Kinetic Sculpture Race 2015 Arcata-Ferndale

Memorial Day once again brings the Kinetic Sculpture Race to Humboldt.

Traditionally, the race begins on the Arcata Plaza with the noon siren. Due to the dismantling of the fire house, the siren had to be carted in and manually started, which happened 15 minutes late, and the mishaps didn’t stop there.

There were a lot of racers dealing with new art or equipment, and some big newcomers.

Kinetic Elephant

This zombie pink elephant was exactly what I like to see in the race. It was original, attention grabbing, and gave the impression that an equal measure of attention had been given to both art and machine.

steampunk shark


I don’t say this often, but this steampunk shark was such a well polished design that I would welcome seeing it back without much alteration in future years. As much as I like to see new stuff, I hate to see something like this scrapped in the name of progress. The tophats of the riders even popped open to reveal shark teeth.

kinetic butterfly

I think this butterfly was the first catastrophic casualty. It only made it a few blocks before breaking down and calling it a day, which is unfortunate. Better luck next year.

Kinetic whale

This Blue whale skeleton was just shy of life size, and it was their first time on the course after traveling all the way from Sacramento. Things were looking good until they hit a crosswind that broke the head loose.

Whale restoration

The couple on the right are getting married at the finish line, so turning back was not an option. Half an hour later they had it back together and were back in the race, though they had to repeat the whole procedure again later.

Starship Voyager sculpture


These guys boldly went until about Dead Man’s Drop before they broke down and spent the night on the wrong side of the bridge.

Kinetic official

As always, Kinetic officials were everywhere, looking for infractions and heavily laden with bribes.

Borg costume


This Borg was apparently finding plenty of culture to assimilate.


Kinetic Sculpture Race 2013 – Arcata – Ferndale

Humboldt County’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race started off this year with unseasonably nice weather, with the throngs being shamed by the stigma of getting a sunburn in Humboldt County, a feat normally accomplished only by the most pallid of individuals.

Animated SculptureThe above entry may look familiar, but it is not a rework of last year’s entry, it was there in addition. They are both beautifully animated and controlled by the pilots. These things were definitely a favorite, especially of the children, and if they can continue to produce more, I think they could become an attraction all on their own.

Lady Luck kinetic sculpture

The HMS Lady Luck is an interesting piece of engineering as well as sculpture and performance art. The mast seemed to be worked in as a steering system rather than a method of propulsion, and the many sideways people providing propulsion you may remember from previous incarnations like Gloryopolis and Classical Nudes.

Post -apocalyptic Cockroach

The Post-Apocalyptic Cockroach won some awards for speed and engineering. I don’t know about the apocalypse, but it looks like the pilots could survive a massive hailstorm with nothing but hearing damage. I’ve seen those tires in an local outdoor store and they look huge on a bicycle, but I think they must be much more efficient on the road than the much bigger tires of most of the competition. I saw them at the bottom of Dead Man’s drop and they seem to have gotten through all the sand and cliff quickly, which I would have expected to be their biggest challenge.

Duane Flatmo dragon sculpture

I sometimes give the entrants a hard time for not changing their sculptures from year to year, but there are obvious exceptions. Duane Flatmo brought back his fire-breathing Snapdragon and won the Spectator’s Favorite award, a clear sign that the crowds are happy to see it again.

Ant safari sculpture

These guys crack me up. There’s nothing like coming over a hill to find a group of safari guys carrying a giant dead ant up a sand dune to make you feel like you’ve fallen into a parallel universe. I think it is also an odd case of something getting better as it was simplified. They started out with a fire engine, then stuck the ant on top of it, and now took away the fire engine to make what I think is the best of the three.

Mr Fish kinetic 2013

This puffer fish sculpture sponsored by Mr. Fish is a classic which keeps changing species each year.

Amphibious vehicle

I’m putting these guys up as an honorable mention. They’re a bit light on the sculpture, but they look ready to race in style and comfort. If I had to commute several miles a day over land and sea, I think this is how I’d want to travel.

Gear Design – Differential


Designing gears is often a matter of knowing what needs to be done, but having trouble imagining into existence the perfect set of gears for the job. The above video does a great job of showing how a simple concept was refined into the elegance of design that is the modern differential gear that allows a single drive to rotate multiple wheels on a vehicle at optimal speeds to prevent slipping.

Self Stirring Pot

This is a self stirring pot. Why this hasn’t been put to market sometime in the past few thousands of years full of around a billion people cooking things, I don’t understand. Every one of us should be embarrassed for not coming up with this ourselves. It was created by a dentist in Japan who no doubt got sick of his noodles sticking to the bottom of his pot. He calls it Kuru-Kuru Nabe, the round and round pot.

