Star Wars Fans Rejoice, the U.S. Army Once Had Real-Life AT-ATs

Star Wars fans, this news ought to make your day: The United States Army once tried to make real-life AT-ATs. That's right, a long time ago (read: 1981), in our very own galaxy, the military tasked Ohio State University professors Robert McGhee and Kenneth Waldron with creating an Adaptive Suspension Vehicle, a robotic creature similar to the Imperial assault walkers.

The A.S.V. project was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense, according to a recent report by The Drive. McGhee and Waldron developed a six-legged hydraulic robot, operated by a single human driver. When working in tandem with the robot's roughly 17 computers, the driver would be able to steer each step of the six moving legs.

So, if you were expecting a giant walker shooting lasers everywhere, think again. After nine years of development, the vehicle managed to walk, but at a slow speed of eight miles per hour at its maximum. Then there was the issue of weight—the thing was just too heavy, with a total weight of approximately 5,952 pounds.

Although the A.S.V. was able to step over vertical obstacle courses and travel across trenches, the military was unimpressed by the final results. The army eventually abandoned the A.S.V. project in 1990, according to The Drive.

But if a prototype does exist, does that mean the military still has its hands on it? Apparently, there's speculation that the discarded six-legged walker is located somewhere on the OSU campus, but that hasn't been proven.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 09: A replica AT-AT walker vehicle from the "Star Wars" movie franchise is displayed on the red carpet at the premiere of Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" at The Shrine Auditorium on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Getty/Ethan Miller

Back in 1985, McGhee spoke about the robot creature to The New York Times. At that time, the 64-member team had already spent $5 million to construct the six-legged walker. McGhee mentioned why the military was so invested in the project.

"The Army has estimated that about 50 percent of the earth's land surface is inaccessible to all conventional vehicles, whether they run on wheels or tracks. That's one of the reasons the armed forces are interested in the A.S.V.—a vehicle that can walk anywhere," said McGhee.

Back then, McGhee had plans to advance the project and build a better robot. He hoped to remove two of the legs from A.S.V., to create a four-legged Agile Autonomous Vehicle (A.A.V.). As any Stars Wars disciple can imagine, the four-legged vehicle would have been closer in design to the four-legged AT-AT walker.

"But advances in our research will eventually make the four-legged walker feasible. For expert walking ability, it's hard to match the horses, mules and goats. But the A.A.V. we intend to build is going to come close," added McGhee.

Alas, maybe some things are better left off to the imagination and the magic of CGI.

Newsweek reached out to the Engineering Department at Ohio State University for comment, but did not hear back before publication.