December 22, 2004 4:00 AM PST

Giant robots in the backyard

In the back of Carlos Owens' southern Alaska yard, an 18-foot-tall steel robot is taking shape in the dim light of the winter afternoons.

The 26-year-old Owens is an Anchorage-area steelworker by day. In his own time, he's hoping to become the creator of a true "mecha"--not a robot, exactly, but a gigantic exoskeleton that can transform its wearer's motions into eight-foot strides and the devastating sweep of a steel fist.

Sure, it sounds like a cartoon or sci-fi fantasy--but so were moon landings 50 years ago. Owens' mecha project is well on its way to completion, its horned red head and pincher hands towering above its creator under a few inches of snow. He's hoping to finish it in time for a test spin at the local drag racetrack next summer, demolishing a few cars to show off its capabilities.

"This is a concept that's been around for a long time," Owens said in a telephone interview. "But I'm not going to wait for the other guy to come out and make it when I've got the capability to do it myself."

The project is a tinkerer's dream, a homegrown technological mania in the same better-judgment-be-damned spirit as the Homebrew Computer Club that ultimately gave birth to Apple Computer and Silicon Valley's microcomputer industry. In Owens' case, the scale simply happens to be more macro than micro.

He's drawing from an imaginative well that has inspired big corporations and the U.S. military, as well as innumerable video game developers and Hollywood directors over the years. A Japanese manga, or comic book, called "Tetsujin 28-go" was published in the late 1950s featuring the adventures of a giant robot, and was ultimately animated and released in the United States as "Gigantor." Hundreds of Japanese anime cartoons such as "Robotech" or "Mobile Suit Gundam" later featured giant robots, often controlled by human pilots.

"I'm not going to wait for the other guy to come out and make it when I've got the capability to do it myself."
--Carlos Owens, steelworker and mecha creator

It's been a common theme in U.S. science fiction, too, although typically on a more human scale. Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel "Starship Troopers," and the 1997 film made from the book, featured soldiers with powerful exoskeletal armor that dramatically augmented their strength. Sigourney Weaver's character in "Aliens" fights wearing something a little like what Owens is trying to build, and powered armor made a prominent appearance in last year's "Matrix Revolutions."

Efforts to replicate these tools in the real world have been less than successful, however. The U.S. Navy and General Electric collaborated

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49 comments

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This guy is my hero!!!
I don't think he or the Mecha will survive the test run. But he is still my hero.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
ROFL!
Yeah, I think these guys need to get something walking before they start to worry about claws, beludgening weapons and big battle arenas.

Seems that at least one prototype Mecha already exists. Though not as big as the one featured in this article.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Other grassroots exoskeletons missed by article
Nice to see an article that mentions the 'grassroots' feature of robotics - similar to the late 1970s for personal computers. I suspect that by 2015 robots will be "the" tech and cyberspace will be about as interesting as a hi-fi stereo system.

This article does not note a major 'grassroots' exoskeleton effort -- Servo Magazine's (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.servomagazine.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.servomagazine.com</a>) Tetsujin Challenge 2004, which had seven homebrew exoskeletons compete to lift a 1600 pound barbell. Held at Robonexus (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.robonexus.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.robonexus.com</a>) in October 2004. Like Neogentronyx, deeds, not words.

Also, big mechanical monsters have been a staple at racetracks for a while - Robosaurus comes to mind as an example - a dino-like monsterbot that can pick up and crush cars.

Finally, last week Toyota showed up a completely functional, 8-foot tall exoskeleton called the iFoot. The system is probably the heaviest robotic biped to date, at least until Neogentronyx gets their mecha working.
Posted by pindiespace (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Grass roots indeed
Me and my team were at Robonexus, and got to witness it first hand. Great stuff =)

If you think that cnet left robonexus out in the cold, imagine how the MPS Team must feel. This Carlos guy was copying so much stuff off of our website, I finally sent him a notification I was going to start charging him for it.

Nothing like being around for five years and having some guy rip off your idea for free.

Mechanized Propulsion Systems has been around almost 5 years as a backyard project. We were the first and only home-grown mecha project. Maybe this new spat of competition will heat up things on our end?

