Science fiction is filled with giant robots that people can control like extensions of their own bodies. Dan Granett wants to build one for real, as Gizmodo originally reported. Granett, a former technician at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has sketched out plans for a machine he calls the Bugjuggler, for which he's currently soliciting corporate funding. The cutesy name hardly conveys the pure, ambitious madness of the project.
If constructed, it will rise 70 feet tall on two fixed legs. It will have two giant moving arms, each capable of throwing up an 1,800-pound Volkswagen Beetle (the "Bug" in Bugjuggler) and catching it. It will be controlled by a person wearing computerized gloves that simulate what the robot is holding in real time. Oh, and Granett wants the robot to do all this in front of a live audience. "Of course there will be a safety radius around the operation," he tells The Verge.
"A drop in the bucket."
For now, the Bugjuggler is just an idea. But Granett and his two collaborators on Bugjuggler, an animator and a web designer, are hoping that one or more wealthy companies or individuals will decide to fund the project to its estimated budget of $2.3 million. "A drop in the bucket," Granett says of the amount they're asking for, at least compared to other online funding goals. Granett and his colleagues will even teach anyone who helps fund the project how to control the robot. Whoever pilots it will do so from a karaoke-like setup a safe distance away from the bot, or, for the more daring, straight from a cockpit mounted in the machine's head (the robot would have modes for either method of control).
To that end, this week he and his collaborators launched a kind of highly-targeted crowfunding site that gives an overview of exactly how the Bugjuggler robot will work and includes conceptual animations of it juggling cars in midair. Ideal use cases would be at a monster truck rally or stadium sporting event (the cars would have to be junkers, as they will certainly be totaled by the robot's crushing grip). Somewhere lots of people could gather and view the spectacle of a humanoid machine jugging cars without fear of their life and limb. As the site outlines, Granett is confident that the robot can be constructed within eight months to a year using readily available technology, namely, a series of hydraulics, servos, a diesel engine, a giant steel frame and haptic feedback gloves for the human operator. "All of that is already pretty established in the tech industry," Granett says of the basic components. He's even building an 8-foot tall prototype in his lab in Berkeley to prove it can be done.
As for who Granett thinks may be interested in fronting the cash for all this, Red Bull, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are all names he mentions as ideal candidates. Granett says he would even alter his design to win Musk's approval. "In his case, I would use an electric motor with batteries instead of a diesel engine [to power the robot]," Granett explains, citing Musk's electric car company, Tesla Motors. "Then you could have an electrically-powered robot tossing around [cars with] internal combustion engines, anticipating their demise."
"A lot of CEOs juggle things."
To understand why the 69-year-old Granett decided that he should dedicate his considerable mechanical engineering expertise (after he left NASA in the 1980s, he built dozens of machines for heavy industry and for Hollywood at his lab in Berkeley), you have to understand his true passion project. Granett also runs a nonprofit called Street Physics, the aim of which is to build devices that help conserve energy and better the lives of people in the developing world. One of the nonprofit's chief innovations is a bladed turbine that could be used as a portable generator and runs on biowaste — rice husks, cow dung, crop stalks are some examples of potential fuels. Granett initially thought to set up a crowdfunding site for that machine, but concluded that "the sources coming in for that sort of thing are very small."
Instead, he decided to set his sights even higher with a flashy project that would attract the attention of just a few — or one — extremely wealthy donor(s). Any leftover money raised from the Bugjuggler will be put toward Granett's original goal of a biowaste-powered turbine. As for why, of all things, the robot should take the form of a giant car juggler, Granett says that too is designed to attract the attention of wealthy entrepreneurs. "A lot of CEOs juggle things," Granett says, "at least that's just my impression."