I think I'd seen several photos of Theo Jansen's Strandbeesten before, but I don't recall seeing them in motion before today's post on wohba.

That's truly incredible to me. These are huge structures made out of electrical conduit pipe that actually walk along the beaches of Holland, powered by the wind. I was further entranced by a 20-minute video of Theo Jansen talking about his creations, though it's a bit of work to unravel his design process from his artistic schtick.
Theo Jansen

Not that I care much – I just like to watch.

8 Responses to “Strandbeesten”

  1. Becky Becky Says:

    Wow! That's really neat! That has to take a long time to figure out how to get the motion to work as you envision it.

  2. John the Statistician John the Statistician Says:

    Did I forget to tell you about him?

    He actually does genetic algorithms to design these creatures. His ultimate hope is to be able to build his own reproducing mechanical species.

  3. John the Statistician John the Statistician Says:

    I do agree there is a gap between the different ways he wants to use evolutionary approaches, but I think you can't blame him for having aspirations. It's very clearly driving some singular work. I'm willing to grant him some nonsense given the willingness he's demonstrated to take on this kind of project.

    I agree that evolution is the wrong search technique to use, BUT ONLY if you can make very stringent assumptions about the lack of noise. As for the efficiency of evolution, sexual reproduction can support a rate of improvement O(1/sqrt(G)) without losing good traits, where G is the number of bits in the genome, which is very impressive for a local search algorithm (see Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms, chapter 19, So, altogether, if you're doing a parameter search, the general purpose processor you are using is probably wasting a lot of energy on error correcting memory.

  4. Kevin Kevin Says:

    Hmm, I don't think I got across what I was trying to. I do think genetic algorithms are a clever way of searching a parameter space, but I would never call them evolution. All genetic algorithms I have seen involve constant genome sizes and only point mutations, which is not enough to generate the complexity we see in biology. The evolution of complex biological characters really requires gene duplication events, including for example transposable elements which are known to be a driving force behind bacterial resistance to antibiotics. You don't get any of that stuff if your model uses a fixed genome size and only point mutations, which is why GA's are restricted to search problems.

  5. John the Statistician John the Statistician Says:

    Ah, I see what you mean. You do see more complex operators of the kind you are talking about in genetic programming than in vanilla genentic algorithms. It is definitely true that genetic programming with a large operator set is so unconstrained as to be poor at search for many problems.

  6. Kevin Kevin Says:

    I don't know anything about genetic programming, but I would like to see some models based on the genetic switches that DNA actually uses for regulation. This can be thought of as a kind of programming language – I think some folks at MIT were using this to program bacteria to flash in interesting patterns and such, but I can't find the link. It's pretty clear that genetic switches are well-behaved under gene duplication events, so it would be interesting to see what you could do with that in a computer model.

  7. John the Statistician John the Statistician Says:

    Yeah, I could see that would be a nice bit of research: can you learn domain specific transformation rules for an underconstrained genetic programming problem? Of course, right now the approach is to start with a limited operator set, which is generally much easier.

  8. Rawan Rawan Says:

    And that difference is bgegir the farther you get away from the big publishers. At a big publishing house it's the marketing department that decides the size of the advance, not the editor. So proposals from the get go are pitched to marketing departments. Writers who survive on advances structure the content of their book accordingly.

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