These Walking Structures Are Powered By The Wind

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Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been working on his wind-powered mechanical beasts for over 20 years. He calls them “Strandbeests,” which is the Dutch word for beach animals. Like a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci, Theo (pronounced “Tayo”), has assembled his mechanical works of art using both engineering and artistic skills. These giant mechanical creatures can walk on their own and are powered only by the wind.

The wind-powered Strandbeests are elaborately-designed and fragile-looking contraptions. They are assembled using open skeletons of lightweight plastic tubes. Their wing-like sails are propelled only by the wind which then drives their feet to walk sideways.

Theo lives in Delft, near the North Sea. As such, his Strandbeests were first created along the Dutch seaside and know how to avoid water. They can even walk in the opposite direction as soon as one of their feelers come into contact with water.

In the past two decades, the Strandbeests have slowly evolved. Theo divides his different generations of Strandbeests into time periods similar to geologic eras. The earliest period was called the Gluton Period (1990-91) where the plastic tubes were merely taped together. His first creation, known as the Animaris Vulgaris, could not stand up and could only lie on its back and move its legs. The next period was called the Chorda Epoch (1991-93) where his tubes were connected with nylon zip strips. He built the Animaris Currens Vulgaris which could stand and walk.

The newer models have added sails, a shovel arm which can toss sand and pneumatic power. They also have fan-like blades that can pump air into plastic bottles for pressurized storage. Later on, the artists also added “nerve cells,” which can detect when the animal was in shallow water, and directional cells, which can count steps so that the animal would go back up when it was about to go into the water.

Theo keeps creating new species of his Strandbeests. Over time, they have slowly become better at surviving the elements. Ultimately, the Dutch artist hopes that his beach animals will be able to “live their own lives,” by leaving them out in the wild to survive on their own.

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