The evolution of the Strandbeest

Six years ago I put up a video of a walking sculpture called a “Strandbeest” (“beach creature”), built by a physicist turned sculptor named Theo Jansen, who’s been building these for 17 years.

I urge you to peruse his website, as they’re getting increasingly more complicated. There’s no motor involved; they’re all propelled by the wind. And he’s designed a method to store the wind with a bicycle pump, creating a “stomach” that can be used to move the Beest when it’s calm. The main struts are plastic tubes.

Reader Bruce sent me this amazing video with a comment, “Very clever engineer and builder makes these beach wind machines that look like marine polychaetes and other inverts. These are much larger than those he did several years ago.”

This video shows a panoply of Strandbeests; they’re all fantastic.


  1. Randy schenck
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    It makes me dizzy. The music goes well.

    • Craw
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      From Spartacus, a ballet by Khatchaturian.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 25, 2017 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        I was going to say that it sounded like a sea-going theme, and stick my neck out and guess Wossname’s “New World Symphony”, rearranged. Well, it seems my music teacher’s time was wasted after all.
        Wossname = Holst?

  2. Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    His engineering artwork has fascinated me from the beginning. He must have a big barn or a very large maker space to hatch these best. Seem I read somewhere that NASA has considered how to use his beast as rovers for mars and whatever planet these thing came from.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    And on the eighth day, Jansen created Strandbeests, and brought them forth abundantly after their kind.

    Pretty effin’ cool.

  4. Mark R.
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Can I haz one?

    • Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      You can buy a kit on his web site. Not as big as the ones in the video though.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      I think I’ve seen mention of “shape files” for churning out some of these in a single print on your 3d-printer. You do have to snip some support rods off though.
      Without having R’dTFM, I’m going to guess that he uses a lot of domestic plumbing waste pipe and fittings in his work. Cheap (well, not eye-wateringly expensive, given the amount he uses), stiff, light, easily available.

  5. Gamall
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink


    Apparently he uses evolutionary computation methods to help design them:

  6. Rick Bannister
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Amazing creations. Reminded me a bit of the inventions of Benoit Sokol for his video games such as Syberia.

  7. Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Simply marvellous and wonderful!

  8. mikeyc
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Mesmerizing and wonderfully beautiful.

  9. rickflick
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    As beautiful as these creatures are, I’ve never been able to figure out why they have complex feet. If the main drive is from sails, why are the feet are digging away as if they are providing propulsion? Would wheels do better? What am I missing?

    • Rita
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      In one part of the video, the feet weren’t leaving any tracks on the beach.

      • Rita
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        Could be the tracks weren’t visible. But, wheels would mean there wouldn’t the motion of the legs which is so mesmerizing.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

          Jesus carried it?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      In some of them the feet are the primary means of propulsion, and the wind just serves as an energy source. For instance at 2:38 you can clearly see the wind vanes turning a crankshaft that drives the feet.

      Even in the ones with stationary sails and no crankshaft, the feet provide traction to keep the thing moving in a consistent direction. Remember a sailboat needs both a sail and a keel.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        I’d be especially impressed if the wind energy was transformed rather than simply using the feet as a rudder. But they are quite mesmerizing regardless.

        I think in the era of the overwhelming need for alternative energy these creatures serve as a great inspiration.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Is the purpose of the engineer to make efficient machines, or to make interesting (by whatever definition) machines?
      If wheels are so efficient for transport, why did some societies never bother to develop them beyond the level of children’s toys?
      You may be under-estimating the level of effort that goes into making a roadway smooth and level enough for wheels to start shifting tones of product. In human history, that didn’t really happen until around 1770 with the start of the canal construction boom, which rather side-stepped the use of wheels outside short distances in towns. It wasn’t until the invention of several-inch wide roads made of iron bar in the 1820s (deployed in pairs, with steam engines) and later the invention of the pneumatic tyre that use of wheels overtook the use of legs for moving significant amounts of material.
      Somewhere, the is a logical chain linking the take-off weight limits of the Space Shuttle to the width of a horse’s arse.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 25, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        I certainly can appreciate that. However, it strikes me that he is creating these machines as much in his role as an artist as an engineer. This gives him leeway to jettison functionality for curiosity.

        You’ve made me wonder, now, how much wheel traffic traveled over the Roman road system as opposed to foot and animal traffic. They famously had a vast network of roads.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          Weren’t those Roman roads mostly paved with stones? Having recently experienced hauling my wheeled suitcase over cobbled pavements in Europe, and having driven a car over 19th-century paved tracks such as the Strada dell’ Assietta, I can say with feeling that such surfaces were not conducive to easy or smooth wheeled transport. Must have been even worse for rigid-tyred wheels.

          So the ride quality in a wagon on Roman roads was probably far worse than horseback.


  10. Rita
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t Be the motion of the legs.”

  11. Posted July 23, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. My heart is lifted and I momentarily feel better about our species.

  12. Charles Sawicki
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Some of his creations show amazingly smooth, lifelike motion!

  13. W.Benson
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    When they begin to need animal protein, I’ll start worrying.

  14. Mike
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Fantastic and wonderful creations,mesmerising.

  15. Forse
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Strandbeest appeared in a recent episode of the Simpsons. Of course it went crazy, crushing people underfoot!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      One was trying to trample the inventor underfeet in the video too.

  16. Sharon Dear
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    I loved it, but I am so curious about it. I don’t understand what it is, how it’s able to move. They are beautiful.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Take a windmill to turn the sails. Transmit that rotation to a crank somewhere.
      Reverse the linkages in the classical picture of an internal combustion engine, to turn that rotating motion to an oscillating motion of “little ends”.
      Those “little ends” moving to and fro power the legs, which are linkages which you might be familiar with from “expand-reduce” drawing machines or “pantographs”. The pantographs increase the range of movement of the feet, and change the shape of the movement profile (there may be more cams and linkages in some machines ; some of this may address RickFlick’s question at 9 above about the feet digging in ; By changing the details of the linkages, you can straighten some parts of the motion of the feet, for example with a “line-drawing machine“. How to mix circular motion (for the forward-moving parts of a pace) and linear motion (for the rearward-moving parts of the pace), well, that’s the engineering skill.
      He’s also moved from 2-d on-a-plane linkages to 3-d ones where the out-of plane components provide the necessary lateral stiffness.
      I’m going to hazard a guess that your youth did not include toys such as Meccano?

      • Sharon Dear
        Posted July 25, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Your right my toys were tractors, dolls, and kites to name a few. I am in awe. I never saw such things. Thank you.

  17. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 25, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Oh, I forgot to wait for a professor of fly rhinology to identify one of these as an upside down Anomalocaris.
    Waiting. Flies buzzing.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 29, 2017 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    It should be possible (by attaching a windmill or even some side-to-side flapping vane) and suitable gearing, to produce one that would move slowly upwind. That would be interesting.


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