How it all started

The Mondo Spider Project was founded by five Vancouverites: Charlie Brinson, Dillard Brinson, Alex Mossman, Leigh Christie and Jonathan Tippett.

Junkyard Wars

Inspired by the famous TV shows Scrapheap Challenge and Junkyard Wars USA, Alex Mossman, Brian Wells and several other brilliant local Vancouver Engineers started a competition known as The Vancouver Junkyard Wars (VJYW). In 2005, the competition was to be a “walking machine” race. Jonathan, Leigh and Charlie had all participated in the VJYW in the past, and in 2005 they formed a team together along with Alex. Leigh Christie brought a crew of participants together. The final team roster included: Jimmy Koo, Charlie Brinson, Alex Mossman, Jonathan Tippett, Bradley Buss, Matt Chudleigh, Josh Vines, Emerson Gallagher, Ryan Johnston, and Vince Augustine.

This combined team took an overly ambitious approach to the design challenge. While a machine with a very small step would have been the smart thing to do, this team of lunatics saw it as an opportunity to make a mechanical beast! A more impressive and aesthetically pleasing leg mechanism would have to be found.

Alex found a website called www.mechanicalspider.com. On this site he found a 6-bar linkage mechanism that had been patented by Joe Klann. The linkage mechanism produced a relatively flat foot path and a tall step height. It appeared to be exactly what they were looking for.

The original walking spider in action

The competition took place over the course of a weekend. Within 48 hours, the team had built a walking machine with 8 of the bizarre six-bar linkage legs made of wood. At the final minute, some key changes were made to the machine. And with a grand total of 10 seconds of test time, the race began… And the machine walked!

Unfortunately after 20 steps, the spider began to hobble, and then crawl, and then die. After the competition, the carcass of the spider was thrown in a recycling bin.

Vancouver Junkyard Wars Team Spider

The pictures are from the prototype walking machine. Due to obvious time constraints, little attention was paid to aesthetics. The machine was built entirely from scrap parts found at local junkyards, and while being a proof of concept, was consequently not the most reliable vehicle. Many of the original Junk Yard Wars team went on to work on what was soon to be named the Mondo Spider project.

A few weeks later, after nearly recovering from the blitzkrieg-like JYW competition, Charlie, Leigh, Jonathan and Alex were haunted by memories of their beloved but ultimately dead junk spider.

“This is what JYW does to you.. you wake up in the middle of the night thinking of different ways to make a better walking machine!” – Alex

“Yeah… I’ve been going through this stuff in my dreams for a couple weeks too. I’m really itching to build another walking machine!” – Leigh

And then Dillard Brinson asked the team to build another walking machine …

… but this time not using junk

Oct 7, 2005 Charlie sent out an email and said,

“I thought I was free. Hadn’t had a JYW dream in a while and then last night… the spider struck again… My Dad really wants to build a more robust and scary version as a weekend project kinda thing. perhaps even robust enough to invade…. Burningman?” – Charlie

Charlie’s dad Dillard Brinson agreed to put in a few thousand dollars into making the Mark II. But he had some legitimate questions. The Junkyard Wars prototype had not proven that the basic design would ultimately be successful. Could we build the spider reliably? Would it be able to turn? Skid steering or articulation? After a series of meetings with Dillard, some basic requirements were hashed out. The walking machine would have the steering radius of a car, be able to move at a brisk walking pace and travel at least 10 km without breaking irreparably

Charlie took it upon himself to show with calculations that this mechanical beast could be built, and that the forces and torques involved were manageable. Using Matlab, CAD software and Excel the basic proof was laid before the team. These calculations served as a guide for the design of the entire machine.


And then the theme for Burning Man 2006 was announced: Hope and Fear. Charlie submitted a funding proposal for what was now being called “The Mondo Spider Project”…

“… In today’s world of fast-paced innovation, there is an increasingly controversial debate of over technological encroachment on nature. The Mondo-Spider will play on fears of technological intervention in the natural world and the potential for horrible consequence. The mechanical beast will roam the playa, striking fear into the hearts of observers and unsuspecting prey…”

The funding was approved. Suddenly, with this influx of credibility and expectations, the whole team was becoming re-energized.

Over the next several months, the Charlie and Leigh recruited the old VJYW crew back to build what was now being called the Mondo Spider. Word of mouth led to many other brilliant fabricators, welders, machinists, engineers and artists joining the project. These volunteers would ultimately help to design, part-source, build, assemble, test, (and fix) the spider over the next 7 months.

After the overall architecture was hashed out by all five founders, the specific solid modeling began. The entire design was modeled using CAD software. The frame was modeled by Leigh Christie. The power pack was designed by Alex Mossman and the legs were drawn up by Jonathan Tippett. Charlie managed and coordinated the team for the spiders construction.

Leg Manufacturing

With the official Burning Man backing, the Mondo Spider needed a spider lair for its construction. A space in Burnaby was rented for the manufacturing of the leg parts. In total there were 200 individual mild steel components to be manufactured for the legs. Charlie Brinson and Leigh Christie worked around the clock to co-ordinate and manage a team of dedicated volunteers for the manufacturing process.

Once these parts were finished, the welding and assembly effort commenced. Under the co-ordination of leg designer and “Team Leg” leader, Jonathan Tippett, a crack-team of skilled TIG welders (mainly Ryan Johnston, Sam Mayer) worked day and night in the Industrialus shop (now dubbed “The Leg Lair”) to combine the leg parts into robust linkages that were previously just a CAD dream.

Funding from Rob Cunningham

With only a month remaining before Burning Man, The Mondo Spider still lacked a lair that could be used for assembly and the remaining frame construction. Fortunately, along came Rob Cunningham. With his donation, a space at the Great Northern Way campus was obtained. Finally the spider could come to life.

Spider Walks!

Within a couple weeks the spider was fully built and assembled. Initial testing was on jacks… The leg “flailing” test as it was called. Unfortunately, time had run out. The unveiling was less than a day away. Knowing full well that nothing ever works properly the first time it is tested… the whole team was nervous.


Mondo Spider Fundraiser BBQ

On August 20th 2006 the Mondo Spider was finally unveiled to the public at the Great Northern Way campus. Amazingly, the spider did not break. Unlike in the JYW competition, the spider lived to tell the tale. The unveiling BBQ proved to be a successful fundraiser with more than $1000 raised from more than one hundred spectators. This small taste of success fuelled the sleep-deprived team of volunteers. In addition to Burning Man, the Mondo Spider would go on to be exhibited at dozens of prominant art and technology festivals across North America (and continues to do so!)

Several months after the creation of the Mondo Spider, the core artists joined forces to help create the eatART Laboratory.