made from different materials. Most were fewer than 50 cm (1 ft 7.6 in) in diameter.
His expertise with hexapods saw Matt go on to work with animatronics engineer Joshua Lee on the Harry Potter films, where one of his hexapods was turned into a six-legged tortoise!
Matt then received investment to build a 200-tonne [440,925-lb] hexapod for underwater use.
He produced the current 1.9-tonne version to “road test” the problems he'd face with the 200-tonne version.
But scaling up from machines a foot or so across to 9 ft was no easy feat.
Mantis has taken three years to build and is continuously being upgraded. Indeed, this is the second version of Matt’s efforts, the MK II.
The previous MK I model (a year-and-a-half in the making) had mechanical problems, particularly issues with the hydraulic systems, as soon as it stood up.
Producing hydraulics systems for a machine of that size was one of the biggest challenges Matt faced.
"I had very little experience with hydraulics, but had to figure out how the engine, hydraulic pump and tank would work together," Matt explained.
Just think: a JCB digger has one arm, but Mantis has six, meaning six times the flow and six times the cooling capacity.
"I had to become an expert in multiple areas, so I spent a lot of evenings reading!"
Matt’s inspiration for building walking machines came after he went to the cinema to see Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (USA, 1980) when he was seven.
He was amazed by the four-legged AT-AT robots.
Throughout his childhood Matt had a love of creating and building machines.
"When I got to the age of 13, I was always taking them apart and rebuilding the and making Frankenstein toys out of two things, trying to make them faster or better or bigger!"
Matt also credits LEGO® for nurturing his creative curiosity as a child: "LEGO Technic sets fired up my imagination as a child. I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now without them."
After school, he began an electronics apprenticeship, which eventually led to him working on TV show Space Precinct, creating software for robotic machinery as well as at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
Matt’s dreams then came full circle after he was chosen to work on Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, and later won an award for his work on the BB8 robot.
"My younger self, there is no way that they could believe it, that I would end up working on a film and building a giant walking machine!
"It's amazing to be in the Guinness World Records book - it's fascinating! To have that title is fantastic."
Always looking for a new and exciting project, Matt is now harking back to his childhood love of LEGO® Technic by printing giant LEGO® kits using a 3D printer, which was lent to him by his friend and fellow record-holder James Bruton (James holds the record for Tallest 3D-printed sculpture of a human).
So far he has built a go-kart (98 pieces), a fork-lift truck (216 pieces) and a bulldozer (372 pieces - and 600 hr of 3D printing!).