The first thing Jeremy Cook thought when he saw a video of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest walking across the beach was how incredible the machine looked. His second thought was that there was no way he’d ever be able to build something like that himself. It’s a feeling that most of us have had at one time or another, especially when starting down a path we’ve never been on before.
But those doubts didn’t keep him from researching how the Strandbeest worked, or stop him from taking the first tentative steps towards building his own version. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen over a month or even a year, either.
His first builds could barely move, and when they did, it wasn’t for long. But the latest version, which he demonstrated live in front of a packed audience at the LA College of Music, trotted across the stage with an almost otherworldly smoothness. To say that he’s gotten good at building these machines would be something of an understatement.
Jeremy’s talk is primarily focused on his Strandbeest creations, but it’s also a fascinating look at how a person can gradually move from inspiration to mastery through incremental improvements. He could have stopped after the first, second, or even third failure. But instead he persisted to the point he’s an expert at something he once believed was out of his reach.
Prolific maker [Jeremy Cook] recently put the finishing touches (at least, for now) on his impressive ClearCrawler remote controlled Strandbeest, which includes among other things a surprisingly expressive “head” complete with LED matrix eyes. For anyone in the audience who was only mildly terrified of these multi-legged robotic beasties before, you may want to avert your eyes from the video after the break.
The clever locomotive design of [Theo Jansen] known as Strandbeest is a legged walker. What makes it special is that the legs themselves are not independent, but work together for a gliding action more akin to wheeled bots. [Jeremy’s] work with ClearCrawler has taken this to another level of precision and mechanization.
Before installation of the electronics, the ClearCrawler had to be tethered to a bench power supply, and could only move forward and backward. Once the locomotion was working as expected, [Jeremy] was ready to install some brains into the beast.
The robot is controlled by a dual motor driver and an Arduino Nano socketed in an I/O expansion board. Communication between the Nano onboard the walker and the hand-held remote control is provided by of a pair of nRF24L01 modules. The controller itself is a simple affair, comprised of a joystick shield plugged into an Arduino Uno.
The robot’s head is made up of a chunk of clear polycarbonate tube with a 3D printed internal frame to hold the dual 8×8 LED matrices that serve as its animated eyes. This arrangement is mounted on a servo pan and tilt mount, which is controlled by an analog stick on the controller. While the head doesn’t currently serve any practical function, it does give [Jeremy] a chance to emote a bit with his creation; a popular trick when he shows the ClearCrawler off.
A few years ago we covered this robot’s predecessor, the considerably larger ClearWalker. While that machine was surely a beauty to behold, this smaller and more agile iteration of the concept is quite a bit more practical.
Walking robots have a rich history both on and off the storied pages of Hackaday, but if you will pardon the expression, theirs is not a field that’s standing still. It’s always pleasing to see new approaches to old problems, and the Landbeest built by [Dejan Ristic] is a great example.
It’s a four-legged walker with a gait dictated by a cam-and-follower mechanism that allows it to perform the full range of leg movement with only one motor. Each cam can control more than one leg in synchronisation, and in his most recent prototype, there are two such mechanisms that work on opposite corners of a four-legged machine. The legs are arranged in such a way that the two corner-to-corner pairs pivot at their centres in a similar manner to a pair of scissors; allowing a servo to steer the robot as it walks.
The result certainly isn’t as graceful as [Theo Janssen]’s Strandbeest, from which it evidently takes inspiration for its name, but it’s no less capable for it. After the break you can see a video he’s posted which clearly illustrates its operation and demonstrates its ability to traverse obstacles.
The only thing that’s missing are the files and software should you wish to create your own. He’s unapologetic about this, pointing out that he’d prefer to wait until he is satisfied with it before letting it go. Since he’s put a lot of work in so far and shows no sign of stopping, we’re sure he’ll reach that point soon enough.
Most readers will be familiar with the work of the Dutch artist Theo Jansen, whose Strandbeest wind-powered mechanical walking sculptures prowl the beaches of the Netherlands. The Jansen linkage provides a method of making machines with a curious but efficient walking gait from a rotational input, and has been enthusiastically copied on everything from desktop toys to bicycles.
One might think that a Jansen linkage would be beyond some materials, and you might be surprised to see a paper one. Step forward [Luis Craft] then, with a paper walking Strandbeest. Designed in Blender, cut on a desktop CNC paper cutter, and driven by a pair of small robots linked to an Arduino and controlled by a Bluetooth link, it has four sets of legs and can push around desktop items. We wouldn’t have thought it possible, but there it is.
He claims that it’s an origami Strandbeest, but we’re not so sure. We’re not papercraft experts here at Hackaday, but when we put on our pedantic hat, we insist that origami must be made of folded paper in the Japanese style rather than the cut-and-glue used here. This doesn’t detract from the quality of the work though, as you can see in the video below.
Father-and-son team [Wade] and [Ben Vagle] have developed and extensively tested two great walker designs: TrotBot and the brand-new Strider. But that’s not enough: their website details all of their hard-earned practical experience in simulating and building these critters, on scales ranging from LEGO-Technic to garage-filling (YouTube, embedded below). Their Walker ABC’s page alone is full of tremendously deep insight into the problem, and is a must-read.
These mechanisms were designed to be simpler than the Jansen linkage and smoother than the Klann. In particular, when they’re not taking a stroll down a beach, walker feet often need to clear obstacles, and the [Vagles’] designs lift the toes higher than other designs while also keeping the center of gravity moving at a constant rate and not requiring the feet to slip or slam into the ground. They do some clever things like adding toes to the bots to even out their gaits, and even provide a simulator in Python and in Scratch that’ll help you improve your own designs.
If you wanted a robot that simply moved, you’d use wheels. We like walkers because they look amazing. When we wrote [Wade] saying that one of Trotbot’s gaits looked animal-like, he pointed out that TrotBot got its working name from a horse-style gait (YouTube). Compared to TrotBot, the Strider family don’t have as much personality, but they run smoother, faster, and stronger. There’s already a 3D-printing-friendly TrotBot model out there. Who’s going to work something up for Strider?
[Theo Jansen] has come up with an intriguing wind-powered strandbeest which races along the beach with surprising speed and grace. According to [Jansen], it “doesn’t have hinging joints like the classical strandbeests, so they don’t get sand in their joints and you don’t have to lubricate them.” It’s called UMINAMI, which appropriately means “ocean wave” in Japanese.
There are only videos of it in action to go on so far, but a lot can be gleaned from them. To make it easier to keep track of just a single leg, we’ve slowed things down and reddened one of them in the banner animation. Those legs seem to be providing a push but the forward motion is more likely supplied by the sails. The second video below shows it being pulled along by the type of strandbeest we’re all more used to seeing.
What follows is an analysis and best guess about how it works. Or you can just enjoy its graceful undulations in the videos below.
This ‘beest is the natural next step after his remote-controlled walker, which we featured a month or so ago. Like that one, the locomotion comes from a pair of micro gear motors that are controlled by an Arduino Nano over Bluetooth. The pyrotechnics begin when nitinol wire cleverly strung across two lever nuts is triggered. All the electronics are housed inside a 3D-printed box that [Jeremy] designed to sit in the middle of the legs. We love the face plate he added later in the build, because those gumdrop LED eyes are sweet.
Can you believe that this vehicle of destruction began as a pile of innocent, pasta-colored pieces of kit? We dig the camouflaged battleship paint job, ’cause it really toughens up the whole aesthetic. And really, that’s probably what you want if you’re driving around a spindly beast that can just shoot rockets whenever. Let’s light this candle after the break, shall we?