Science of Star Wars: Imperial Walkers

Although Star Wars is more of a space fantasy than science fiction, there are many scientific elements to its universe.  Star Wars has inspired several generations now of Engineers, Artists, and Story tellers.  Being an Engineer, I was inspired by many of the technology displayed that play such a big part of the story.  There are many interesting elements and wanted to present some of them on this blog.

The first subject I want to discuss are Imperial Walkers.

Probably my favorite thing about The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite of all the SW films) are the Imperial Walkers.  They’re big, they’re unique, and unexpected.  We see them walking through the snow drifts menacingly, but unyielding.

There have been dozens of types of walkers throughout the Star Wars Universe. Easily the most popular are the original AT-AT and AT-ST from ESB at RoTJ.

At the same time, they seem completely ridiculous.  Can’t they fly wherever they go?  Wouldn’t a giant walking armored vehicle be prone to falling over and unable to handle the terrain?  While awesome, they just seemed far-fetched.

Copyright Lucasfilm

But we should never undermine human ingenuity.

For many years, there have been various research programs, some from the U.S. military, focused on making two and four legged walkers.  Since we haven’t figured out levitation, we need things that can walk around carrying lots of gear without falling over.  You can see from the videos below that Imperial Walkers (or even the personal walkers from The Clone Wars) are clearly a technical reality.

Four legged walker:

This is an amazing creation.  It appears to have very good stability and can self-navigate around various obstacles and terrain.

Two legged walker:

This video gives me thoughts of the opening of the 6 Million Dollar Man.  It means we could potentially make a real AT-ST (or a Terminator that can run 46 kph).  The bigger thought, though, might be something to help humans run and walk on their own and finally retire wheel chairs.  But look, if I could ride my own AT-ST to work in the morning, I’m all in.

One remaining challenge would be the scale-up.  For instance, if you scale up a human being such that they have twice the height, they would weight approximately 4X.  That’s going to make it more challenging to build a walker with armor that’s too strong for blasters.

But that hasn’t stopped folks from trying.  There have been some early attempts at commercial applications.  This machine, produced by the Timberjack harvesting solutions company (bought and mostly shut down by John Deere), developed a forest walker that can better preserve the integrity of forest floors.


These videos are really captivating because they show that this type of locomotion could have some real practical applications for the battle field.  My hope is that something like an Imperial Walker – large, all-terrain, four legged troop & supply transport – is certainly possible.


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