Competition is good.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Any link to the Toyota iFoot?
Anyone have a link to info and pics of the iFoot mentioned in the previous post?
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Sorry
Sorry but the film DID NOT have the exoskeletons because of budget constraints. The movie sucked BTW, as compared to the book.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ahhh, thats so sweet
this sounds all heroic and stuff, until you realize that mps
(www.mechaps.com) has been brainstorming, designing and
building such a thing for the past 5 years
Posted by Michael.Kingery (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah Right!
I suppose you'd know this for sure beause....?
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
not mobile suit gundam . . .
that picture claims to be from Mobile Suit Gundam, but it is actualy from a newer (early 1990's) series, G Gundam, just sayin' you should change it . . .


Theo Lane
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This is Carlos Owens Please see the Grassroots posting section
I am sure that you the public will find it most interesting, especially when you see what Earle Bishop of MPS wrote.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wow...New Hope..New Danger
Hello....
My first thought was.."Wow..that's great" but at the 2nd sight...it's a very bad idea. Why?
"Think of a couple of guys who juist want to go out on street to say "Hey Mr. President ( a Leader of a Staate....maybe Japan..USA..Germany.what you like)
You are a ******* IDIOT. GO AWAY!"
And a few moments later 3 of these steel monsters come around. Armend with guns or something. I don't like these picture. I'm afraid of it...
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
:)
Perhaps it would not be smart to do stuff like that then? :D

I for one do not want to be flattened by a Mecha foot.
Posted by Sboston (498 comments )
Link Flag
Only in the movies
I understand your concern, bu your more likely to be struck by lighnting than assasinated by a mecha weilding maniac with intentions of harming anyone. It would be impossible to not know they were coming as their size, and weight would make for some fairly obvious signs of an approach in a public or crouded area. In fact it would be like sending a Tank to do a sniper mission. So don't worry about such things, as they are merely speculation and imagination gone wild. Too many sci fi movies can be a bad thing.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New Hope..new Danger
Hmm..maybe you are right. But today, where W.Bush and other stupid and arrogant guy's are in charge...
I do not trust them as far I can see them..sorry guys but that's my point of view.
But I hope you are right..
farewell and greetings from Germany
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Would Like an Audience With You.
Carlos,

I recently saw your article in the Heartland
News Paper. I am intrigued by the potential
for the Mechanized Robotic Exoskeleton
Machines for their usefullness in loading
Cargo and maintaining Extra Large Air and
Space Craft. If you would like to get together to
discuss this matter further please contact me
at the following address. Please submit a
Resume and Educational Transcripts, and / or
Experiential background to the address as
well. Thanks.
3rd Millennium Productions
Mr. Klinton Chace
401 7th Avenue, #210, Fairbanks, AK 99701
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hosting a Competition
I also am interested in Hosting a Competition
between Persons and Organizations who
have built Mechanized Robotic Exoskeleton
Machines (MREM's) but am not completely
convinced that there are enough finished
models to be entered into the competition. If
the issue of Patenting the models are in the
way I can help each party individually patent
their own Product Model before they go public.
This will protect each party from sttealing each
others current models. However, at the time
of the competition each party will not be barred
from learning what new developments they
will need to over come the newly developed
MREM's in the next competition.

Also, a state of proffessionalism must exist, in
these competitions. I will be back in about two
weeks to view these posts and would like to
see proffessionalism mixed with healthy
competition.

3rd Millennium Productions
Mr. Klinton Chace
401 7th Avenue, #210
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NM-21 AND RK-101 R 2 MOBIL SUITS....
i dont know who all reades these but my cuz and i are working on 2 fully working mobil suits they will work off the movement of your body using ....... well never mind but they work and well...
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
very interested.
Carlos, I am very interested. However, after our last
conversation I was led to believe that you did not want
further contact with me. I am still interested. So I
decided to not pursue it further. I still own and am
building my business and am now working for another
business at:
Pacific Industrial &#38; Engineering, Inc.
Mr. Klinton L. Chace
Producer, Director
FInancial Coordinator
Project / Program / Bid Development
Apprentiship Programs
Budget Analyst
3202 Industrial Avenue
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Fax: 1-907-456-9897 or
Fax: 1-907-456-3805
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Starship Troopers did NOT have the 'exoskeletal armor'!
Oh, come on! Don't the writers of these stories realize that people who read them have some knowledge of what they're talking about? In the article, John Borland says that:

"Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel "Starship Troopers," and the 1997 film made from the book, featured soldiers with powerful exoskeletal armor that dramatically augmented their strength."

