The first ‘steps’ of this giant mech make a baby giraffe look graceful

At this point, humanity has a pretty good track record for taking ridiculous science fiction and turning it into science fact. Just scroll through your favorite tech blog and take note of all the crazy stuff you see — we have jetpacks, flying cars, artificial intelligence, and lasers that can melt the engine block of your car. But there’s one particular sci-fi staple that we haven’t really brought to life quite yet: mechs. Essentially robots that you can drive, these mechanical monsters have shown up in movies, books, and video games for decades, but haven’t made the transition into the real world — until now.

Thanks to an engineer by the name of Jonathan Tippett, planet Earth finally has a giant mech it can be proud of. Prosthesis, from Furrion Robotics, is billed by its creators as “the world’s first exo-bionic racing mech” — and Digital Trends was there to watch it take its first very tentative steps.

It wasn’t so much a test run as it was a test wiggle.

If the name rings a bell, that’s probably because you saw the prototype at CES 2017. The mech made a huge splash at the show, but back then it wasn’t operational — it was just a hunk of pistons and steel trusses cobbled together in the shape of a robot. It  wasn’t until last week that Prosthesis was ready for its first real-world test run.

Thing is, it wasn’t so much a test run as it was a test wiggle. The bot has progressed in leaps and bounds in the five months since CES, but actual leaping and bounding are still a bit too advanced for it. Just like a human toddler, Prosthesis has to walk before it can run, and crawl before it can walk.

As such, the first live demo was admittedly a bit underwhelming. We showed up to the event hoping to see a giant robot going for a jog, but all we got was a bit of wiggling and a few stationary squats. While it wasn’t exactly a jaw-dropping display of technological muscle, it was impressive nonetheless.

With Prosthesis, even something as seemingly insignificant as a squat takes a great deal of skill. Movement isn’t initiated with traditional inputs like a joystick or a steering wheel. Instead, each leg of the mech is mapped to one of the pilot’s arms or legs, so if the pilot’s limb moves, so too does the corresponding mech limb. It’s radically different from just about every other control scheme used for heavy machinery, so learning the ropes takes a fair bit of practice.

Oddly enough, that’s sort of the point. Furrion’s ultimate goal is to eventually create a mech racing league that drives robotics technology forward in the same way NASCAR and Formula One have driven engine tech forward. In these mech races, human pilots will compete against each other, so Prosthesis’s steep learning curve was intentionally left intact to preserve the athletic, skill-based elements that are necessary for good competition — or at least that’s how Tippet tells it. We have a sneaking suspicion that Furrion might not have all the kinks worked out quite yet, but in either case, we’re excited for what the future holds.

We don’t expect to see a full-fledged robot racing league any time soon, but Furrion is optimistic. The company says that Prosthesis will be walking and running (at up to 20 miles per hour, no less) later this summer, and that the yet-to-be-organized mech racing league will get off the ground within a couple years.

We’re not holding our breath on this one — but rest assured that if and when the first mech races start up, we’ll be on the sidelines with a foam finger and a Furrion hat.