Giant Robotic Giraffe Getting A Giant Robotic Facelift

If you’ve had the opportunity to attend the annual Bay Area Maker Faire, you’ve likely encountered Russell the Electric Giraffe. Modeled after a small Tamiya walking toy scaled up to the height of an actual giraffe, Russell was created by [Lindsay Lawlor] in 2005 originally as an “art car” providing a better vantage point from which to enjoy the Burning Man arts festival. In the intervening five years, the Electric Giraffe has enjoyed face time in dozens of parades, trade shows, magazines and television appearances.

Scattered about [Lawlor’s] living room floor at the moment are the giraffe’s dismantled steel skull and several massive Torxis servos (the red boxes in the photo above) — Russell is being upgraded. One of [Lawlor’s] goals in returning to Maker Faire each year is that he not simply present the same exhibit time and time again; the robot is continually evolving. Initially it was little more than a framework and drivetrain, and had to be steered by bodily shoving the entire 1,700 pound beast. Improvements to the steering and power train followed, along with a “skin” of hundreds of addressable LEDs, cosmetic improvements such as a new paint job, and technological upgrades like interactivity, radio control and speech. His goal this year is to bring expressive animatronic movement to the giraffe’s head and jaw, hence the servos, push rods and custom-machined bits currently strewn through his living space-cum-laboratory.

[Lawlor], 46, is a lifelong “maker,” with a gamut of talents from electronics to optics to mechanical engineering. Aside from creating this giant walking machine, he restores motorcycles, installs high-rise fire safety systems and has built his own laser light show projectors. And perhaps surprisingly, he’s managed all this without a degree or other formal education, just an intense curiosity and unstoppable drive. We posed to him one of the most common questions we receive at Ask HackADay, as to how one can get started in electronics and building the sorts of creative projects regularly featured on Hack a Day:

Don’t be afraid of failure, it’s a crucial part of the learning process. Get your hands dirty and start building projects that interest you — build a model airplane, restore a motorcycle. By tearing it apart and putting it back together, you learn to see what makes it tick. Someone who’s brave enough or sometimes lucky enough to acquire the means to build something, they end up with a vast amount of practical knowledge about what they’re interested in. Textbooks alone can’t provide that.

Seek a lot of advice from people who’ve worked on this stuff before. Respect them by following through…don’t just talk about your grand plans. Go to Burning Man or Maker Faire or hang out with artistic people. This will bring crazy ideas to the forefront. The amount of influence you receive from showing up at a place like that is incredible. It’s unstoppable, a really powerful force.

Maker Faire is just a few weeks away. [Lindz] ponders the explosion of parts on his workbench and floor, uneasy about the looming deadline. Can he pull it off and complete these upgrades in time? We’re firming up plans to attend the show and hope to provide our readers with updates of all the various displays, including Russell and — fingers crossed — his new face.

10 thoughts on “Giant Robotic Giraffe Getting A Giant Robotic Facelift

  1. I don’t know if I’m impressed or disgusted by the amount of time and effort people put into Burning Man.

    I’d suppose “impressed” would be the better word for it seeing as how Russell the giraffe saw more than just a desert flat in Nevada, and wasn’t completely wasted in a giant effigy bonfire.

    Definitely impressed by that workbench, though!

  2. THATS MY UNCLE!!! I remember seeing it when it was only the frame work for it with mi madre, and I will be down to help him with it! (is definitely gloating that fact!)

  3. @supershwa

    It is all Art. The way I look at it the average American watches over 5 hours of TV a day. “That” is a disgusting waste of time. Burning Man is a great opportunity for builders and Makers to make truly fantastic things. Many projects got their start there and went on to do great things.

    Imagine if everyone had a work bench like that…That would be…wow, I can’t imagine what that world would be like.

  4. “Imagine if everyone had a work bench like that…That would be…wow, I can’t imagine what that world would be like.”

    Full of people with more tools than they know how to use.

    Just because you give someone a hammer and some nails doesn’t mean they could, or would build you a doghouse.

  5. Brilliant work Lindsay!

    Would you be interested in helping me to complete a 35′ tall panda? I am one of the first creators of Abraxas, the dragon and plan to complete a walking, sitting, dancing panda for 2013.

    Again, nice work… So inspiring.

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