Whether they realize it or not, fans of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Disney+ series Andor may already be familiar with UK creator Matt Denton’s movie magic. But in 2012, Denton’s futuristic fabrications transcended the silver screen and landed in the real world with the debut of Mantis — a six-legged, two-ton, human-piloted, steel behemoth.
Originally commissioned for commercial use, a company noticed the smaller hexapods Denton was creating in the 2000s and requested a 400-ton version to explore underwater seabeds. Because of the scale, Denton was funded for Mantis to test this tech at 2 tons. Operated over Wi-Fi or using the two onboard three-axis joysticks and 28 buttons inside the cockpit, Mantis’ top speed is 1km/h and, despite its weight, exerts the same pressure as a human foot under each footpad.
Mantis took over three years to build with Denton tackling the work alone for the first eight months. Denton recalls it “was a challenge for me on a daily basis mentally. I had never done hydraulics that big before and certainly never a hydraulic power pack running on a diesel engine or controlling 18 actuators simultaneously.” Each leg joint was particularly difficult with Denton using twin bearings driven by a linear ram that pivots each joint. Afterwards, the team found rotary actuators that could have made Mantis’ legs a single, strong unit. “I was learning on the job…even in those three years, I found better ways to do the mechanics.” It’s “a sort of Frankenstein thing,” joked Denton. “It’s a 486 processor clocked to a gigahertz, but running a Linux system.” The result is a breathtaking, engineering feat earning Denton the Guinness World Record for “Largest Rideable Hexapod Robot” in 2017.
With the processing power of Arduinos and the possibilities of 3D printing, Denton has lately been exploring giant 3D-printed versions of classic Lego vehicles. To Denton, these “have changed everything” and he hasn’t counted out using his new skills to tackle hexapods again in the future. Follow more of his latest builds at instagram and Youtube .