Metro Diverse Services is a 3-person team specializing in unique fabrication projects for monumental art and architectural and landscape decoration. They were one of two mechanical spiders featured at this year’s Vancouver Mini Maker Faire in June, the other being the Mondo Spider, built by eatART Foundation. Learn more about this walking sculpture known as Panterragaffe in the interview below, and check out the video if you want to see it work its magic!
1. What exactly is a Panterragaffe, and how did you guys come up with the name?
Based on Theo Jansen‘s Kinetic art, Panterragaffe is a pedal powered two person walking machine, a walking bicycle. The name has a few elements to it. It’s a play on pantograph, which is a mechanism for copying drawings, since it’s similar to the leg mechanism. Also; Pan – all or spanning. Terra – earth. Gaffe – an unintentional act causing embarrassment to it’s originator or just goofiness. A bit of goofiness for everybody. To most people the name doesn’t mean anything, therefore its meaning is flexible.
2. Do you have any previous experience building things?
We make our living from designing, building and fabricating. All of us have hands on experience in our backgrounds, from construction and manufacturing to sculpture, jewelry, and photography. We also have virtually every skill set covered from software and coding to welding and metal casting. It’s shorter to say we’ve never laid bricks, but we know we could.
3. How did you know that you would be able to make a structure like Panterragaffe, and what was the driving force behind it?
None of us are the “let’s ask for permission” types. Our biggest problem isn’t deciding what we can do, it’s having the time to do all the things we know we CAN do. Panterragaffe was conceived from the beginning as a public exhibition piece. It’s purpose had shock value and public participation in mind from the start. After building a seven inch prototype, it was clear that a mobile entertainment platform was possible. It was only a small step after that to decide to add a power source, music and lighting to suit events. The rough frame allows us to add character coverings, Panterragaffe can dress up differently ever time it goes out. Hence the flexible name.
4. How does it work? I mean, I understand that it’s pedal-powered, but it looks as though there are some pretty advanced mechanics going on there. How does each leg know how to go forwards or backwards at a given time?
The legs are based on a mechanism made popular by the kinetic sculptures off Theo Jansen in Holland. We didn’t have access to drawings, so it took us 13 months of spare time and 3 iterations to reverse engineer them. There are two leg boxes containing three pairs of legs each, spanned by a bench for two pedalers. Three pairs of legs are required to ensure there are enough points of contact with the ground for stability. Each side is driven by a crank shaft, which is in turn driven by pedals and one of the riders. There are two leg boxes and peddlers to allow steering. Similar to a skid-steer loader, one person stops pedaling while the other keeps going and you turn a corner. The feet are heavy steel cups that are allowed to spin something like casters, helping to reduce the friction on corners.
In this configuration it requires smooth hard ground, but we’re working on a modification to the mechanism to pick the feet up higher with each step. We should then be able to walk on grass and slightly irregular ground.
5. Can you talk a bit about construction? I assume there was some welding involved, is that right? Do you have anything to add that would pique the interest of the technically-inclined?
It’s made entire of mild steel, with ball bearing joints and pivots. The bench and two leg boxes are three separate pieces, held together with hitch pins for easy transport. It weighs nearly 700 pounds loaded without passengers.
The legs are only 1/2 inch square tubing with 1/16 inch wall thickness. This material bends very easily, but with careful leg design we were able to use this extremely small tubing to reduce weight and present a lighter appearance.
It’s very common for new Makers to over build. There are lots of monstrously heavy prototypes out there. Using conventional wisdom, this machine could easily have ended up weighing over a ton. It’s easy to build test pieces and do a little destructive testing before you build.
6. Where do you store it? I assume that you have a studio, but where does it live?
Panterragaffe lives in our manufacturing studio in West Vancouver. We do all of our design and fabrication in one building, practically under the Lions Gate Bridge. Our neighbors can’t here our noise over the sound of the traffic on the bridge, so it’s the perfect spot.