The Walking Machine

Local metalworker Ly Minh Tien builds a spider-like walking machine to raise awareness on environmental issues

A riddle: what has 12 legs, six on either side, and is made of metal? It’s not a metal spider, but that guess isn’t far off. A fitting comparison: “You know the movie Wild Wild West?”, its builder and metalworker Ly Minh Tien, asked.

It’s called a Jansen walking machine. It’s named so for a Dutch engineerartist who’s known for crafting a series of kinetic sculptures. Think back to the viral YouTube footage of the Boston Dynamics robot dogs—part functional, part object of fascination. That’s a bit like Tien’s machine. It’s a hulking, black contraption bearing a seat at the top that would hold the user as it crawls forward.

There’s no seatbelt, but you won’t likely need one. The entire machine carries the user forward at no more than about five kilometers per hour. That’s top speed in a straight line, turning can be difficult, both because turning requires a subtle manipulation of the two joysticks that control legs sides individually and because ungentle and sudden movements can cause the machine to malfunction mechanically.

The big difference between the Boston Dynamics robots and Tien’s machine is that the robot dog on the internet appears fully functional and ready to walk out of the lab tomorrow. Tien’s walking machine is… well… “functionally limited” is a nice way of putting it.

“Impractical,” would be the less nice way of saying it. Nevertheless, it’s a cornerstone of Tien’s message to his country and the world: automotive transport isn’t the only way. Tien’s machine is a challenge to the transportation monopoly held by motorized means made with two wheels or four. In our modern moment of high profile environmental activism like that of young icon Greta Thunberg and the Climate Emergency, this ought to sound like a challenge that others have made too. But Tien’s raising the flag over a slightly different concern: air pollutants and namely dust stirred by wheeled transport.

“My child gets sick all the time,” the engineer said. “When I was a kid like them, I never used to get sick.” Tien explained that his two young sons have been plagued with lung and respiratory problems leading to frequent coughing and illness. “I’m afraid the next generation will have it even worse,” he confided.

Tien is a Vietnamese metalworker who trained in the northern France city of Reims. It was there that he saw Jansen’s machine crab-walking through a video on YouTube. The experience left an impression on him. He started to explore other such devices on the web, but found that other builders who’d completed Jansen’s design around the world settled for a relatively small machine.

“I like it big this way,” Tien said gesturing toward his creation, which is about the length of a common motorbike. Seated atop the thing, a person of normal height would be slightly taller than the average population.

Tien started building the machine in August 2019. “I made a lot of mistakes,” he said laughing gesturing to a pile of discarded metal accruing in one corner of his workshop.

Building out the real thing has been a vindication to those who doubted him while he was building the machine. There were many, he recalled. “They said it would never work.”

But beyond convincing his critics, Tien is now focused on convincing Saigon authorities to let him display and operate the walking machine in a public place like the Nguyen Hue promenade. His goal is to use the machine to create a public awareness campaign of alternative transport. “I just want people to see something different,” Tien said.

Leave a Comment

Creating Extra Space

The real estate market in Vietnam is crowded. The self-storage industry, however, is growing What does the expression ‘self-storage’ make you think of? The term might evoke images of those storage units you would find in any US or European city, holding an overflow of personal belongings for several weeks, months or even years. For

Read More »

Listen

Entertaining and informative podcasts for bedtime, road trips and more Maybe it’s a vestige from podcasting’s older, more mature uncle radio broadcast that a listener might imagine their favorite show being created in a studio with everyone wearing arbitrarily large headphones speaking into microphones connected to audio engineering machines with hospital-level quality complexity. It might

Read More »

Education Matters

Education is one of the most powerful tools for fighting poverty and inequality, as well as laying the foundations for solid economic growth. The more we understand the world we live in and the more information we get about other cultures and histories, the greater our chances of understanding points of view that might differ

Read More »

Proving Provenance

Protecting intellectual properties in ASEAN countries using blockchain, IoT and NFC technology Counterfeit goods can be replicas or first copies, making it impossible for the layperson to differentiate. These counterfeit products can be as expensive as the originals. According to a recent survey by the Vietnam Directorate of Market Surveillance, 80 percent of consumers buy

Read More »

The Night Never Sleeps

Experience the Pulsating Energy of the City’s Nightlife at Atmos and Kasho Clubs It’s rare that the darkened, red neon- streaked quarters of Atmos Club (2nd Floor, 153 Ton That Dam, D1) aren’t at least mostly filled with patrons, almost all young Vietnamese clients who seem to have walked out of fashion magazines dressed defiantly

Read More »

Roar In The New Year

The dance is believed to bring fortune, but how is the costume made “Lions and Dragons are symbols of luck and prosperity. For the Vietnamese, without luck there is no life,” says Nhu Tra, a dancer from the Ha Nhan Duong troupe. “Which is why you will see lion dancing not just around Tet but

Read More »