When it comes to artists and inventors, Theo Jansen is my unrivaled favorite. Theo would probably object to me putting his work into the perfection category, since he sees better than anyone the endless adjustments and innovations tomorrow will bring for his creations, but I think they qualify. When we look around us, we tend to consider ourselves the most evolved creatures on the planet, because we are intelligent, and we are in control, but in the eyes of evolution, that is simply not the case. There are animals on this planet that have gone nearly unchanged for tens of millions of years, not because they are inferior, but because they have reached a point where they are perfectly evolved to survive in their respective environments. Theo Jansen creates creatures out of tubes and air hoses, check valves and plastic bottles, and then sets them loose on the beach, where they are powered by the wind. The Strandbeesten walk, run, hunker down, and avoid danger, all with a brain made of coke bottles.
Every year when Halloween comes around, I carve a watermelon. I don’t have anything against the carving of pumpkins, I just find the watermelon to be a superior choice.
They are easier to carve.
They are more directly edible.
The green on the skin contrasts nicely with the red interior.
The interior looks awesome when lit.
The biggest flaw I’ve found with the watermelon is that it doesn’t take the heat of a candle very well. This year I tried this little ultrasonic fog maker with LED. Even with a windy Halloween, the results were impressive. The interior had a shifting glow in the swirling fog.
When submerged, the device uses ultrasound to resonate the surface of the water and break it into extremely tiny droplets. The fog feels cool to the touch, but not very damp. In my tests, the effect worked through thin solid materials, so you could hide it in a device. It also worked with some success on other liquids (including Vodka). You may have seen these in use in small fountains, or for reptiles, terrariums, or humidifiers.
Update: Here is my watermelon carving for 2009:
For 2009 I had a small melon. I did’t have much room inside for a water reservoir, so I just put the fog maker in a jar of water. I could hear all of the trick or treaters coming because of all of the exclamations ver the smoke coming from the teeth of my watermelon. The empty eye socket was carved to a thin shell so it lit up nicely without being open to the interior.
Predating the LaChLuVe fish is this Air Jelly made by Festo, a German automation company. The unifying goal of these creations is to achieve neutral buoyancy. From there, propulsion becomes as effortless as it would in zero gravity. This jelly uses helium for buoyancy amd when deflated, weighs in at 1.3 kG. A Li-poly battery as its only power source, and a series of gears, shafts, and cranks power the arms. It can be steered by control of a pendulum on the underside.
1.3kg gets you a lot more to work with than it used to.
Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be hard to make, or use difficult to come by materials. I hope this video is a design inspiration to all of you, even those of you who never fold your shirts. I don’t see much to be improved in this device. It is inexpensive, easily manufactured, recycled and recyclable, functional, does its job easily and well, and takes up very little space.
Last week in Friedrichshafen in southern Germany, there was an airship regatta (race). Along with the usual group of speedy nearly uncontrollable little blimps was this beauty which will be sure to be getting a lot of attention in the coming weeks. Team LaChLuVe has set the bar so high with their Fi-Fi- Fin-Fish that the airship races will never be the same, and may have a lot of new applicants. Unlike the propeller driven blimps and zeppelins, the air fish glides through the air propelled by a very natural looking swish of the tail, which also provides steering when holding it in place and gliding. The pectoral fins are servo actuated for additional control. I would be shocked not to see this as a consumer product within the next couple of years, and I can’t wait to see what shows up at the world air games next June.
Update: The Fi-Fi- Fin-Fish was made by Empa (a Swiss materials technology development institution) by using electro-active polymers to power the motion of the tail. When electricity is applied, the polymer contracts like a muscle to give the tail its kick. The fins, in combination with the low center of gravity, do a great job of keeping it upright. There is a further abstract for a more complex system with a flexing body here. A flexing strip along the top and bottom of the fish would be attached to the vertical ribs. The contraction of the polymer would cause the body to flex in a more natural fashion.
Update: The project was a collaboration with the Technical University of Berlin, and has been a several year project. Earlier versions of the fin-fish flew in the ’06 and ’07 regatta. Empa started with a more traditional airship, and got more fishy with each revision. Several tails were tested, as were several different ways of using the electroactive polymer.a
Part of their vision is creating a solar powered version that could operate efficiently and silently for surveillance. There is a growing demand for spy drones, and most of their competitiors sound like flying weed-whackers.
Here is something that could have, and very well may have, been invented tens of thousands of years ago. By strategically drilling holes in two sheets of metal, Jiyeon Song creates a static structure, which when the sun hits it at certain angles throughout the day and year, allows light to pass through both layers at predetermined positions. The light and shadows produce the ever shifting words of a poem. I’m not a big fan of poetry, but the time lapse is really worth a look.
A joint project between James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau, the Augmented Animals Project seems like a joke gone nearly right. With ideas ranging from stealth jackets for whales to acorn locating wrist worn GPS for squirrels, these guys couldn’t possibly be serious, but amidst all the projects that suggest there were too many joints in this joint project, there are a few winners. Most notably this wagometer tail ornament for dogs. Ostensibly a translation device, this LED stick uses the same persistence of vision trick seen in novelty clocks, and dozens of other recent devices. In the end it really just makes your dog look even goofier than usual, but it will also get them a lot of extra attention which will not only make them happy, but could also keep them safe from drivers on their daily walk.