There was no 'exoskeletal armor' in the movie. In fact, the soldiers of the mobile infantry in the movie had very little armor at all, and had almost no protection (I don't count the modern version of the old 'steel pot' as much protection, either). In the book Starship Troopers, the mobile infantry had powered suits that didn't just enhance their strength, but also allowed them to hop around with powered joints and low-powered jets. Not powerful enough to give them the ability to reach escape velocity from a planet, but it let them hop from one area to another, like in a city, which made them a much more difficult target to hit. As the saying goes, "if you can be hit, you can be killed." If you're a constantly moving and small target, it's going to be difficult to shoot you. The suits also had radio gear in them with multi-channels for those of higher ranks, so they didn't rely on a single radio operator like the movie had which reminded me of the old World War II (the second so-called 'war to end all wars') movies. The 'grunts' only got the one, while the guys with more stripes got an extra one, and the officers still one more.

I'd go into detail about how many ways the movie deviated from the book (the most obvious are the lack of armored suits and the lack of good military tactics) but I won't. Perhaps the person who made the movie had little or no military training or wanted to poke fun at the society Heinlein showed us in the book. Heinlein, on the other hand, DID spend some time in the military.

Starship Troopers was an interesting book by Robert A. Heinlein, but I think I prefered The Moon is a Harsh Mistress more.

Rambling again, aren't I? LOL

- CyberWoLfman
Posted by CyberWoLfman (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let Me Know
I go to a University in Michigan, and i was thinking about starting research on the exact same thing, when i came across your idea. Let me know if there is anything i can do. This was somthing i wanted to do for a while, and i just lately put my ideas onto paper... get back at me..
Posted by Fuel4Blood10 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
megas xlr (giant robot)
i am 10years old and iwant to make a giant robot
Posted by mortg (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
megas xlr (giant robot)
i am 10years old and iwant to make a giant robot
Posted by mortg (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
megas xlr (giant robot)
i am 10years old and iwant to make a giant robot
Posted by mortg (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
giant robots in the backyard
i am 10years old and iwant to make a giant robot
Posted by mortg (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
giant robots in the backyard
i am 10years old and iwant to make a giant robot
Posted by mortg (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
giant robots in the backyard
i am 10years old and iwant to make a giant robot
Posted by mortg (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Owen i would like to talk to you my name is Sean
Please email me at cool_maza@yahoo.com I've had the same idea as you for a much longer time, well not the same but different. I would like to discuss a few things with you, I am a steel worker to. But please contact me.... Sincerely Sean A. Gray
Posted by Stizzem (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
OWENS IS 18FEET AN MINE IS 6 FEET0.1IN
IVE BUILT ONE IN THE SAME AN HAS CONTACTED OWENS he,s truly a good guy in this wonderful world of enginer,s my names is jerome williams e-mail me also at jerome0275@live.com or jerome.williams85@yahoo.com no pictures yetim seeding carlos a few.
Posted by DEROME WILLIAMS (3 comments )
Link Flag
Carlos would like to hear from you
Hey Sean,

My name is Will Wright. I noticed you posted a message to Carlos Owens with interest of this Mech Project. I also have tried contacting him before but it is most difficult. I would like to tell you, I also have been working on a similar project. I have designed and built a few smaller versions. I am starting a company soon and I am looking for hopeful and positive people to work on these ideas (together). I am still looking to contact Carlos but maybe if we work together, we can get his attention. I really look forward to hearing from you. You are not alone, it is possible.
Posted by willwright82 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey carlos and anyone who is interested
Hey Sean,

