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The motors that power Genghis's legs are model airplane servos.
Rodney Brooks explains how watching insects walking and falling inspired him to build his hexapod robot Genghis.Photo: Peter Menzel/Photo Researchers
Rodney Brooks started the Genghis project in 1988 in response to a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory workshop on micro spacecraft. One of the goals was to use the robot as a test bed to explore a new control approach Brooks had conceived, the "subsumption architecture." His idea was that complex behavior such as crawling and climbing over obstacles didn't require a central control system but could emerge instead from simple, distributed controllers. Based on his experience with Genghis and other robots, Brooks proposed that exploration of the solar system should rely on cheap, fast missions using large numbers of mass-produced autonomous robots rather than more complex and costly spacecraft. Brooks and Anita M. Flynn described that idea in a 1989 paper entitled "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System." Genghis would later reside at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.