A giant and very unusual six-legged spider from the UK is about to make its lair in the forests outside Jönköping! But it is a gentle and helpful spider. At almost two tonnes in weight and five metres in length, Mantis is the world’s biggest all-terrain robot and eager to help in forestry operations by working together with other forest machines at Elmia Wood.
“I’m really looking forward to showing Mantis off at Elmia Wood!” comments Matt Denton, the designer from Hampshire who created the huge robot and who founded the British robotics company Micromagic Systems. “It will be exciting to see all the equipment and machines from other companies and to get in contact with them. From the beginning of this project I’ve had plans to bring Mantis to Elmia Wood.”
Officially called a Hexapod Walking Machine, Mantis is a 2.8-metre-high creation weighting 1,900 kilos. The machine can be operated either manually from the cockpit or remotely via Wi-Fi from outside. Despite its weight Mantis is nimble in forest terrain thanks to its six articulated legs, which can easily be folded for transport.
Denton has been working with smaller hexapods – six-legged walking robots inspired by insects – for 12 years now and is hugely interested in them. Five years ago he was asked to start building bigger hexapods weighing between 10 and 300 tonnes.
“But I thought two tonnes was a good size to start with, so the Mantis project was born,” he says.
He took three years to design and build the Hexapod Walking Machine. Although the design is not primarily intended for forestry use, the path Denton took has led him in that direction.
“One request we got was from a mining company that wanted to drill test holes in sensitive areas and reach them without having to fell trees en route – something that both takes time and can lead to unnecessary logging. But with a hexapod the company could reach the drilling sites without destroying the ground or felling trees,” he explains.
All-terrain machines have existed before and have even been exhibited at Elmia Wood. Plustech/Timberjack from Finland built a ‘walking’ harvester that was shown at the 1997 fair and felled trees. But the combination of computer technology and engine power was not sufficiently advanced at that time for the machine to be used for felling and other practical purposes, and it is now mothballed at John Deere.
“That machine definitely inspired me when I began building my first smaller hexapods,” Denton said. “That was an incredibly exciting machine. But there are many, many differences between that and Mantis.”
One difference is of course the cost. Computer technology is cheaper now and Denton is working with only one colleague not a whole staff of engineers. Another difference is the wide range of possible uses anywhere that new accessibility or automation with the aid of a helpful six-legged robot might prove useful.
“Now we we’ll demonstrate Mantis in action at the fair and have fun while doing it, and then see what the result might be. I think the forestry sector would be a perfect place to work with many opportunities,” Denton says.
And probably no visitor to the fair will be able to avoid seeing the huge ‘spider’ in its lair at the innovation tent.