Imagine you're on the beach for Memorial Day when a 15 foot tall, 30-foot long creature made of garbage pops up over a sand dune and comes lurching your way. This nightmare could actually happen in Holland, thanks to a visionary artist named Theo Jansen.
Jansen, who studied physics at Holland's University of Delft, builds shambling creatures that walk under the power of the wind. They have cream-colored bones made of PVC pipe and sails that undulate like cuttlefish fins, sort of like a cross between half-finished boat hulls and giant prehistoric centipedes. He calls his creations strandbeests, or Anamari, or sometimes “indigenous North Sea arthropods.”
He knocked together the first rudimentary strandbeest in 1990, "Animaris Currens Vulgaris." Since then he's refined his process greatly to give his creations more defense against the wind and waves. Each arthropod has a crankshaft “spine” that rotates, allowing it to power a system of limbs. The appendages are randomly picked by computer from 1,500 various shapes, each ending in a pencil that he calls the “toe.”
Some species even contain “stomachs” made from bicycle pumps and recycled plastic bottles. They get pressurized when wind blows into them, allowing the strandbeests to walk for a little while in dead-calm conditions.
In fact, autonomy is the end goal. Jansen hopes to one day be able to release a horde of strandbeests on the beach and watch them disappear over the dunes, herds of them clacking around outside his ken. As he told the BBC: “These animals will survive on their own, just like you raise your children then there comes the day where you can kick them out of the door and they live their own lives.”
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Here is another Jansenimal, this time a bulky Animaris Rhinoceros Transport made from steel and polyester. (You can see more videos on Vimeo.) It weighs two tons and can carry passengers – yet still manages to get by on wind power: