Dutch artist Theo Jansen has created a new species, named “Strandbeests”. The creatures can walk completely unassisted, taking power from the wind to move their spindly legs. The full TED video explains the mechanism, but basically the creatures’ flapping wings capture the wind and pump air into old lemonade bottles, which move the legs. The creatures are made from wood and a type of electrical pipe, and feature no technology. They even have primitive ‘feelers’ to sense dangerous water or loose sand, which puts them in reverse mode, or digs feet into the ground.
The creatures are quite remarkable, and the engineering behind the mechanisms has to be admired. The creatures walk with more coordination and balance than I do! I’m still a little undecided as to which side of the fence this invention lies on; controlling nature, or participating with nature? Taking a god-like role and evolving species of our own could definitely be classed as controlling. But the creatures are made from natural materials and recycled bottles, so in that way, are we simply making up for the environmental damage we’ve caused, as well as our influence on animal extinction, to give back to nature?
Just now the Strandbeests don’t actually do anything, apart from walk back and forth along the beach. They can not yet be left unsupervised (Jansen predicts 2 years before they have learnt to live on their own), and the scale of them means they could be dangerous to unsuspecting sunbathers. But the invention is undeniably brilliant. I just wonder if it could be utilised in a more useful way, as a mode of transport perhaps, allowing us to live less consuming lives in future.
Theo Jansen has spent 16 years single-handedly creating this species, and the fact that he has not used a single computer chip to do it should be a lesson to us all. We are so used to ‘technology’ being about unsightly microcontrollers and wires, but when it comes in a natural form like this, it’s becomes something beautiful.