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John Deere Walking Harvester treads lightly and carries very big sticks

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John Deere

This Deere has legs, six of them.

Heavy equipment manufacturer John Deere has pulled a prototype for a walking harvester out of its archives and put it on display in the Pavillion at the company’s headquarters in Moline, Illinois.

Developed in Finland in the 1990’s by John Deere subsidiary Timberjack, the vehicle was designed to tread lightly through the forest, in an effort to lower the environmental impact of the logging industry.

Sensors embedded in the legs allow it to react to the texture and slope of the ground by distributing the weight of the vehicle as it walks and stands on uneven surfaces. This allowed it to step over obstacles and travel over challenging terrain.

Only two were ever built, this particular one fitted with a harvesting head that could pick up and strip a felled tree in seconds.

A similar concept has surfaced in recent years in the defense sector, where small walking machines like the Boston Dynamics “BigDog” and LS3 “Robo-mule” have been proposed as stealthy off-road cargo carriers for use by military troops.

Although promising, the John Deere says the technology featured on the walking harvester was too far ahead of its time, keeping it from entering production. However, many of the lessons learned were applied to the company’s wheeled and tracked vehicles in an effort to lessen their burden on the terrain.

Leave only footprints, take only timber?

For now, that idea is only a memory.