8 Lessons from Building the Strandbeest-Style ClearWalker

Arduino CNC & Machining Digital Fabrication Robotics

Over the past few months I’ve been building a Strandbeest-style contraption called the “ClearWalker.” This ‘beest is a few feet tall, and is made out of 1/8″ and 1/4″ polycarbonate. You can see it in the video at the end of this post walking around at the beach, but that only tells a small part of the story. Here are I few things I learned (or relearned) during this build. All things considered, it was a pretty massive undertaking, but I’m glad I stuck with it!

Building Awesome Stuff is Hard

Perhaps this goes without saying, but this was a very difficult build. Even having built four Strandbeests before this, and improving my own design based on Jansen’s original, there was still a lot to think about when actually building it. I’ve outlined my struggles in the videos seen here, but the biggest issues were generally with the tolerances of plastic cuts, and the legs being too flexible. Also, figuring out a proper coupler for power transmission presented some challenges.

It’s Good to Have Manual Tools

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When you design something and send it off to get cut, the hope is that it will come back and simply snap together like LEGO bricks. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case, and it’s great to be able to mill and cut in your home shop when needed. In my case, this meant drilling out and adding holes with a drill bit, smoothing burrs with a Dremel tool, and a few other later modifications.

Power Transmission is Difficult

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The beauty of this type of walker is that, electrically, it’s relatively simple (only two motors to power 8 legs). However, the linkages are very involved. This means that friction adds up fast over the huge number of joints and gears. To combat this, I ended up using a large number of thrust bearings on the linkages, as well as even more (well over 100) shaft collars. In order to not break the budget, I had to shop around quite a bit. Even then, the price wasn’t trivial. Additionally, I had to use an elastmer (AKA “Lovejoy”) coupler instead of the beam coupler I had originally intended to use in order to transmit power from the motors to the gear shafts.

Electronics and Programming Isn’t Trivial

My background is in Mechanical Engineering, so one would think that the mechanical part of a build would be easy. In reality, I push the electronics and programming aside until I actually need to do it at the end. I was able to get everything wired (took quite a bit of time), and kludge my way to a program that worked. There are definitely some details that would have been much better if I was a more competent programmer, but I suppose we all have our various skill sets.

Bluetooth Isn’t Actually that Hard to Use

I outlined how I did this a little more clearly here, but after working with an HC-05 Bluetooth module and a smartphone app, getting this to work wasn’t that hard with an Arduino. It’s a great option for controling robots or smart devices, and I plan to use it quite a bit in the future.

Get Help When Filming

Clip from video by PJ Accetturo

If you’re trying to work on or control something, your filming skills, such as they are, will certainly be diminished. For this build, PJ Accetturo, who I worked with before on this drone 360° camera project, was tapped as the cameraman. The results are nothing short of spectacular.

LEDs Make Everything Better

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Though the previous shot coming into focus against the sunlight looks great, the ClearWalker also features quite a few LEDs. Perhaps they aren’t appropriate for every project, but they certainly set the walker off nicely here!

Editing Takes a Long, Long Time

Even after getting the help filming, it took many hours to put everything together into a format that was presentable. As I’ve been trying to put more effort into my YouTube videos, it seems that the real art isn’t in how much neat footage you record, it’s in what parts you can leave out and still tell a complete story. If it’s too long, a lot of people won’t want to watch it. On the other hand, there are a lot of long videos out there that seem to have a lot of views, so apparently there is an audience for that. Still though, no one wants to watch an 8-hour 3D-print at normal speed!

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Jeremy is an engineer with 10 years experience at his full-time profession, and has a BSME from Clemson University. Outside of work he’s an avid maker and experimenter, building anything that comes into his mind!

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