ATLAS was created to help the world recover from natural disasters by creating technologies that radically increase the capabilities of first responders.
In the 20th century alone, natural disasters caused over 7 trillion dollars in damage and claimed over 8 million lives. Due to climate change, the next 100 years are likely to produce an increase in extreme weather events the likes of which the world has never seen before. Thanks to new breakthroughs in computers, hydraulics, and other key technologies, we finally have the ability to minimize the impact of disasters and save lives by creating a walking vehicle.
Provide a vehicle capable of carrying a substantial payload over obstacles and rough terrain that would otherwise be unreachable by wheeled or tracked vehicles.
Increase reliability by reducing field vehicle maintenance and repair needs. Accomplished through a simplistic vehicle design using a hybrid electric power train coupled with electro-hydrostatic actuators.
Maximizes vehicle performance by using advancements in technology while maintaining affordability with costs of ownership on par with current heavy equipment.
Increase safety and ease of vehicle operation, by using software and embedded computing to coordinate the vehicle's leg movements. An intuitive operator interface allows for ATLAS to be controlled on board or remotely
“Science is about what is, Engineering is about what can be."
-Theodore von karman
When I was six, I watched a movie called Robot Jox. The plot centers around the concept of giant walking robots, piloted by human operators that battle to the death to solve the world's political problems. Looking back now, I realize that the plot may have been a little thin, but that didn't matter to my six year old brain. I was absolutely captivated by the idea of giant, piloted walking machines. I watched another film several years later called Robot Wars, that particularly intrigued me because the main robot character was actually a large robotic scorpion with a laser in the tail. Fast forward twenty years, and I had a degree in mechanical engineering, coupled with some actual engineering experience under my belt, I began to wonder about the large, walking robots from my youth. I began to do some basic research on the internet, and what I found surprised me: full size walking machines were very much real, and had attracted considerable interested from industry and academia for over 50 years.
Like many people, I had watched Hurricane Katrina devastate the gulf coast in 2005 as well as hurricane Sandy in 2012 which flooded the eastern seaboard. I watched on the news as various federal and local agencies, as well as volunteers walked and waded through the disaster areas, usually on foot or on small boats. Watching the images on the nightly news made me realize that a large scale walking machine could help these people carry much needed supplies to victims who were without food, water, or medicine. Further research led me to realize that the world experiences natural disasters on an alarmingly regular basis, and I realized that a legged vehicle could be supremely useful to help civilization recover from these occurences.
My engineering intuition told me that a large scale walking machine would most likely have to be hydraulically actuated, and my research into previous designs showed this to be true. Based off of my research, I set about performing my own paper design of a hydraulically driven hexapod walking machine. When I ran through the numbers, I found very quickly that it was very difficult to design a walking machine with a meaningful payload. All the examples of prior art that I could find had small payload capacities, and all of them used the same system level architecture: a central motor driving a hydraulic pump with a series of valves throttling pressurized fluid through a series of hoses and tubing to hydraulic cylinders. This is the same approach that has been used in mobile hydraulic equipment for almost 100 years, and it works very well, with one small drawback: weight.
A walking vehicle is more like an aircraft than a tractor in the fact that the legs must provide locomotion as well as carry the weight of the machine and the payload. In this respect, my experience in the aerospace industry proved invaluable. I realized that in order for a walking vehicle to carry a meaningful payload and be reliable enough for commercial operation (as well as not be too expensive), a distributed hydraulic system was needed. The math said that a machine could be built utilizing a new powertrain layout that would finally address the shortcomings of all previous walking machines for the past 50 years. Encouraged by my findings, I took the money I had saved from working as an engineer, borrowed some more from my father, and enlisted the electrical engineering and programming skills of my good friend and set about to build a prototype machine at a meaningful scale. The results of that effort culminated in a utility patent (US Patent 9,222,493) as well as the prototype ATLAS featured here on this website.
-Brian Riskas, Design Engineer and Creator of ATLAS