My hero is an ingenious technician held captive in a pirate enclave and serving them in the mechanical maintenance of their steampunk race horses. Similar to pod racing in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, these races form the basis of the enclave’s illegal gambling activities one of the key sources of income as well as control of elite characters in the world. Save for basic racehorse design specs, these races are mostly unregulated. Their primary goal is high risk entertainment for the rich. But the horse-chariots themselves are very technical machinery requiring a lot of clockwork, hydraulic rams, and gyroscopically controlled actuators to make them emulate horse locomotion. A render is included below.
(Note: wheels are not propelled in these races)
In this question, I believe my chariot-horses require some ground detection system embedded in the articulated mechanical horse hooves during fast galloping. Without some sensor system I feel they would simply topple on the slightest uneven terrain, or certainly while banking. The primary objective of these detectors therefore is to identify the ground as the hoof approaches it at high speeds, enabling the actuator machinery to prepare for weight-bearing and propelling the leg once firmly set on the ground. I have considered three different types of sensors, though other ideas might exist: sonar, gyroscopic, and pressure sensors.
utilize sound waves to detect objects and measure distances. By emitting sound pulses and analyzing the reflected signals, sonar sensors can determine the proximity of the ground. This technology has been widely used in various applications in the 20th century and today but may be difficult to justify in 19th century tech without compact electronic components, though it is not impossible since the sound is ultimately converted into electrical frequencies which can still be detected and timed even with vacuum tube technology. I think it would be cumbersome and unlikely in such a harsh environment - like putting a glass tube amplifier in a paint shaker. Its effectiveness in detecting the ground during fast galloping on a heavily vibrating mechanical horse is one option, however.
on the other hand, rely on the principles of gyroscopic precession to detect changes in orientation. By measuring rotational motion (perhaps of the shoulder beam as a leg takes load), these sensors can infer when the hoof has made contact with the ground. Gyroscopic sensors have proven to be reliable in many modern applications such as aerospace and robotics. However, their believability in the context of articulated mechanical horse hooves relying on 19th century technology is what I am concerned about.
are designed to measure force or pressure exerted on a surface. In the case of ground detection in horse hooves, pressure sensors can be embedded within the hoof structure to detect when it comes into contact with the ground. These sensors can be linked to hydraulic gates sending information about weight distribution and timing for actuator machinery preparation. This would require hydraulic sending lines to reach the hoof, where they will be subjected to constant jarring, vibration, bending, and shock. Possibly I am overthinking this, and a sensor in the head would be adequate to inform the actuator machinery about the distance to the ground. In that case the head position and level needs to be very accurately measured at each step, and any flexibility in the neck or frame will throw off the measurements. Not impossible, but very difficult.
To solve the believability problem of these vehicles, the story needs a believable technology that allows a thing like this to stay upright but does not overcomplicate the machine. It is still a race horse after all, and weight is one of the considerations.
A good answer suggests the best fitting tech for explaining galloping mechanical horses, identifying strengths and weaknesses over each alternative detection method.
The answer will contribute to the suspension of disbelief about having efficient and reliable ground detection systems in articulated mechanical horse hooves in this steampunk setting. With an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of sonar, gyroscopic, and pressure sensors that modern readers may have, the audience can hopefully just accept this aspect of the story as the plot unfolds around it. I will reiterate that these races are illegal and many unfair practices are a part of the sport, very much like the pod races in Phantom Menace. This means that the more complex the solution is, the less likely it is to succeed on the track against a competitor. So there is a balance between not enough and too much engineering here.