Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Robotic Giraffe

It walks, it blinks, it seats six, and it blasts Kraftwerk: Meet one man's 17-foot-tall pet project

IT STARTED WITH a seven-inch walking toy giraffe and a desire to see Burning Man from a higher vantage point. A year later, Lindsay Lawlor rode into the desert art festival atop Rave Raffe, a 1,700-pound robotic giraffe sporting 40 strobes, 400 LEDs and bone-shaking speakers.

Lawlor wanted his Burning Man ride to be a true walking vehicle, so with the help of his landlord, Gary Stadler, he copied that toy's locomotion system on a massive scale. The front and back legs opposite each other step ahead at the same time, propelled by an electric motor. When those legs land, hydraulic brakes lock the wheeled feet, and the other two legs take a step. Canting from side to side, Raffe lumbers ahead at about a mile an hour. A propane engine runs only to recharge the batteries, so the beast is quiet and efficient. When Lawlor let Raffe shuffle off alone in the desert, it walked for eight hours.

Now Lawlor, a part-time laser-light-show designer, is busy adding new features for this summer's Burning Man, including computer-controlled flashing giraffe spots, an electroluminescent circulatory system and a gas grill. Follow his progress at


A 12-horsepower, propane-fueled engine drives three generators, which charge three 450-amp batteries, salvaged from an industrial floor scrubber. Many of the other parts, including the shoulder joints and LEDs, came from eBay.
Lawlor pushes the throttle forward to engage the variable-speed analog drive, which turns a 250-pound drive shaft to propel Raffe ahead. A pneumatic pump raises and lowers the eight-foot neck.

By: Haney, Mike, Popular Science

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