TECH

Jaimie Mantzel Interview: The Genius Who Built A Giant Spider Robot, And Then Made One For Kids

10/08/2012 16:09 BST | Updated 10/08/2012 18:59 BST

Jaimie Mantzel is an inventor, a genius and a robot visionary.

He is the Leonardo Da Vinci of massive, terrifying machines, a self-parodied "super-human space alien monster with a brain the size of a planet", and a man who won fame in 2011 for designing a huge 12-foot-high spider robot capable of carrying a human pilot - despite living a reclusive life in the woods of Vermont, in a workshop he built with his bare hands.

He is the Andrew WK of engineering.

And now he has a new (and even more amazing) project to share with the world.

Toys.

Mantzel has teamed up with the award-winning toy makers Wow! Stuff to produce a line of combat robots for kids. And the result - a set of highly-manoeuvrable, six-legged, remote control spider bots with disc weapons, armour and "Battle Brains" - are among the most awesome gizmos for children ever invented.

Basically they look like a fevered dream sketched by a 13-year-old and brought to life by a genius.

Which is sort of exactly what they are.

jamie mantzel"I learned to build on my own," Jaimie told HuffPost in an email interview. He had the idea for making the Attacknids at the age of 13, and it sounds like he spent virtually every day trying to think about making one for real.

"I got my hands on an electric motor when I was 5, made some very simple machines, and kept experimenting," he said.

"The first really challenging thing I made was a pair of walking legs when I was 12. I still have it. It's made mostly of popsicle sticks and coat hangers, and I was a little surprised when it leaned correctly, kept its balance, and actually walked. I have several popsicle stick creations sitting on shelves in various stated of disrepair."

Over the years Jaimie made six different prototypes of his ‘spider tank’ but no toy company ever took the idea to market. Still, Jaimie refused to compromise. "I would have loved to have one of these robots when i was a kid," he said. "My thinking in designing them was that I should make exactly what I wanted when I was a kid."

attacknid

Above: The Attacknids, for sale at £69.99

The problem with robots is that they're a bit like jet packs: everybody knows what they do, what they should look like and how they'd use one - it's just they just don't quite exist.

Mantzel says that's part of the appeal.

"One of my favourite things to do is to take some cool fictional idea and make it a reality," he said. "The reason real life robots are so scarce is because they take some investment in development, and their marketability is still being determined. That makes robots, and other interesting machines seem very risky to any business that is solely concerned with short term financial gains.

"Luckily I met the people at Wow! Stuff. They're eager to find new technologies, and new ideas which is a breath of fresh air after having attempted to work with other toy companies in the past."

For Wow! Stuff, working with Jaimie was clearly a unique experience.

CEO Richard North said that Jaimie is "unlike anyone else we've ever met".

"Jaimie is one of the most creative, honest and value driven inventors we’ve ever worked with," North told HuffPost.

"Wow! Stuff is all about innovation and Jaimie’s quest to build an awesome robot is to be admired. He’s a really intriguing man and unlike anyone else we’ve ever met there’s just something about him. It’s hard to put your finger on but he’s really unique! From the fact he lives alone with his small family on a mountain to his lifetime obsession with the Giant Robot Project, he’s just wonderful. Plus he’s a robotic genius which helps."

Unsurprisingly, even with the Attacknids now on the market Jaimie is still full of ideas for the future.

In our brief interview some of the ideas he listed included:

  • "a walking fortress"
  • "a science school inside a robot that roams around the land"
  • "a powered suit. ...like a suit of armour that lets you lift a car. ...sort of like Iron Man without the flying".

He's also working on a video game, despite finding analogue tech "way more interesting, elegant, and robust than digital". The game is "based around the ideals I use to make my life better" he explained.

"It involves lots of problem solving, and doing the right thing. And robots saving the world, of course."

We noticed online that Jaimie has been called a 'mad scientist'. So does that bother him?

"I've never heard that before," he said. "I don't think I'm mad, but I also wouldn't be upset if I was informed that I really am. I 'spose if I showed my childhood self my business card, and it said "Mad Scientist", I would have thought I was pretty cool. For an adult."

Indeed, sir. Indeed.

Combat Creatures and the Attacknids cost £69.99 and are available from Hamleys, Smyths, Argos and Toys R Us in the UK