In the mid 1960s, GE engineers developed the Pedipulator, a military “walking truck.” They first tested the quadroped in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1962, 18 years before George Lucas’s AT-AT walkers debuted on the big screen.
The truck was officially called the Cybernetic Anthropmorophous Machine (CAM). According to Chris Hunter, curator at the Schenectady Museum of Science, which keeps thousands of GE documents and artifacts, the Army wanted a vehicle that could navigate rough and steep terrain. It had to be able to carry up to a half-ton in men and material while pushing through dense vegetation, stepping over fallen trees and walking around standing ones.
In 1966, a year after America began sending troops to Vietnam, the Army awarded GE a contract to build the experimental vehicle. But the same 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 field use and the project was mothballed.
Eventually, the CAM’s sophisticated controls found underwater applications. GE used it to developed hydraulic arms for the world’s first aluminum submarine, the Aluminaut. Today, robotic arms on everything from Hazmat vehicles to Space Shuttles owe some technical debt to it.