Another entry for the Insane Genius file: (this time heavy on Genius, lighter on Insane) Theo Jansen. He has a website at http://www.strandbeest.com/
but it doesn't seem to have nearly as much stuff on it as it should. I saw him talk today because haydensphere
sent out an email about it, but I couldn't find her there.
Jansen is an artist and engineer who make ridiculously awesome wind-powered beach-walking robots, using thin PVC pipes, plastic tubing, custom valves, and plastic bottles. If you've ever read like A. K. Dewdney books that have cute descriptions of how you could theoretically build logic gates from pneumatic effects, this guy's work is a realization of that, as well as containing cool pure engineering solutions to problems of walking and detecting water, loose ground etc.
The logic-gate stuff is pretty amazing by itself. During the talk it was neat to see demoed three NOT gates in serial oscillating madly as a huge supply of compressed air churned through their orgy of mutual negation, and his actual robots have much better, in fact relatively sophisticated control systems. One will turn around when it hits the ocean, count its steps, keep walking until it hits loose sand, turn around, and turn around again
before it hits the ocean, because it knows by dead reckoning where the ocean was.
But boy oh boy, just watching the videos of these crazy heaving, clattering, lumbering plastic skeletons did a number on my reptile brain. Deep down they make me automatically feel
from the way they move that they're alive, in a way that pretty much no other robot I've seen does. And yet the materials it's made of are so sparse and unorganic that it's like I'm watching landfill scraps possessed.