This might even have some interesting new cooking possibilities. I wonder if you cracked an egg in there if you might end up with a doughnut shaped egg? This kind of elegant use of thermodynamics has some intriguing possibilities in other fields as well.

Camera Ball Omni-Directional Throwable Camera

Throwable Camera Ball

Throwable Cameras are an awesome concept, and this 3D printed ball with 36 cameras by Jonas Pfeil takes it to the next level. Just toss the ball in the air and when it reaches the vertex, all the cameras take a picture. The result is a stitched together panoramic image with a full 360° unobstructed view. I can think of all sorts of variations of this that could be useful, from adding infrared and using it for military and police actions, to using a launcher to get a shot of the whole neighborhood, to doubling the cameras for 3D shots. Video Below

The camera isn’t yet on the market, but I’m sure the first question they are going to get from the masses will be: Can I get it in purple?

Robotic Bull for the Military

War is about to change in a way not seen since the invention of the missile. DARPA (the defense Department’s advanced research wing) is showing off a scaled up version of Big Dog they are calling Alpha Dog, or Bull Dog. It resembles an actual bull more than any kind of dog, which reminds me of a recent story on adaptive camouflage in which researchers were attaching panels to mask most the infrared signature of tanks, and could project what would look like a walking cow onto the siede of the tank to further remove suspicion. In the case of Alpha dog, rather than projecting the cow on the tank, they seem to be putting the tank in the cow.

More interesting though, is what this says about the ever present arms race. The United States has been the dominant military power in the world, but has had troubles of late with small decentralized terrorist groups. Imagine if they were to convert an auto manufacturer to pump out tens of thousands of weaponized robotic mountain goats. It sounds a bit far fetched, but I don’t see what is stopping them really. Just with the tech they have shown the public, they already show themselves to have the tech not only to do this, but also to make them mostly autonomous. The toughest part at this point might just be giving them a power source that wouldn’t give us problems if it were captured.

It makes sense that the U.S. has cut funding for some of its largest budgeted fighter jets and other new tech. The next war will be lost to the people with the best drone offense and laser defense. What chance does a fighter pilot have against a drone immune to G forces, or a ground based laser system that shreds it from miles away at the speed of light?

In related news, there have been reports that the U.S. drones have contracted some kind of computer virus.

Advertising with Land Mines

Unicef Sticker - Front

The land mine sticker above is part of a land mine awareness campaign by Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund). The other side is sticky and camouflaged with a pattern to match flooring. When the camouflaged ad is stepped on, it sticks to the bottom of the shoe. The text on the front reads, “In many other countries you would now be mutilated! Help the victims of land mines!”

Land Mine advertising - Unicef

There is a beauty to this type of guerilla advertising. It allows for an organization without a lot of resources to spend a small amount of money on a clever advertising gimmick and then see their message spread multiply through the internet as sics like ours report the gimmick. Some of us even have enough shame to spread the message as well.

Where we live, if we fail to watch where we step, we end up with a smelly shoe. Other countries aren’t so lucky. For more on Unicef and land mines, see their page here:

Kinetic Sculpture Race 2011

It’s kinetic time once again in Humboldt County California, and this year there were even more challenges than usual for our brave contestants. The weather has thrown them the usual mix of sun, hail, and rainbows, but this year, in addition to slogging through sand dunes, the bay, and 42 miles of track, they also got to slog through months of politics.

Most of the entries this year seemed a bit sub-par. The bigger contestants like Calistoga and Yakima are no longer in it, and most of the rest are just new paint jobs on last year’s model, though I can see why. It all started with disputes over who was in charge, licensing problems, and threats of cancellation. Why would anyone put months of effort into building a sculpture for a race that may not even happen? On that note, I’ve got a message for those involved in the politics: nobody cares who you are, so either get your crap together or hand over the reigns to someone who will.

Tess and Sara Kraus

This year, the politics went too far. When officials barred Tess and Sara Kraus from piloting their tiger (below, made by local high school students) for failing to prove their age, these two responded in true Amazon style by getting up and rousing chanting supporters from the crowd with a speech that would make Xena proud. In the end, parents had to take the place of the devastated teens, and pedal the float past the officials, at which point they switched back, and continued on. They’ve been told they will not be treated as a part of the race, all in the name of some liability tyrant.  Well, I hope someone feels safer now.

Lost Coast, Tiger, endeavor

There was certainly no lack of enthusiasm though, and turnout was good, considering. I was glad to see the Endeavor entry come in first on day one. NASA needs a victory under their belt after the gutting of our space program. The high ground and the best technology have won nearly every war and industrial race in history, and those of the future will be no exception.

Sheriff grills gorilla

This albino gorilla even seemed to be having some trouble with the law. I moved on after taking this shot, but I expect the gorilla is in Guantanamo by now.

