A book about Theo Jansen's amazing wind-powered creatures


See sample pages from this book at Wink.

You may have seen my earlier Wink Fun review of Elenco’s terrific Mini-beest Kit, a working miniature model kit of one of Theo Jansen’s amazing animated creatures. I wanted to know more about him and his work so I found a copy of his 2009 book, The Great Pretender. The 240-page volume contains notes, timelines, photos, sketches and family trees for Jansen’s “Animarus,” as he calls his species of moving, breathing, and thinking constructions. He creates magnificent beasts out of the cheapest and lowliest of raw materials: thin wall PVC pipes, packing tape, empty soda bottles, and zip ties. When assembled, the giant, articulated creatures walk along the beach in the Netherlands, powered only by the wind.

In the book’s format, each of the verso pages (on the left) have color photographs of the many details about his designs and their construction: hinges and movable joints, leg linkages, molds and fixtures, pneumatic tubing muscles, etc. Each artifact is artfully depicted with low-key lighting and muted backgrounds, like specimens in an archeological volume. There are also beautiful photos of the fully-assembled creatures in their native habitat, strolling along the shore.

The recto pages (on the right) carry the text, with chapter-length explanations of his thoughts and processes on how and why he came to create the various versions of his animated “life forms.” There’s Animarus Sabulosa Adolescense (young sand-coated beach animal) and Animarus Vermiculus (worm animal) and about 30 more, each as amazing as the last. Read the rest

Watch these drones build a rope bridge you could actually walk across


This video is amazing, and feels like something that will become even more graceful, precise, and normal as drone technology and design improve.

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Robots wish you a happy Rosh Hashanah!


A robotic Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year!) from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology! Read the rest

Silicon Valley is raiding tech academia: “Uber would like to buy your Robotics Department”

The National Robotics Engineering Center, part of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon. Credit Christopher Payne for The New York Times
Silicon Valley is raiding technology departments of universities around the U.S.—can tech academia survive?

Dissecting Sphero's Star Wars BB-8


Sphero's Star Wars BB-8 is sure to be the Cabbage Patch Kid of this Christmas, the ungettable gift that will spur mall fistfights, eBay price gouging, and plenty of crying kids (and adults). uBreakiFix cracked one open to see how it ticks. Read the rest

Video of Flimmer, the US Navy's new drone that flies and swims


"Common across the services, autonomous vehicles are being seen as an effective projection of force, both above and below the water’s surface," according to the US Naval Research Laboratory. Read the rest

New Google robot named Atlas is obviously drunk

Atlas the robot recently walked in the woods for the first time. From the looks of that bot-wobble, it looks like he packed his forest flask.
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WATCH: crazy cute jerboas and the hopping robot they inspired

Jerboas, tiny desert rodents that move like kangaroos, are notoriously hard to film. BBC Earth was able to film a jerboa's escape from a fox, and its unique shape has now inspired a robot:

Jerboas use their long tails to transfer energy to their legs, allowing them to hop many times their body length. It turns out the hair on the bottoms of their their feet also serves a number of purposes, including insulation, traction, and stealth on the sand.

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Watch: Tiny floating robot can jump from water's surface


Researchers led by Je-Sung Koh created a biomimetic robot that floats using surface tension and can jump from the surface of water like a water strider insect. Read the rest

Watch the solar-powered flight of this robotic raven


The University of Maryland Robotics Center's new Robo Raven III V4 soars on larger flapping wings that "have flexible solar cells giving the vehicle an extra 10 Watts of power. This allows this robotic bird to fly longer and recharge outdoors." Read the rest

WATCH: Our robot overlords will excel at ping-pong

This ad from Omron Automation & Safety intends to make advanced automation seem fun, but the execution makes it seem like your future will depend on whether you win your sudden death table tennis match with a robotic version of the Aliens xenomorph. Read the rest

Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking call for ban on “autonomous weapons”


Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and hundreds of artificial intelligence researchers and experts have signed a letter calling for a worldwide ban on “autonomous weapons.” Read the rest

3D printing blends rigid and soft to improve robot performance

Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences released an interesting demo of blending rigid and soft materials during 3D printing to create hybrid robots with enhanced performance for tasks like jumping and landing. Read the rest

Non-metal robot performs prostate surgery inside MRI


Researchers are developing a robot made from plastic and ceramic motors that can perform surgery on a patient inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine where metal is a no-no. Read the rest

Robotic dog pants, dribbles warm saliva, and tries to bite you


Here's some fun: "Place hand in dog's cage and hold it there for as long as you dare. Dog pants, dribbles warm saliva and other disgusting things." It's a coin-operated amusement built by Tim Hunkin, and you can see a customer trying it out in this video.

Tim Hunkin is a brilliant cartoonist, inventor, and TV show host. He wrote some great articles for me at Make magazine and I'm always happy to learn about anything he creates. In this video, we get to see Test Your Nerve and some of the other one-of-a-kind coin-operated machines Tim has built for his new-ish mechanical amusement arcade in London.

Some of the machine's at Tim's arcade: MONEY LAUNDERING: Pick up cash from the gutter and deposit it in the city without the regulators spotting MICROBREAK: Sit in the chair and travel on holiday, moved by the magic carpet. ALIEN PROBE: Investigate the captive alien BUT try not to annoy it. DIVORCE: Race to separate, then see the results. PET OR MEAT: Spin the arrow and see where it lands. Then view what happens to the lamb in detail. AUTOFRISK: Stand in position and let the rubber gloves give you a thorough frisk. MY-NUKE: Use the remote manipulator arm to open the fuel box and load the fuel pellets into the reactor. INSTANT WEIGHTLOSS: Watch weightfree nutrients prepared especially for you and then watch yourself lose weight in the mirror. EXPRESSIVE PHOTOBOOTH: Sit inside and the booth activates mechanisms to provoke a wide range of expressions while taking the photos. Read the rest

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