Usually, when Cody Yarletts, Parker Hannifin's West Coast hydraulic territory manager, receives a lead for a new customer, it's for something familiar like a factory or excavator.
But two years ago, his boss passed him something unusual, something s/he said could have an impact on mechanical engineering for decades to come.
"There are these guys in Oakland and they're building some sort of robot and they are looking for some help with valving," Yarletts recalls of his boss saying, before tasking him with the mission of checking it out.
Yarletts researched this eccentric startup, MegaBots online before heading to its warehouse in a maker community complex.
"I was shocked at how real the thing was," Yarletts says of seeing the hydraulically operated Mk. II for the first time.
The 15-foot tall, 6-ton piloted mech was very real indeed, and able to move around and fire cannon-sized paintballs. However, it was nowhere close to being ready to take on the polished Japanese mech made by Suidobashi Heavy Industries.
Now slated for September 2017 and featuring the all new MK3-model Eagle Prime, this exhibition fight will determine if MegaBots' idea for a giant robot fighting league is feasible, or if it will fizzle out.
The odds of it being a success have been greatly improved since industry-leading manufacturers such as Parker have joined Team America, lending the equipment most suited for the job, as well as leveraging their expertise.
"In terms of how we approached the project, it's pretty similar to construction equipment," Yarletts says. "The same basic system architecture can be found in any big piece of hydraulic machinery."
The end result is Eagle Prime, a 16-foot-tall, 12-ton mech ready to take on Japan, and then the world.
Here's a look at how it handles:
To get such a speedy response time, Parker supplied D30FPlus Proportional Directional Control Valves. These high end valves are comparable to servos in terms of quality and fast response time, while remaining cost competitive.
MegaBots co-founder and CEO Gui Cavalcanti calls them the "the fastest valves in the world."
"That's really the brains," Yarletts says of these hydraulics., "They make or break the whole robot."
Yarletts estimates there is about $100,000 worth of Parker hydraulic actuators, manifolds, valves, and hosing in Eagle Prime, located in 23 different motion axes.
It's the difference in giving Eagle Prime the reflexes of a jungle cat, as opposed to Garfield after a lasagna binge.
"Parker has been awesome at helping us find the right hydraulic components to move in lifelike motion and have the right joint/torque densities to be able to move the arms around," says MegaBots co-founder and COO Matt Oehrlein.
MegaBots and Parker worked on pre-planning the right sizing of valves and hoses, sometimes dialing in the German office to assist. One big piece of advice was recommending analog over EtherCAT for the valves communications network.
The ParkerStore division also contributed an Onsite Container to act as a mobile hydraulics fabrication shop.
"The container has been stupidly helpful for us to be able to fabricate hoses in real time," Oehrlein says. "We had to change the geometry of the hose layout of shoulder, so we went into container and banged out exact length of hoses we needed."
Vendor inventory management also came with the container, allowing MegaBots to track what hoses they used and when they might need more, so there is never any lag in prototyping due to lack of parts.
This isn't Parker's first foray into sponsorship. The motion control company, which admittedly has trouble finding relatable and interesting ways to showcase its line of products, also designed Team Oracle's hydraulics for the America's Cup and have assisted NASCAR racer Kyle Larson.
"The great part about MegaBots is that this also extends beyond just Parker and what our message is," says Jeff Falkowski, ParkerStore's marketing communications manager. "It touches on American manufacturing, innovation, STEM subjects in school. It's just all these messages about how we can come together and do really great things through the manufacturing sector for something that's engaging and fun for people to watch."
Besides the entertainment aspect of a giant fighting robot league, pitched by MegaBots as the next big sport, Falkowski envisions the engineering obstacles MegaBots is overcoming could someday be used for the benefit the entire industry.
"You never know in the long term where those applications are going to end up," Falkowski says. "A lot of the safety mechanisms that you see in cars today, like crumple zones, came out of racing programs years ago. I think we have the same opportunity with MegaBots, because they're so unique. We're probably going to learn a lot that can be applied into other industries particularly in the realm of safety and speed in precision actuation."