Print Your Own Walking Theo Jansen-Designed Strandbeests!
December 1, 2011
Upon seeing Jacques de Vaucanson’s infamous shitting duck (“Canard Digérateur”), Voltaire proclaimed the inventor to be the “new Prometheus,” a veritable creator of novel inorganic, i.e. mechanical, forms of life. The duck convincingly simulated bodily movements, such as craning its neck and drinking water through its beak, but was, in fact, neither capable of digestion nor defecation. Despite this, the mythic aura surrounding Vaucanson’s animal resonated with the culture’s fascination with the philosophical implications and technological promise of Cartesian automata.
To some extent, Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures, the “Strandbreests,” are the progeny of Vaucanson’s and Descartes’ machines. Upon first inspection, Jansen’s creatures, which are made of yellow PVC tubing laced with electric “feelers” operated by a primitive computing system, seem less than far removed from the 18th-century technology that made possible the automated duck. Jansen’s insistence on the binomial nomenclature with which he taxonomizes his creations too recalls the hybrid rationalism of the Enlightenment period. The artist engineer even goes so far as to empathize with the biblical Creator, who, in Jansen’s story, has had millions of years of evolutionary activity to develop his work; given the same time, Jansen says, he too would produce a more perfect array of organisms. As it is, he has accrued just 21 years of experience building his wind-powered animals–needless to say, just an infinitesimal blip on the cosmic temporal radar. But he has recently embraced 3d-printing technology as a means of ensuring the reproductive future of his animal species. Read on.
While Jansens hope his Strandbeests will ultimately acquire the auto-reproductive methods by which to survive and multiply, he enthusiastically supports opensourcing his creatures’ “genetic code” which can be fed into a 3d-printer for fabrication. The first Strandbeests were made available for purchase on Shapeways earlier in the year. They exactly replicate their full-scale progenitors, with fully articulated structural systems that require zero post-printing assemblage. The only problem was that they could not move on their own as they were born without any propelling apparatus–evidently wind sails are not hereditary. Now, tinkers Tim van Bentum and Bo Jansen have augmented Jansen’s original models with what they call 3d-printed wind propulsion, an add-on that enables the little guys to walk autonomously through space just as the first Strandbeests strode across the Dutch coastline all those (10) years ago. Jansen sees the propeller as the first in a series of evolutionary adaptations that work to enrich the animal’s habitat. Buy them here.