I came across these critters on Inhabitat and couldn’t resist. You can power homes, towns, and ships, and maybe planes with wind, but what about an organism?
Artist-engineer Theo Jansen has set out to design new life on the beaches of the Netherlands. Through his work, he hopes to uncover some of the lessons that nature learned on the path to complex organisms.
Though I wouldn’t go so far as to categorize these sculptures as “artificial life“, they are certainly amazing works of art and biomimicry. Different designs are given specific problems to overcome, like moving across the sand, staying out of the surf, or anchoring down before a storm. The most efficient and successful “generations” pass their secrets onto the next creation, and the least successful are scrapped.
Jansen uses genetic algorithms in his designs, and upgrades each new “generation” by hand. All of his sculptures are wind-powered, and built from lightweight plastic pipes. He uses plastic tubing for the pneumatic systems that “power” the Strandbeests.
They even have “brains” capable of the most basic processes. For example, one Strandbeest sucks air through some tubing. If water from the surf or a tide pool obstructs the tube, the mechanism reverses to move in the opposite direction. His most recent creations even stored excess wind energy in lemonade bottles for calmer days… or rather minutes. That “generation” doesn’t get much mileage on a single tank of air.
Mr. Jansen hopes to release a “herd” of his creations to the wilds of his native Dutch beaches within a few years. Hopefully they’ll be able to survive off the wind without any assistance. Whether they succeed or not, these sculptures represent to me the lengths to which “high tech” ingenuity can go without circuit boards or micro processors (though these are also valuable).
Perhaps the most utilitarian aspect is the design that allows them to walk over the sand. Mr. Jansen claims he has essentially “reinvented the wheel”, and I’m not sure that he’s wrong. What are your thoughts?
One of the Strandbeasts is designed to carry and transport relatively heavy loads. Here’s a nifty video.
Images via Inhabitat
I'm an environmentalist who loves to write. I grew up across the southeastern U.S.A. and especially love the Appalachian mountains. I went to school in the north east U.S.A. in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. I majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. I've worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced me to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. I also taught English language in South Korea for a year, which taught me to take nothing for granted. Currently I'm applying for grad school to study international environmental policy.