Although the general trend in commercial and industrial robotics is in the direction of more and more autonomy, and consequently the continual reduction of human involvement, there exists another parallel, yet opposite, trend which has its roots in the original explosion of robotic development in the 1960¹s and which is currently gaining some increased popularity and visibility in both the entertainment and research fields of robotics.


This opposing trend specifically calls for the incorporation of a human operator INTO the robot.  This paradigmatic shift in the conception of machine control brings about a variety of consequences, some of which are philosophical, and some of which are just pretty damn exciting and fun. 


In essence, the presence of a human operator at the core of the machine obviates the need for sophisticated control technologies; the human brain becomes the machine brain.  Seen in another way, this is the epitome of wearable robotics.  In the 1960¹s, the military began expressing an interest in this type of technology as a way of augmenting the capabilities of soldiers and support personnel.  Partnering with GE, the U.S. Army funded the manufacture of an initial prototype called the ³Hardyman.²  For reasons having to do with limitations of the technologies of the day, the concept was never fully explored.


However, the idea of an ultra-capable robot which a person can step into and ³wear² is pretty damn cool, and the implications of this idea were not lost on the entertainment industry.  Seen notably in the movie ³Aliens² and more recently in the second ³Matrix² movie, these devices, known collectively as ³man-amplifiers,² have allowed their fictional cinematic inhabitants to do some pretty amazing things.  These film characters notwithstanding, the number of people who have actually had the experience of being inside of a fully operational anthropomorphic robot is extremely small.  I would like to change that.


For Burning Man 2005, through the auspices of Borg 2, I would like to build a full-scale anthro-botic suit which attendees will have the opportunity to step into and operate from within.  Designated props and sacrificial targets will be provided and arranged within the spatial envelope capabilities of the machine, thereby offering operators the unique experience of having the awesomely destructive power of high performance robotics literally at their fingertips.





The general design of this project is taking shape and is described below.  However, you can also scroll to the bottom of this page where you will find links to a concept sketch of the machine.


As seen in the image, the machine will incorporate a tank-style tracked base and an anthropomorphic upper body.


All motion will be hydraulically achieved.  Hydraulic power will be delivered either by an on-board electric or engine-driven hydraulic power unit, or alternatively by an off-board tethered electric power unit.


The operator compartment will be ergonomically configured for comfort, likely incorporating a seat.  The operator will be harnessed into the machine for safety, and this harnessing system will be adjustable to accommodate operators of different sizes.  Operator control will be achieved by two intuitively and ergonomically placed joysticks equipped with auxiliary buttons for ancillary effector function control.


Construction will be primarily steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.  These latter two metals, aluminum and stainless, will be used whenever cost allows are chosen for their corrosion resistance and general sexiness. 


The total number of functional axes incorporated into the man-amplifier will be determined through a careful consideration of the balance between the competing needs to A) make the machine capable enough to be fun and rewarding for its operators and B) the need to ensure that the completion of the project is a realistic goal.  In addition to mobility achieved through tank-style tracks, functions will include two claw-type end effectors of different, yet-to-be-determined, specific form.  The arms of the machine will likely be of a simplified 2-axis type. There is a reasonable likelihood that a flamethrower of some sort will be incorporated into the design.  This flamethrower, if it is included at all, will probably be oriented in an upward direction for reasons of operator safety.


In keeping with my general approach to robot-building, this Man Amplifier will not only be functional and operational, but it will also be a thing of beauty.  I believe that devices such as this should stand on their own aesthetically, and as such this machine will be something that can be appreciated whether in full-functioning mode or not.





Executed within the context of a research institute or corporate/industrial environment, a project such as this would easily reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.  However, I will be drawing on: A) my years of experience of building robots on a budget, B) my extensive store of personally owned parts and supplies, C) my well outfitted metal shop, D) the talents of an excellent crew which is already at my disposal, and in all likelihood E) a reasonably large amount of my own personal funds in order to complete this project in time for this years¹ event.


For the purposes of facilitating the completion of the Man-Amplifier, I am requesting the sum of $6,000.  The total cost of the project, given the compressed timeframe, will certainly balloon larger than this figure, but I am prepared and willing to cover these fully expected overruns with funding derived from fund raisers and/or personal sources.


It would be close to impossible to detail the specifics of a budget for a project such as this.  Suffice to say that my many years of experience building robots and similar devices in various contexts is sufficient for me to be able to confidently predict a budget of approximately $8,000 to $12,000.


