Ladies and Gentlemen Start Your Mechs

Over a decade ago, longtime SOLIDWORKS user Jonathan Tippett had an idea for a new union between man and machine; a human experience that would combine a driver’s skill with a machine’s superior power. That idea was mech racing and Prosthesis is his idea realized.

Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Tippet

Standing at a height of 4.2 meters and weighing in at 3,500kg, Prosthesis is an awesome sight. It’s like every mech you’ve seen in movies and TV, only it’s real; it’s right in front of your eyes and you can touch it. We last checked in with Jonathan while Prosthesis was being designed. Now, the project has come to life and this mech can move.

A central theme of the Prosthesis project is bringing a fantasy to life – to take what has only been seen on screens and put it at arm’s length. “A lot of people who are not engineers do not understanding how daunting and impressive machines like this are in person until they see them,” Jonathan said. “Bringing a fantasy machine to life and sharing that journey with the public through engineering is at the heart of turning fantasy into reality. Watching people see it walk in front of them feels like it blows their minds more than anything they’ve seen in the virtual world.”

Transitioning Prosthesis from design to the physical world would not have been possible without a large group of volunteers from the eatArt foundation and a partnership with Furrion, an engineering firm that creates everything from appliances and audiovisual equipment to energy solutions. The design expertise of these groups combined with CAD technology brought Prosthesis from design to reality in just one year. “There was zero margin for error with our deadlines,” Jonathan said. “As soon as we strapped into the machine from the beginning until today, our only challenge has been fine-tuning the software, ergonomics, and piloting, and the fact that nothing else has broken is a testament to the power of SOLIDWORKS.” What’s just as impressive, after Prosthesis’ parts were manufactured, the team was able to fully assemble the mech in only ten days. “The FEA on the legs and chassis turned out to be right. So much is working exactly as designed. The only thing left is human – computer and pilot programming.”

Beyond its massive presence, this human aspect of piloting Prosthesis really is unique. Much of the work behind making Prosthesis mobile is fine-tuning the interface to create a machine that is reasonable enough for a human to pilot from the inside. “Before taking its first steps, we spent a lot of time finding the sweet spot between sensitivity and control,” Jonathan said. “It’s a long and gradual process to tame the beast and understanding the balance between controls being stiff enough and sensitive enough so you don’t have to be Hercules to move it.”

Photo Courtesy of Sie Gal

To walk, you have to fall. If you’ve ever seen a child take their first steps or watched baby giraffes walking for the first time on YouTube, you know a fall is imminent. So what’s it like to experience a fall inside of a 3,500kg mech? “The first time you fall, it’s terrifying,” Jonathan said. “My life flashed before my eyes. It happened very early on in the process. The mech was standing at full height and I moved the wrong leg by accident, and then fell from full standing to a full face plant.”

Luckily, this was far from the end – thanks to some nifty design. “I barely noticed the point when it touched the ground. It was actually smooth falling, thanks to the bumper bars and pilot suspension, which was designed by a group of UBC Engineering students. I giggled like a school boy when I did the face plant – face plant test complete!” There have been hundreds of falls since that first misstep, but Prosthesis keeps getting up, and its big steps for 2018 involve making mech racing appealing to a wider audience. Prosthesis might not fall as much these days, but if you see it, your jaw will definitely drop.

Learn more about Prosthesis and mech racing here. Stay connected with the Prosthesis project on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Expect lots of cool videos in the near future.

Mike Fearon

Mike Fearon

Senior Manager Brand Offer Marketing, Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS. Video game world champion and whisky advocate. I like turtles.