Strandbeests: Wind Walking Machines
Like a small god, Dutch kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen has spent the last twenty years creating wind-powered machines called “Strandbeests.” Most at home on damp stretches of beach, these stunning constructions amble across their habitat with unnervingly life-like dexterity. They are intricately built from piping, wood, and wing-like sails, and genetic algorithms are used to organise the steps of their many spindly legs. Fascinatingly, their legs are engineered so that smaller tubes are slotted within larger ones, creating “muscles” that can lengthen while walking to help the body balance. Strandbeests have evolved from rudimentary “species” to more sophisticated ones equipped to deal with their three main predators: dry sand, the sea, and storms. Jansen has given them the ability to store air pressure by capturing wind in their wings and pumping it into old lemonade bottles, so if the wind drops, the creatures can still move—perhaps to save their lives by moving clear of a rising tide. They also have primitive brains: binary step counters that tell the creature its location in its simple world of sand and dunes. Some species also have feelers that can detect both water or dry sand, which immediately kicks the strandbeest into preservation mode, making it instinctively stop and walk the opposite way. Some strandbeests can even sense when a storm is coming, and anchor themselves to the ground to survive. Eventually, Jansen hopes that herds of his breathtakingly life-like creatures can roam coastlines independent of human supervision.
Theo Jansen’s TED Talk