Artificial Life on the Beach


What has many legs, is made of plastic, and takes strolls on the beach? The wonderful mechanical contraptions of Theo Jansen, which can be found on the StrandBeest site. This is an automaton that, like a robot, has locomotion. One of the questions we ask with such animals is: what makes it walk? And then, we finally end up with the more general question "What is walking?" The first thing we need to walk is energy so that power can flow through the walker's system to facilitate any type of motion. For the strandbeest, this energy is usually from wind, which makes the beach a very inviting place for a stroll. It turns out that walking requires some sort of "leg" apparatus, otherwise, we move into the even more general category of locomotion including worms, snakes, and a few of the truly fascinating and bizarre creature in the SodaRace world (related to SodaPlay, built from SodaConstructor). Returning to Theo's creatures: many legs are good for stability and the linkage mechanism that enables walking can be edited, played-with, and simulated using several online programs. The fascination with his creations is that the strandbeest bears remarkable similarity to a living organism. What can strandbeest compute? Like all locomotive objects, integration of acceleration, which in turn integrates velocity, yielding horizontal displacement. What a wonderful exploration of calculus.