My name is Will Wright. I noticed you posted a message to Carlos Owens with interest of this Mech Project. I also have tried contacting him before but it is most difficult. I would like to tell you, I also have been working on a similar project. I have designed and built a few smaller versions. I am starting a company soon and I am looking for hopeful and positive people to work on these ideas (together). I am still looking to contact Carlos but maybe if we work together, we can get his attention. I really look forward to hearing from you. You are not alone, it is possible.
willwright82@GMAIL.COM
Posted by willwright82 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Intriguing
carlos owen claims that his first prototype (the NMX04-1A) was built using $250,000. if thats true, then this will be extremely affordable. i have some questions on the cooling systems and joint layouts, as well as to how well it walks. ive seen the video on youtube showing this thing "walking" but it was more like it took one step then malfuntioned. i saw that you were trying to move the right leg agian but it wouldnt react. i wonder why that happened. the arms seemed fully funtional when the legs gave out.

and i give you props for adding flamethrowers to it. but i also have questions about how smoothly it moves, not just the legs, but the arms as well. how sesitive is it that it reacts to your movement. how much computer work is in it. also in the video and numerous pictures that are out on the web, we see many exposed wires and cables. isnt that dangerous in any way?

i read about how you want this to go under water as well. another interesting idea. an anphibious mech. but in what ways do you plan on sealing off all the electrical parts? and i saw the...cockpit is completely exposing the pilot. that just wont do if you want it to be anphibious. your going to have to seal off the pilots cockpit, and add an air tank or two to it. as well as other saftey features. then agian i suppose i shouldnt open my mouth. after all, im hypothesising with the prototype after all. you could make an entirely different prototype to be anphibious.

i asked about the exposed wiring just a little while ago and it brings up further questions, it may seem unrelated but i was thinking of the armour. do you plan on just putting the cables and wiring inside the armour casing or does it have to remain exposed? i know that you are in the developmental stage of armour, your webpage explains that, but it doesnt explain armour for the pilot. as far as i see it, the pilot is still completely exposed.

now i dont know every thing there is to know about robotics,and i dont know a whole lot on them niether, but the way i do see it is if this thing falls over, the pilot could be in trouble.

i dont mean to be a critic. in fact queite the oposite. rather, ideas as to what to work on in the future. this project is so intriguing, that i will make this my career. these mechs will bring a shining future, or a destroyed one. its up to us i suppose.

well if there is anyone who would like to contact me , my name is Thomas sloan and my email is darkdragon9767@yahoo.com
i would love to get into the field of massive battle robotics. but i am at a tender age right now (16) but im smart for my age. i plan on joining the military and going to college to get a head start. im already gathering as much information as i can on robotics to get an early start. well if your interested in me, email me.

BEST OF LUCK CARLOS, -sincerly- an aspiring youth, Thomas Sloan.
Posted by MAKO ENERGY (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
controdiction and correction
Im sorry, $25,000, NOT 250,000. however with a budget of 250,000 im sure you go MUCH farther with your research and construction.

you say in many sites that the prototype NMX04-1A has 20 hydroclics. and a possible 46 movements. can you create a viedeo of multiple angles, showing them 46 movements? it might make it easier to draft up more idea's on what to improve, and hopefully bring that number of possible m ovements up.
through further research and browsing the internet, ive learned that my question on the cockpit being exposed was answered, but it brings up more questions. ^.^; sorry for being so bothersome if I am at all. i have many questions, but thats just because im curious and interested very highly. i am devoted to this being my career.

ok....what kind of other controls do you plan on putting inside of the NMX04-A2? and wher do you plan on putting it? i mean, how much space is inside of the NMX04-A1? how much space will the tech alone take up iside of the cockpit? its going to have to be all shock resistent. one slip, mech falls down, tech short ciruits. no good. i heared that you were putting shock absorbers in the legs at least.
speaking of the legs i also heared that you were planing on putting engines on both the legs and the arms. what size engines do you plan on putting on them? you say theres enouph room, but im not so sure. it might make it awkward to use.

i heared your selling the NMX04-A1 on ebay for $40,000. thats too bad, but i suppose you have too. hopefully though, you wont have to sell the second one.
well as im short of time i'll end this now.

best of luck carlo, -sincerly- an aspiring youth Thomas Sloan.
Posted by MAKO ENERGY (6 comments )
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