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  • You lift yourself up and you start to feel the balance of the machine. Your arms control

  • the outside legs, your legs control the inside legs, but really, you pilot it with your gutAll

  • of a sudden, you realize if you so much as twitch your arm, the whole 9,000 pound machine

  • will move on you and then you realize what you're in for. That's when it gets exciting.

  • We're taking you inside a real-life human-driven mech suit that blurs the lines between science

  • fiction and reality. This mechanical behemoth can lift a car, climb over boulders, and move

  • over all kinds of terrain. It's called Prosthesis. Standing four meters tall and five meters

  • wide, the machine towers over you. And it weighs more than twice your average car. Now,

  • you may think that this technology was clearly built to explore Mars or to be used by the

  • military, but its inventor had other ideas.

  • The thing was built to race. It was built to rip around the countryside.

  • Mech suits, or powered exoskeletons, are typically something you'd see in science-fictionBut

  • mechanical engineer Jonathan Tippett is hoping to change your mind. Mech suits in sci-fi

  • have all had a very specific purpose and it's essentially for combat, which has not been

  • an inspiration for me. This has always been about the human experience.

  • When I started to try and articulate why it was so important to me to built this machine

  • that was human controlled and that required skill and celebrated the pilot inside.

  • It became apparent that what I was creating was a sports machine.

  • That's right, Jonathan wants to race his mechs. But we'll come back to that later.

  • First, let's dig into the origins of Prosthesis. The machine itself started

  • as an art project for Burning Man. I wanted to build a machine that celebrated human skill

  • and augmented it using technology but still kept a human at the heart.

  • 2006 was the first sketch I did of the machine and back then,

  • it was very gorilla shaped. For about five or six years,

  • I just did sketches and CAD and engineering just trying to figure out the mechanics of

  • how to make a machine of that scale. Then around 2010, Jonathan and a team of engineers

  • started building the predecessor to Prosthesis. They called the machine the Alpha Leg

  • First full system functional test!

  • The Alpha Leg was a wild bucking bronco of a machine. It proved the basic concept that you could

  • control an exoskeletal mech suit from inside while you were being hurled around by it and

  • you wouldn't lose control of the thing.

  • Using the Alpha Leg as a jumping off point, Prosthesis

  • was then built over the course of a year. By 2017, it was ready for its worldwide debut

  • at CES. At that point, the thing barely worked. We had a hard time convincing the world that

  • this was going to lead to a racing leagueThe vision we have for mech racing is a giant

  • complex technical obstacle course, and you've got pro level athletes strapped into these

  • super powerful, agile mech suits navigating these obstaclesHowever, the technology

  • was still a long way from Jonathan's vision. So then we went underground and between 2017

  • and 2019, iterated the control system two or three times, made the interface more ergonomic,

  • more comfortable. The result was a 4,000 kilogram, 200 horsepower, all electric, human controlled

  • mech suit built for competitive sport. It's full name is Prosthesis the Anti Robot. We

  • specifically called it that because it's not a robot. A robot, by definition, has some

  • level of autonomy. The goal of this machine is to not automate. This is a mech suit, it's

  • a exoskeleton. Prosthesis is engineered to work like the giant robots and mech suits

  • you might see in movies like Pacific Rim and Avatar. The mech is controlled by a personWithout

  • a human, it can't  go anywhere or do anything. You have to climb onto the top of

  • the machine, there's a small opening in the roof and you snake your way through the exoskeletal

  • interface opening. Once you squeeze your way into the cockpit, all of a sudden you expand

  • out into this body shaped control interface and it suddenly becomes comfortable. The control

  • system picks up the pilot's inputs and amplifies them by about 50 timesYou heard that right. According

  • to Jonathan, the operator's strength is boosted by 50!

  • There's a dashboard in front of the pilot and you power up the pumps. The hydraulic pumps give power to the hydraulic

  • cylinders, which make the machine moveThe machine comes online, and you grip the handgrip

  • and it activates the controls and the machine jolts into life. Your arms control the outside

  • legs, your legs control the inside legs, but really. You just feel it. You practice enough

  • and it just becomes part of you. From there on, it's all up to the pilot's skill to balance

  • the machine and that's where the fun starts. And by fun - he means taking it out to the

  • Mojave desert, or the forests of British Columbia! But that's far from the end goalJonathan

  • wants a full on racing league with trained pilots controlling these massive mech suits.

  • So to realize this dream, he's started to recruit pilots. One of the goals of the Alpha Mech Pilot Program

  • is to start bringing different kinds of people into the sport and putting them in the machine

  • and learning what kind of skills make a good mech pilot. Generally, good body awareness,

  • people who do gymnastics and snowboarding. What we're finding is that it's skill based.

  • It's not strength based, even though it's this huge thing. In addition to new recruits,

  • Jonathan and his team of engineers are already looking ahead to the next phase of development.

  • Now, that we're starting to reach the limits of this machine's potential. The timeline to building

  • the next generation of mechs is a lot shorter than 14 years. We would like to see the next

  • generation of mech come out in the next 12 to 18 months.

  • It will be probably 2/3 the size, half the weight,

  • and twice the power. I think we could probably see that thing doing 15, 20 kilometers an

  • hour. Five, ten years from now, we'll be doing 20, 30 kilometers an hour. While new suits

  • and professional pilots would bring mech racing one step closer to reality, there are some

  • critics. There's been no shortage of skeptics over the years, that's for sure. Usually,

  • when I get met with incredulity or skepticism and people ask me why am I doing this? More

  • often than not, it just spurs me to try harder because if people just shied

  • away from things that people thought were crazy, then there would be no innovationAnd

  • it's this idea of pushing tech and human skill to its limits that could lead to exoskeletons

  • developed for search and rescue missions here on Earth or mechs engineered to explore Mars.

  • Obviously, the core purpose for this is sport but the whole trajectory of building a racing league

  • first gives us an opportunity to incubate that technology in the heat of competitionThe

  • potential for this technology and this sport over the next two to five years is almost limitless.

You lift yourself up and you start to feel the balance of the machine. Your arms control

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Inside the Giant Mech Suit Made for Racing

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/03/21
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