A Redditor spotted Richmond, CA-based Mark Ellis trundling around the Maker Faire festival in San Mateo last weekend in his many-legged chair, and uploaded the video to Reddit, where it’s been posted across DIY and tinkerer subreddits. As plenty of Redditors have already pointed out, Ellis’ creation, which he calls dieselpunk, looks like something straight out of a Wild Wild West prop closet—specifically, the workshop of Dr. Loveless.
Ellis told me in an email that the inspiration for the chair, which he dubbed the “Playa Crawler,” came from a combination of his love of the art cars (known as Mutant Vehicles) at Burning Man, and the work of artist Theo Jansen and his walking Strandbeest sculptures.
“I had never seen anyone take [Jansen’s] leg linkage and use it for a speedy personal vehicle and wondered if it was possible,” Ellis said. “I had seen it used on a machine called the Tin Spider which a large geodesic dome on top of the legs but it was too big for my purposes and it’s very slow. I thought it would be a better use of my time and creativity to make something ambitious like the legs rather than decorate a golf cart or build something over a mostly unmodded electric wheelchair.”
The chair is made mostly of aluminum, held together with steel rods. It’s powered by two 12v lead acid batteries, which run two large gearless and brushless motors that Ellis stripped out of an electric wheelchair, he said. “I don’t have much skill around electronics so I wanted to use something somewhat off the shelf that I knew would just work and then I built around those pieces.”
He’s gotten a lot of questions on Reddit, especially about whether it’s meant to be a wheelchair alternative and if it can handle rough terrain. Ellis told me he’s not a wheelchair user himself, so it’s not intended to replace a chair for someone who might need one, and that the legs are pretty shaky and don’t tackle inclines or obstacles well. “So far the Crawler only likes to walk on nice flat even hard surfaces like asphalt, concrete, or hard packed dirt which is very limiting for a normal wheelchair but for my purposes at Burning Man it’s perfect.”
Ellis plans to keep improving the chair, possibly turning it into more of a military-esque vehicle with fenders, headlights, and a retractable shade.