James Whong, Dan Cody and I started talking about building a giant, rideable robot in October of 2011. The three of us had always wanted to build robots large enough to ride since we started building robots, and finally decided that we had the ability to act on our desires with the facilities available at Artisan’s Asylum. We fleshed out the systems design enough to roughly know how much the project would cost, and designed a way for us to be able to create the robot in a reasonable amount of time; first, we would teach a class on large-scale robotics at Artisan’s Asylum. We would then use class fees to pay for the initial robot prototypes, take the prototypes to Kickstarter, and raise money for the actual build of the final vehicle.
We announced our intentions to the world by offering a class called Robotics Intensive: Rideable Hexapod at Artisan’s Asylum; the class sold out within 12 hours of our announcement, despite the $750 price tag. We assembled a team of 15 people who ranged in experience from complete novices in design and fabrication, to professional programmers and electrical engineers. Over the course of the next 4 months, we combined lectures, design exercises, hydraulic system assembly, and steel fabrication into an incredibly intense teaching and design process. In the end, we produced simulations of an individual leg and a full robot, we created a half-scale hydraulic leg and power system, and came up with the prototype design for a full-scale leg.
The Robotics Intensive as a class proved to be difficult to manage in a couple of major ways. First and foremost, there was always tension between our roles as both project managers and instructors; sometimes, we simply had to do the design and fabrication work ourselves, in order to keep the project moving in a timely fashion. In addition, balancing the educational requirements of students with vastly different backgrounds and experiences was incredibly difficult; often, students would be working on collaborative exercises where one set of students would have just learned Python for the first time that class, and another set of students would program in Python professionally in their day jobs. In general, the students learned a ton about a variety of different subjects, and we as instructors learned a ton; if I had to do it again, I’d drastically change the scope of the project to be able to be accomplished in the time allowed, and make sure incoming students had similar skill sets and experience levels.