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Where Jules Verne meets Star Wars - GE's walking truck of the 1960s

28 June 2011

This July 4th weekend, millions of Americans are probably headed to the air-conditioned confines of their local multiplex to take in Harry Potter, Captain America and other summer blockbusters. A military relic that foreshadowed a sci-fi vehicle featured in what was perhaps the most popular summer movie of all time – Star Wars – is now on show at the US Army Transportation Musem at Fort Eustis - GE’s Pedipulator, or 'Walking Truck', developed for the US Army in the mid-1960s.

GE’s quadroped was first imagined and lumbered through its testing paces in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, back in 1962, some 15 years before George Lucas’s AT-AT walkers made their debut on the big screen.

GE’s Walking Truck was officially called a Cybernetic Anthropmorophous Machine (CAM). According to Chris Hunter, curator at the Schenectady Museum, which is home to some 15,000 GE documents and artifacts, the Army wanted a vehicle that could navigate rough, steep terrain. It had to be able to push through dense vegetation, step over felled trees, and sidle around standing ones, all while nimbly carrying a half-ton payload of men and materials.
The Army liked what GE had been testing and awarded a contract for building the experimental vehicle in 1966, a year after America began sending troops to Vietnam. But the same super-sensitive, hand-and-foot-controlled hydraulics that enabled the CAM to casually push aside a jeep, or gently paw a light bulb without breaking it, also made it impractical for prolonged battlefield use. Operators found the constant manipulation of the controls very fatiguing, leading the project to be mothballed.

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