Hacking a Star Wars AT-AT to Actually Walk

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Hacking a Star Wars AT-AT to Actually Walk

This is my remote controlled Vintage AT-AT Walker toy with an Arduino Uno, Adafruit servo shield, and Xbox 360 controller.

My inspiration for this project was to attempt to do something unique with an Arduino Uno and my love for the AT-AT Walker in the Empire Strikes Back movie. I basically wanted my vintage AT-AT Walker toy to work how I always dreamed when I was a kid. I figured my computer science and software engineering background would help me accomplish this.

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I learned a great deal by working on this project. First and foremost, quadrupedal movement is extremely difficult. You cannot expect that simply moving legs forward will propel a structure from point A to point B. There are multiple variables you have to consider such as balance, multiple joint angles, and utilizing opposing forces to move the AT-AT Walker forward.

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This was also my first Arduino project and I learned how to interface with a micro controller to produce the desired output to the physical components.

One of the challenges I had to overcome was fitting the AT-AT walker with the proper components to make it move. In this project I utilized servos mounted to each hip and knee. To mount the servos I used Actobotics servo block kits as well as an array of other parts to hold the Uno and Adafruit servo shield.

During the early phases of the project I fried a few servos which I attribute to my lack of knowledge of breadboarding and power consumption. To solve this issue I purchased the Adafruit servo shield which provided the ability to mount up to 16 servos with the added benefit of polarity protection. Since the Adafruit servo shield comes unassembled, I had to learn how to solder the components together also. This was my first time soldering. Needless to say there was a large amount of trial and error.

I worked on this project for roughly two years. The reason it took me this long is because I have a limited amount of free time due to my work schedule. I work as a software engineer during the day at my 9 to 5 and I also work as a consultant for two other companies on the side. I worked on this project exclusively in the evening and on the weekends when I was not busy performing consultant work. I also had multiple set backs when creating this project which required complete redesigns.

I’m not sure what I would change if I were to work on this project again. There are multiple items that can be improved. One area is the amount of Actobotics components exposed. I would like to hide them a little more to completely retain the look of the AT-AT Walker. Since this project is a first version prototype though I focused less on look and more on functionality.

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The advice I would give anyone who decides to work on this is to have patience and ample amount of time for fabrication. I had to drill directly into the plactic parts of the AT-AT Walker toy to mount the servos. If I were to rush this process I would have drastically reduced accuracy and decreased balance.

I have multiple YouTube videos of the final solution as well as various other videos that follow me through the build process.

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Dave Stein

I am 35, married, soon to be a father, and a software engineer originally from Pittsburgh, PA but now call Raleigh, NC home. I attended the University of Pittsburgh where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and love to play basketball and work with new technologies.

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