Items which will likely be included in the build list are: 

€ Metal (Steel, Aluminum, Stainless Steel)

€ Hydraulic Power Unit(s)

€ Hydraulics Components (Linear Actuators, Rotary Actuators, Valves, Hoses, Fittings)

€ Batteries

€ Fuel System Components (Depending on decision whether or not to use engine-drive hydraulics)

€ Operator Compartment Components (Seat, Belts, Clips, Etc.)

€ Electrical and Electronic System Components

€ Control System Components (Joysticks, Switches, Foot-Pedals, Etc.)





June 30th: Main tracked base frame complete.  Upper body frame has been started and is assuming general shape.  Actuators, motors, and other components have been sourced.


July 31st:  Build is essentially complete.  Locomotion systems complete and operational.  Upper body complete, including arms and end-effectors.  Hydraulic plumbing, control system implementation, and testing/trouble-shooting are all that remain.


August 27th:  Build is complete.  All systems have been tested, and the machine has been proofed for safety, reliability, and functionality.  Generators, related support equipment, and props, and materials for safety perimeter construction have all been procured.

The machine and its¹ support crew are ready to travel.





This wearable robot, the Man Amplifier, will be built to exacting safety standards.  I take very seriously the reality that this will be a machine that all manner of people will interact with.  I fully understand that a reasonably high proportion of the public is comprised of idiots.  For this reason, this machine will be fully idiot-proofed. 


Top speed on this machine will be carefully controlled, and will be quite slow.  The machine will be designed so that it can not be toppled.  This will involve the implementation of a wide, heavy base, as well as careful determination of arm lengths and geometry during the build phase.  The harnessing of the occupant will be equivalent to that of a typical race-car.  For this reason, even in the unlikely event of a machine overturning, the occupant will be safe.  The use of a motorcycle-type helmet will also be required.


The machine will be enabled with an on-board timing device of some sort which will disable all systems after a given pre-determined amount of time.  This will ensure that the drunk idiot, who is also temporarily drunk with robotically induced power, and has decided that he doesn¹t want to get out of the machine, will in fact be occupying a totally inoperable device after a few minutes.


The robot will be allowed to operate only within a given, defined space.  At this time I envision two possible scenarios for the completion of this objective.  One scenario involves an internal mechanical limitation on the machine itself which would limit the amount of distance the machine would be able to travel.  In this way, turning the machine and smashing things would be unlimited, while driving the machine in any given direction would be possible only to a certain distance.  A light-duty guard rail would be employed to keep members of the public out of the machine¹s operating zone.  A second scenario involves the fabrication of a heavy duty guard rail surrounding the machine¹s operating zone.  This would be welded in place and would be constructed to a level of robustness such that the machine itself could not break through it.  This guard rail would obviously also double as a crowd control barrier.


If there is any use of fuel on the machine (a determination yet to be made and dependent upon pending power system decisions) then there will be fire extinguishers furnished both on-board the machine as will as in the immediate vicinity.






Generally speaking, this will not be a particularly messy installation.  The machine itself will make no mess.  Props to be destroyed by the machine will be the sole source of MOOP.  The decision process regarding what kind of props to be used will be heavily influenced by the need to minimize MOOP.  At the time of this writing, items such as car doors (free of glass), 55 gallon steel drums, and shopping carts seem to be good candidates.  I¹ll probably think of more things in the months to come.  All of this MOOP will be cleaned up and taken off the playa.





Very little assistance will be required from BORG2 for this project.


The only thing that will actually be necessary is personnel.  This project will require the presence and supervision of a trained technician/docent.  This person should be capable of assisting people in getting into and out of the machine, as well as turning it on and off.  In addition to the crew of people which will accompany the machine to the playa, there should be several more people trained in these simple procedures.


Free or cheap sources of metal, hydraulics components, electrical or electronics components, or related materials are always appreciated and could help significantly mitigate the costs and time associated with the build.






My name is Christian Ristow and I have been building robots for over ten years.  I have built robots and related types of machines for private clients as well as for the motion picture industry.  However, most of my building of these items has been for myself in the context of robot performance.  I worked extensively with Survival Research Laboratories and Seemen, both of San Francisco, before moving to Los Angeles in 1998 and commencing the execution of robot performances under the name Robochrist Industries.  I have a long track record of successfully executed performances done on too little time and too little money.  At this time I have a good-sized crew of dedicated and talented people who work with me.  I am the only person ever to have brought large-scale, radio-controlled robots to Burning Man, and I have been doing it since 1996.


More information about me and my past exploits can be found at my website


I look forward to helping strap you into the Man Amplifier and giving you the opportunity to really destroy some stuff!


Look here to see a full sized image of the concept sketch.


Look here to see a smaller version of the same sketch.


Christian Ristow

610 Moulton Ave.

Los Angeles, Ca


(323) 791-6240