Hamster-Powered Strandbeest

Posted: March 28, 2014

Welcome to the world of I-Wei Huang. Artist. Animator. Tinkerer. Maker of hamster-powered Strandbeest. Strandbeest, if you aren't familiar with the term, are the walking brainchildren of Dutch artist Theo Jansen. In full glory, they are giant geometric skeletons made of PVC that can, by design, move on their own. Using wind or stored air pressure as their power source, Strandbeest are pretty amazing feats of engineering. I'm sure watching them walk all poetic and lifelike makes George Lucas teeth-gnashingly jealous he gets no credit for (or profits from) their existence. See for yourself here.

Huang's Strandbeest interpretation began as a mini DIY kit he set out to hack. Japanese publishing and educational toy company Gakken had converted the kit's power source from wind to solar, rubber bands, and a micro processor in their Gakken magazine, so Huang wanted to do something similar, but with a source truly commensurate with the Strandbeest's own originality. Obviously he went with a hamster.

According to Huang, the hamster-powered walker idea was "just stupid, which is the exact reason why I did it. It's different, hasn't been done before, yet it's in so many what's-under-the-hood jokes." He said it also had a much higher likelihood of working than his original idea of using steam (not exactly plastic's best friend.)

To complete the transformation, Huang removed the walker's gearing and windmill, cut some plastic, and mounted a hamster ball to the top of its skeleton. Ball bearings on the hamster ball axels and mecanno sprockets/chain served to transfer power from the ball to the main crank. As you can see in the video, once a well-rested hamster was introduced to the contraption, mammal and machine achieved instant and perfect synergy. The long and arduous trek down the dining room table was nothing to the mighty Strandbeest. A most impressive display.

I've got two things left to say: 1) If you want to try this at home, go for it. You can get your own hackable Strandbeest kit right here. 2) It is imperative, as a top priority for the year 2014, tantamount to healthcare and Christmas, to stage a battle between a hamster driving a Strandbeest and a guinea pig wearing medieval knight scalemail armor.

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