Mild Mannered Medical Device Designer Is Also Large Art Superhero

by Mitch Bossart, Industry Writer for GoEngineer

Sextant Studios builds large entertainment exhibits leveraging GoEngineer solutions

Sextant Studios’ goal is creating amazing works of science, engineering and art, and utilizing their entertainment value. The Tesla Coil, for example, is a compelling attraction to many in the Silicon Valley business community.

“The sextant dates back hundreds of years as a navigational instrument,” says Sextant Studios Founder Torrey Smith. “I wanted to find a symbol that technically savvy people would be inspired by and rally toward.

Wow Factor

Sextant’s next project has an even greater magnitude of wow factor. The Arachnid project will be a 60-foot, black widow spider robot. Forty people will be able to ride in it. It will have twin 5,000 HP gas turbines, a 5,000 PSI hydraulic system and travel 65 MPH. With so many degrees of freedom across eight legs (each with multiple joints), the control system will be a custom-built neural network that uses machine learning to learn to walk.

“This thing does not have a single wheel,” says Smith with exuberance. “It will use an inverse kinematics program, which produces a liquid-smooth organic motion. The eight-legged spider won’t clunk along in a straight line. It will lean, twist, and breathe.”

Creative Outlet

Smith designs medical devices in the Bay Area startup community by day. He has designed Roto-Rooter type devices for arteries, vascular closure devices, endometrial ablation devices and more.

How does one go from medical devices by day to humongous geodesic domes, giant Tesla Towers, and 60-foot spiders?

“Sextant Studios is a creative outlet to keep myself sane,” laughs Smith. “It is an honor to build life-saving devices. But this outlet has been incredibly valuable for me.”


Smith discovered large-scale art at the Burning Man Festival. He also realized a huge opportunity. “SolidWorks is a lifelong passion for me. I wanted to bring CAD into the world of large-scale art.”

Smith brought a giant geodesic dome, tower and zip line to the next Burning Man Festival. Every detail was designed with SolidWorks. “All of my large-scale art is first designed and conceived in SolidWorks,” says Smith proudly.

Sextant Studios will use CAMWorks to create the 5-axis geometry necessary for a new structural engineering concept under development. “We’ve put novel dovetail/puzzle piece connecting features at either end of a 2×4,” says Smith. “This allows us to connect with other 2x4s.” The goal is to build large-scale, 3-dimensional geodesic structures that form the shape of a human body.

Inspiration & Enthusiasm Motivates

Smith wants to be an inspiration to the next generation. “Little kids who get to ride on a 5,000 HP, 60-foot black widow spider will get excited. We want them to realize that math, science and engineering are unbelievably cool.”

One of Sextant Studios’ most important decisions was building the giant Tesla Coil. They discovered that building “big” inspires people, who then want to get involved.

“One of our newest and most exciting members is a PhD physicist. She previously worked at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider,” says Smith. “She saw our Tesla Coil at Burning Man and had to join the team.”

The Arachnid project seems to have doubled, even tripled Smith’s enthusiasm. “Even if it takes more than all our money, we’ll see what happens. It’s great to have partners like GoEngineer to support us along the way.”



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