Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org by David Geer
The Famous Robots
of Derek Scherer
That’s right. You can graduate from top-secret Army robotics projects to making one-of-a-kind animatronics
for some of the biggest movies to come out of Hollywood.
Here’s Scherer’s story.
Little Red Robot/Big
(and Small) Bad Movie Bots
Through 2007, the modest Scherer worked on
platforms such as what he calls the Army Research
Laboratory’s (ARL) little red robot. The product of
much earlier projects, the little red robot survived to
be a platform for increasing robotics capabilities with
testing and development.
Scherer worked on the motor drivers — software
drivers for a given motor controller board, to be
exact. To do that, he had to learn Python the hard
way: in real time as he advanced the driver
development tasks. The driver Scherer was improving
already existed in the Python language, so it was
easier to learn Python on the job to move the project
forward than to start over in another language that
he already knew.
The little red robot used a Roboteq OTS motor
controller board for large AC motors with rotary
encoders. Though Scherer wrote his Python-based
driver code in a hurry, he found that developing
script-level code for character robots was a good
feature to add to these types of mechanisms.
“In the Robot Operating System (ROS), this
script-level accessibility is provided through the high-level Python programming language,” he explained
The little red robot was more than 10 years old
when Scherer began to work on it as a development
platform. “It wasn’t very functional.”
Typical applications for the robot included
maneuvering populated rooms based on heuristically
From working on Army robots to creating animatronics that star in
blockbuster films, roboticist Derek Scherer has come a long way in six
years. Check out Scherer’s robots from the past and see whether you
can spot his recent creations in movies such as "The Hobbit," "Man of
Steel," and "Elysium."
10 SERVO 11.2013
The ARL's little red robot
all dressed up for a stroll
in the park.
Scherer operates the little
red robot developed years
back at the Army Research
Lab when Derek was in the
ARL Vehicle Technology
Directorate (VTD) ARL SUGV.
He worked primarily on the
motor control drivers in the
Robot Operating System for