About Project Darwin

Darwin is a 29' Sailboat that has adapted to a dry lakebed environment by developing giant mechanical legs to help it move around without water. Read more details about Darwin here ...

About Project Darwin

Darwin will be a 29' Sailboat that has adapted to a dry lakebed environment by developing giant mechanical legs to help it move around without water. There will be 3 pairs of mechanical legs, one pair starboard, one pair port, and one pair stern. The legs are simple mechanical linkages inspired by Theo Jansen's Strandbeest creatures, but are in fact an evolution of his design. Each pair of legs are mechanically connected and synchronized by a set of large non-circular gears. The port and starboard legs will be attached near the forward bulkhead. The stern legs will be behind the transom. The simple clockwork mechanical nature of the mechanism will suggest the appearance of a giant wind-up toy.

The sailboat the project is based on is a 1970 Ericson 29 sailboat with a fiberglass hull. The rudder and propeller will be removed, and the hull will be reinforced near the forward bulkhead with an internal steel beam and steel strapping to create rigid attach points for the mechanical legs. The mechanical legs will be actuated by low-rpm, high torque hydraulic motors. Hydraulic pressure will be generated by an onboard gasoline engine driven hydraulic pump. The mast will likely be removed for the project this year.

Each 10 foot tall steel leg consists of 6 steel frame components linked together similar to Theo Jansen's Strandbeest:  the triangular "foot", the triangular "knee", 2 connecting rods to connect the foot to the knee, and two driving rods connecting the driveshaft to the top of the knee and the back of the "foot". Unlike Theo's design, the driving rod to the back of the foot is connected just above the foot near the back connecting rod. Also the linkage ratios have been completely re-invented to create a more symmetrical foot path and a higher step-height and a higher turn-around height. This allows the vehicle to handle moderate potholes or uneven playa conditions.

Each pair of legs are mechanically synchronized with a new type of non-circular gear that I invented for this project. The gear ensures that one leg touches the ground just as the other is about to leave the ground. This gear has a smooth change in gear ratio so that when one leg lifts off the ground, it smoothly accelerates so that it can place its foot down on the ground before the other leg has finished its step.

The Story of Darwin
Our world is changing rapidly due to acts of humans. Sea levels are rising and former wetlands are going dry. Burning Man itself is held on a dry lakebed that was 500 feet deep 12,000 years ago. As resources get scarce in a changing world, some people will go to war, and others will try to peacefully adapt. A sailboat represents peace, and leisure - it's evolving to survive and adapt to this new reality. 

Darwin is relatively simple mechanically.  An observer will immediately see how the clockwork mechanism drives the legs.   Yet, quite a bit of complicated math was needed to shape those gears just right and size the ratios in the leg mechanism.   This will be a perfect art piece for Da Vinci's workshop.

Darwin will not move very quickly, or be a platform for parties or even a practical means of moving people from place to place.  However, at this scale it will 'wow' onlookers as one of the only walking contraptions on the playa.

Here are some videos about Project Darwin

Autodesk Model of Early Leg pair

Wooden Desktop Prototype Leg pair

Kari on Darwin

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