And Now for Something Completely Different – The Beetle

“The Beetle” (1960’s) was the closest thing we’ve ever had to an actual militarised giant tank robot

Built by Jered Industries in Detroit for General Electric’s Nuclear Materials and Propulsion Operation division, the Beetle was a piloted heavy machine designed for the United States Air Force Special Weapons Centre, intended to service and maintain a planned fleet of atomic-powered Air Force bombers. The development of the project began in 1959, and it was completed in 1961.

Popular Mechanic’s (Sep 1956) drawing made by Frank Tinsley from designs by Lee A. Ohlinger of Northrop Aviation, Inc.
Original concept and design prototype
The Beetle was 5.8m long, 3.6m wide, 3.4m high. A heavy machine weighed 77 tons.
Powered by a 500hp engine, the Beetle could, on a flat surface, reach a top speed of 13 kmh.
To actually drive the Beetle, the pilot couldn’t just pop open a hatch and jump in. The canopy, which weighed 7 tons, had to be raised by hydraulic lifts, a process which took several minutes.
On the inside of the cockpit, despite cramped conditions, the pilot had some degree of comfort, with a small TV set, air conditioning and even an ashtray.
The cockpit glass was 60cm thick, and was made up of seven individual panes of leaded glass.
Yet despite this raw power, it could also perform incredibly delicate operations. At a public demonstration in 1962, for example, the Beetle was able to roll up to a carton of eggs, pick a single egg up and hold it in its pincers without breaking it.
The robot was also capable of reaching great heights. The cabin, which housed the cockpit and arms, was able to be raised on four hydraulic pistons, and when fully extended the Beetle stood an imposing 8m off the ground
He’s totally flipping us off in this photo
Here are some illustrations and blueprints of the actuators on the patent, if you’re interested in attempting to make this your DIY weekend project:


Published with author permission:  JChoster