Canadian-born artist and mechanical engineer Jonathan Tippett has managed to build the world’s largest exoskeleton mech suit. Now, he has his sights set on a new breed of mechanised sport – a global mech racing league.
“We never set out to build the world’s largest exoskeleton, but we did, as it turns out. The Guinness folks contacted us and said, ‘exactly how big is that thing?’”
Artist and mechanical engineer Jonathan Tippett was transfixed by Transformers and the power loader in James Cameron’s film ‘Aliens.’ Now, he's managed to build the world's first and largest exoskeleton mech suit and is pioneering an entirely new sport of mech racing.
“There is literally nothing like it, nothing like getting in a giant 4000-kilogramme, 200-horsepower suit. It amplifies your strength by about 50 times.”
The ten-foot-tall machine, named Prosthesis, is entirely controlled by humans. In 2020, it was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest tetrapod exoskeleton in the world.
“At first, you're locked in because the exoframe is directly linked to the structure of the machine, the legs of the machine. And so until you turn it on, you can't move. And then the pumps fire up. The fluid starts flowing, the pressure comes up, and the machine, like, suddenly gets loose and it gets kind of, like, alive. And you realise that with the tiniest push of your hand or your foot, this 4000-kilogram machine will move under your control.”
Tippet and his team partnered with technology company Furrion to complete the Prosthesis exoskeleton in early 2017.
He also founded Exosapien Technologies. The Vancouver-based company continues to develop the technology and is building a global mech racing league.
The sport involves five or six pro athletes operating mech suits; going shoulder to shoulder on huge, complex technical racecourses, pushing things out of the way, overcoming obstacles and solving giant physical puzzles.
“We have a fairly well-established training regime now. So we can throw people in there and they're like, okay, do your front pushups, your back pushups and your squats and we walk them step-by-step into gaining command of the machine. And then within a few minutes you're standing and you can move the machine and you can balance and you can tilt.”
Tippet says the technology and cost to create the mech suits are still high but says the second generation of mech suits will be much cheaper than the first.
“We see a future, or imagine and envision a future where powered mech suits are as common as ATVs. You can go out and buy one for 50 to 80,000 dollars, there’s industrial ones that are 100 to 150,000 dollars that are ruggedised and more powerful and longer lasting. You can use them in all sorts of applications; mining, agriculture, search and rescue, disaster response, forestry. The sky's the limit, a mech suit is about as useful as a human but amplified 50 times.”