In 2007, Matt Denton stopped on the side of the road near his home in Hampshire, England, to watch an excavator dig. The machines had fascinated him since childhood, but after years of designing control systems for animatronic Hollywood creatures, Denton saw the shovel-tipped boom through a more imaginative lens. “It was effectively the shape of a leg,” he says. “So I started to wonder: Would it be possible to buy six of them and attach them to a chassis?” Four years later, Denton can lumber around in a two-ton, nine-foot-tall robo-walker he calls the Mantis.
Denton, who helped engineer the hippogriff (an eagle-headed flying horse) in the Harry Potter films, had also built walking hexapods for the movies and for fun, but they were no bigger than a radio-controlled toy car. He wanted the Mantis to be the size of an SUV. Unable to afford the project alone, he sketched out a design, used toy excavator arms to construct a scale model, and courted financial backers with the mock-up. No one bit. A few months later, a friend’s wealthy father heard about Denton’s quixotic mission and, inspired by his vision, agreed to bankroll it.
This may not seem practical right now, but I assure you it's pretty amazing. Robotics has come a long way over the past decade. Although this particular vehicle doesn't do anything ground-breaking, it's proving that we can on larger scales use multi-legged robotics with fairly efficient results.
Balancing on two or even four legs takes a lot of coordination and engineering. Being able to function efficiently on six legs creates a stable base and increased mobility.