Realizing an Icon
Hacksmith's Power Loader project is a remarkable undertaking that aims to bring to life a real-world version of the iconic exoskeleton from the "Aliens" movie franchise. The project was developed over a number of months starting in 2019, and has garnered significant attention for its impressive and novel engineering. Unlike the bipedal design of the movie version, our Power Loader is built on the chassis of a small tracked skid-steer loader, with its existing hydraulic power unit feeding all the upper body hydraulic cylinders. In the far future of the movie universe, CAT (the construction equipment company) manufactures the power-loader machinery. In real life, CAT partnered with us for this build and provided the skid-steer, creating just an absolutely perfect brand sponsorship if ever there was one!
The idea to build a real-life Power Loader was conceived as early as 2014, with James expressing interest in the project due to its potential for flipping and crushing cars, making it a serious contender in midsize robot competitions. However, the scale and budget of the project posed significant challenges, delaying its realization. We didn't want to build something that wasn't true to our vision of the project, so we waited until we had the resources to begin properly.
Design and Construction
The upper body of the machine maintains the essential look of the movie version. Creating it involved the fabrication of various completely custom components, including the chassis, hydraulic power unit, and upper body structure. The upper body of the machine was constructed from plasma-cut steel sections that fit together with a tab and slot system before being welded. Each arm of the Power Loader has five degrees of freedom, controlled by proportional hydraulic valves. Individual pieces of this massive machine cost as much as whole previous projects undertaken by Hacksmith. This intricate mechanism allows for precise and versatile movement, enabling the Power Loader to perform a wide range of tasks, including lifting and manipulation of delicate objects.
The Power Loader is controlled by an industrial-grade control system based on the Raspberry Pi, running ROS (Robot Operating System). The machine can be operated by an onboard pilot using a pair of simulator flight controller joysticks, or remotely using a PS4 controller
Project Evolution & Future Work
The project has been documented through a series of videos, providing insights into the design, construction, and challenges faced during the development process
The Power Loader project showcases the team's dedication to pushing the boundaries of engineering and technology, capturing the imagination of fans of science fiction and engineering alike. While the project was primarily pursued for fun and entertainment, it highlights the potential of exoskeleton technology and its applications in various industries, such as reducing fatigue and the risk of injury for industrial workers.
Fun fact: CAT was the manufacturer of the Powerloader in the future in the film, so we just love that CAT helped sponsor this project for us in reality. Exoskeletons were some of Hacksmith's earliest projects, so this brought the concept to a whole new level.