Stompy: the Future of Rescue?

In just over 10 days Project Hexapod on Kickstarter was able to raise $65,000. Their goal?

An open-source, 18ft wide, 4,000 pound, 6-legged hydraulic robot that you can ride.


When they say open source, they mean it. They are willing to build and then give away all the details of the project to help encourage others to build the same or better.

Once we finish this robot, we’re releasing our plans, our CAD, our diagrams, the presentations from all the lectures we gave in class, our lists of materials and parts, everything. The construction and control techniques we’re using will drop the cost of controlled hydraulics by an order of magnitude or two from where they are now, and will make giant robots affordable to small groups of enthusiasts everywhere.

Today they are a little over $80,000 and headed towards the next phase of funding before the September 2nd deadline.

At $95,000, we’ll drop in what we call the “Performance Upgrade”. We’ll integrate a number of new sensors that will let us more accurately detect and respond to rough terrain, allowing for a smooth ride over a much greater variety of terrain. We’ll upgrade our hydraulic powerplant to allow for a higher ground speed. We’ll also add sensors that will allow for some amount of autonomy, for future robot development.

The project owners provide a nice video about the passion and curiosity behind their project.

They talk a little about utility but here is the part of the project proposal that really caught my attention:

Stompy (and the technology it represents) could easily reach people who can’t be reached by any other means in a natural disaster.

Bingo! This fits perfectly with big news of recent emergency operations in Colorado. As you may have noticed there is a growing “14er” trend in Colorado where people try to walk to the top of mountains that have peaks above 14,000 ft. The popularity of the mountains combined with some incredibly rough terrain means it is inevitable that authorities will get a call for rescue.

Here’s just one example: On August 5th a dog was brought by its owner up a 14er rated as Class 3 (e.g. “steepness and extreme terrain” too difficult for dogs) on a day with storms (e.g. high danger for human ascent). The dog became incapacitated at 13,000 ft from injuries, as should have been predicted, but then the owner made the unbelievable decision to abandon it. A 100 lb german shepard lay bleeding near the rocky summit of the mountain, hungry and alone.

Seven days later, around August 11th, other hikers discovered the abandoned dog and immediately set about planing a rescue attempt. The authorities were contacted and assistance was requested; those requests were turned down.

“We can’t specifically send a rescue effort for a dog,” [Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rick] Safe said. “We have a designated rescue team. In the last two weeks we have had six rescues, one a day on the weekends, for people. It is tough terrain out there.”

Sgt. Safe is obviously resource constrained in his current setup. I am certain he would have helped if he could afford to add dogs to the list of rescue operations (nevermind the fact that he could have taken the initiative to use social network technology to organize a community rescue effort). This is where Stompy comes in.


Reducing cost and time for rescue operations has a clear benefit. Current technology such as automobiles and aircraft are often unable to assist in rough terrain and unstable weather. Even the most expensive options are limited. Rescue teams with an inexpensive/commodity robot in comparison could scale the 14er faster and handle far more load than humans. And then a hybrid effort (e.g. use a helicopter or vehicle to place the robot at 11,000 ft) would be even faster and still reduce overall cost of operation. Save money, save time and save lives…Stompy makes a lot of sense.

The project owners mention giant natural disasters as a use-case as I pointed out above, but my amendment to this point is that they don’t have to wait for another hurricane or earthquake to test their robot and work on improvements. Stompy every week could be used to make a difference between life and death in many parts of the world. The state of Colorado may want to consider sponsorship and taking a robot on trial-runs ASAP.

Alas, back to the story, there is not yet a Stompy option. The hikers who found the dog gave up on authorities and turned to social networking (the 14ers site). They posted a notice to summon a community rescue team. Moving on their own initiative a group of seven strangers then teamed up and risked their lives to ascend the mountain and save the dog. The seven spent nine hours, including hiking through blizzard conditions, to climb up and carry her down from 13,000ft.

Missy Rescue
Source: Getty Image from Examiner

The dog survived and the owner now has been charged by officials with a class 1 misdemeanor (6-18 months in county jail and/or $500-5,000 fine) under Colorado’s cruelty to animals statutes.

18-9-202(1)(b) Any person who intentionally abandons a dog or cat commits the offense of cruelty to animals.

A volunteer rescue operation is an awesome testament to humans but think about the cost and complexity to notify, assemble, debrief and plan, equip and deploy six people…versus firing up a robot with two people (from notify to deploy in one step). If you want to find out more and help fund Stompy, go to their Kickstarter page.

Updated to add (8/21): “New role for drones — wildlife, eco conservation

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