May 28, 2012

Theo Jansen, Lord of the Strandbeests

I recently discovered the work of kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen [1], who has a rather unconventional take on artificial life. His version of artificial life does not involve computer simulations, but rather involves building physical analogues of animal morphologies (he calls them "Strandbeests", as the skeleton is not made of bones, but plastic tubes).

Figure 1. Theo Jansen's website:

It isn't just animal-inspired structural engineering -- these things can actually move! More accurately, they are self-actuating, as human must provide the muscle power (for now). Check out a feature on the Makezine Blog (link) and video of a moving "Rhinoceros" (link) for more information [3].

Figure 2. Static Image of Theo Jansen's Rhinoceros, reproduced using LEGOs [4]. COURTESY: Makezine blog.

One of his made-up species, called Animaris geneticus parvus [5], can be directly replicated (via 3-D printer) and available from Shapeways (3-D schematic clearinghouse).

Figure 3. Image of Animaris geneticus parvus.

[1] Theo Jansen's TED Profile and Wikipedia Profile.

[2] Check out a post I did last December on pneumatic actuation for more information on biomimetic actuation systems in robots and mechatronic creatures.

[3] Check out the Strandbeest Vimeo channel for more videos.

[4] Yes, LEGO is an acronym. A LEGO fanatic will go to great lengths to correct you when written as "Lego".

[5] I guess this could be roughly translated as "cheap replication of an animal". They are clones, but it would be interesting to see what would result from a few random mutations of the schematics (1 out of every 1000 downloads would have a segment missing, or pointing the wrong way, etc).

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