Imagining A Dune-accurate Fremen Thumper

Never underestimate the power of fandom to obsess over the smallest details of its chosen canon. We say that with all due respect, of course, as some of the builds that result are really cool, like this working Fremen thumper from the Dune universe.

If you aren’t up to speed on [Frank Herbert]’s sci-fi epic, the Fremen are a warrior race that populates the sands of the desert planet Arrakis, which is inhabited by giant sandworms. The worms are attracted to vibrations, and thumpers are supposed to be mechanical devices set into the sand to lure worms. Thumpers are only vaguely described in the text, and have been imagined to varying degrees of success in the filmed versions of the story.

[Attoparsec] decided to take a stab at a working version, with the twist of making it plausible within what’s known about the Fremen in the stories. He settled on a pneumatic drive, which seems like something the Fremen would use. Using compressed CO2 cartridges, he discovered that it’s far easier to make a high-speed pneumatic vibrator than it is to make a piston move slowly up and down. Several iterations were needed to get to a mechanism capable of the more stately movements seen in any of the film versions of the story, and even then the thumping seems a bit fast for our liking. The triggering mechanism was very cool, though, and somewhat unexpected — [Herbert] describes “lighting the candle” to trigger a thumper, which led to the use of a thermal pressure relief valve and a fuse.

The video below goes over the design and build in some detail, as well as demonstrates the thumper in action with a clever cosplay bit. Hats off to [Attoparsec] for this dive down the fandom rabbit hole, maybe a faithful version of the “pain box” will be next up on the project list.

Thanks to [Wesley Ellis] for the tip!

30 thoughts on “Imagining A Dune-accurate Fremen Thumper

  1. Weren’t the freemen semi primitive resource deprived comparing them to the spacefaring bunch ruling the planet that they descended from? All the references to Worm were suggesting it was a wind driven banging device that cycled at the approximate speed of human footfalls or about 1 cps and would need to be expendable since I believe the worm would eat it.. Been 50 years since I read this so I could be off

    1. Relevant excerpts of Dune are quoted in the video. both ‘Clockwork’ and ‘Candle’ are mentioned. Its also been years since I have read Dune, so maybe it is time for a re-read with a highlighter at hand

    2. It is implied that the Fremen kept a primitive facade, both intentionally to avoid being seen as a threat and passively because their culture didn’t allow much luxury so technology was purely functional. Fremen stillsuits were far more effective than those made by offworlders or city dwellers, and in the poles the Fremen had quietly made advances in terraforming technology, it just wouldn’t be feasible until the worms were eradicated.

  2. The fetishment by adults of items from movies and anime is pretty wacky. Was there much before Star Wars? Maybe some swords from swashbucklers? I can only remember mostly cowboy and military toys for young children. I had some high school students around 2004 who wore Naruto metal headband things all day and had an anime club. Maybe the sports memorabilia fashions opened the door?

    1. When I was young there were scifi nerds, but you tried to hide it. There were no female scifi nerds.

      Like furries now, except they’re fine with it.

      Apparently nerding out can get you laid today. Only explanation.

    2. There were toy robots and Major Matt Mason in the sixties. Ihad a communicator that sent spund along string, the end pieces were shaped like ray guns.

      At the first science fiction worldcon in1939, people dressed up, so it goes back that far.

      What you see more recently is a more popular version, not about books but things they’ve seen in movies. And post Star Wars, those are a lot more mainstream.

    1. I remember watching the original movie as a kid. Most of it was beyond me as I was so young. But I do remember thinking those thumpers were weird. Like that would do anything. Then years later while I was out on my bicycle I had to stop at the side of the road to pump up a flat tire. I was so shocked when all these earth worms suddenly started to come up out of the grass around my tire. Wow thumping the ground really did attract worms.

      Later I read some where that this a response worms do to avoid drowning in the rain.

  3. Nice work!
    I was thinking a gravity assisted 2-stroke style mechanism might work a bit better?
    So it would use the gas pressure to lift a weight, then let it drop onto a spring like in the movie.
    Kind of a sawtooth movement pattern.

  4. I always kind of thought of them like a mini-stirling engine, that would drive a spring loaded piston using a worm gear. The gearing would need to torque-ish which is why they would be kind of a slow thump. Load that spring up and *wham*! Drive it down into a taper like a fire piston.

    1. It seemed to match the description…simple heat source (e.g. candle), easily produced parts, could even be made of a high temperature plastic (except for the expansion chamber and spring), and it need not be something crude especially if we remember what Jessica said after she watched them measure water out with absolute precision…the Fremen were perfectionists…to me, that speaks of precision.

  5. I’m just re-reading Dune now. I never considered Fremen a warrior race, unless their environment can be considered an adversary. They were a little bit intense, maybe…

    If Dune had been written in the late 80s, the thumper would have been a Roland TR808.

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