January 24th, 2006
Theo Jansen spoke at the Bartlett School of Architecture last week leaving his audience of students and professors all gasping for air with excitement, full of new ideas about the potential of even the simplest of objects when passionately investigated. I had my tongue hanging out of my mouth dreaming up new projects for my interactive architecture research.
Theo is a rare breed of passionate technologist who understands not just the potential of digital technology but the potential of even the seemingly mundane materials we all take for granted. I’m also excited to hear that he will be building one of these incredible creatures in Trafalgar Square, London with its very own sand pit.
For well over a decade Theo Jansen has rigorously experimented ‘with the making of a new nature. Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature.’ He talked about how protein acts as the key element in the structure and functioning of all living cells and that he wanted to use his own protein (plastic tubes) to act as the building block for his very own creations.
Starting out initially on his Atari STe, he programmed evolving species that tested how to build walking legs from 7 varying lengths and through natural selection was able to find quite accurate measurements of the perfect ratio of configuration.
The next stage in the evolution of these creature’s mechanics was to build prototypes using just the plastic tubes and test them in real world environments. Many years later he has created fantastic walking creatures that have evolved in complexity but still using this simple building block.
Further developments have used wind energy to transfer energy into the creatures giving them the ability to walk up and down the beach he tests them out on. He then began giving them the ability to pick up sand and water so that they could tell if they were about to walk off into the sea or get stuck in the dryer sand higher up the beach. His creations are now able to make decisions on their environment and avoid hazardous environments much like evolving species learn to do.
natural selection hasn’t favored this species
He has started using more advanced air systems which he hopes the creatures will be able to use to collect air themselves and compress it to power pressurized pneumatic devices. What’s most exciting is that he has devised a system of valves that act as yes/no logic gates for the pressurized air which could eventually be built up to process simple logic and develop a primitive form of intelligence. In all seriousness he suggested that eventually he wants these creatures to be able to think for themselves and reproduce.
Some might assume that these ideas are verging on the side of crazy but what I love is his passion for dreaming the impossible and seemingly managing to progress towards it with every new mutation in his species development.
A Render of one of his future visions
I will bring the dates of his creatures appearing in Trafalgar Square to you as soon as I find out.