Duane Flatmo Ferndale Kinetic Race 2011

Above is this year’s entry from Duane Flatmo, a man who puts out so much awesome every year that I’m tempted to put him in the site navigation. I’m not that impressed with the conversion this year after seeing his last several entries, but taken on its own merit against the rest of the field, it is still a contender for number one.

2011 Kinetic Race Humboldt -Flatmo

And it breathes fire!

Kinetic Jeep

This one gets my vote for most questionable engineering. Maybe I was missing something, but these guys were pedaling like mad and going at a slow walking pace. The guy next to them even felt the need to put his foot on the ground to keep his bike from falling over, and it sounded like they were using their pedaling to tumble rocks in their pontoons rather than for propulsion. It looks heavy, but it was apparently blown over by the winds at the dunes.

Gloryopolis - Kinetic Sculpture Race 2011 - Arcata

Gloryopolis, above, is another great entry. You may remember them from last year’s Classical Nudes sculpture. They reused a well engineered base, but did a complete overhaul of the art. This is what it’s all about, and they pulled off the superhero theme better than I’ve seen done before.

Kinetic Dog, fish

There are some interesting regulars in the race that don’t get a lot of notice, like the dog above. I’ve posted pictures of this cycle/dog pair before, and now I’m curious. Has this dog been in the race since it was a pup? I’m going to have to go through my old pictures. The salmon on the right was entirely scaled with compact discs.

There are hundreds of people in single person contraptions and bicycles as well. I don’t know if it is home made or off the shelf, but I want the cycle below. It looked comfortable, efficient, and she could turn it 360° in place.

Three wheeled reclining cycle

If you would like to see more coverage from Kinetic Sculpture Races past, check out my coverage from past years at the links below:



SmartBird – Festo Robotic Flapping Bird

SmartBird - Festo

Not a year goes by lately without Festo coming out with some awesome new biomimetic toys, well, industrial automation really, but you can bet these will be in toy stores in some form within a year or two.

This time, they’ve created a bionic seagull, fully autonomous from takeoff to landing. It uses the same kind of active torsion to take advantage of vortices that flying animals use to get that extra edge in flight that has previously been hard to duplicate in man made devices. Turning is accomplished wit a tilt of the tail.

Rather than using lighter than air materials like in their past projects,the SmartBird frame is constructed from carbon fiber, polyeurathane foam and other lightweight but strong materials, yet they’ve still managed to keep it aloft even with the weight of the brains, batteries, motors, and even a radio transmitter. Video below.

For more technical specs, check out their pdf

Related Posts:

Festo Robotic Penguins

Festo Air Jelly

Lighter than air posts

Robotics posts

Ten Million Dollar Idea?

I’m a big fan of X-Prize style innovation. Instead of hiring a research team, and building a whole facility to research a subject, just start adding to a prize fund for whoever the first person is to give you the answer you seek. This way, you end up getting facilities, minds, correlations, and other resources you may not have realized existed working for you, all without paying a cent until you see results.

Several years ago, Google started a project along these lines, asking the public for their ideas to change the world. They offered big connections and prize money to those ideas they chose as the best. They ended up far behind schedule, and I wasn’t that impressed with their choices in the end, but I like that they tried. My submission is below:

A data path exists for processing credit and debit transactions at stores. Use this system to upload store receipts to online accounts. The customer could then use their account at home (like online banking) to use this information as they see fit, and the aggregated data could be used to varying degrees (allowing for privacy) to better the retail system.

  • Like online banking or Amazon recommendations, it could be both secure and useful to all involved.
  • Allows people to track their own spending in an interactive fashion while saving manhours.
  • Potential for adsense like contextual marketing.
  • Could merge with personal finance software, calculate nutritional intake for dieters, alert people with allergies. etc.
  • Affects a large portion of the world (everywhere you want to be).
  • Employers can keep tabs on company credit card usage.
  • Checkboxes to make easy tallying and splitting of bills for roomates.
  • Reminders or suggestions for recurring purchases.
  • Easy to find one click tech support, manuals for bought products.
  • Competing stores could send advertising telling you how much you would have saved shopping with them.
  • Quicky target customers with product recalls. This could have prevented many deaths recently in China.
  • Could integrate with massive medical databases to find hidden correlations between products and health.
  • Manufacturers could target customers with coupons and offers.
  • Environmental: Saves paper on receipts, manuals, coupons, advertisements, as well as the other impacts from creation and delivery of such products.
  • Google is one of the very few companies with the resources, expertise, and trustworthiness to make this a reality. If you don’t do it, who will?

What problem or issue does your idea address?

  • Waste Management
  • Deforestation
  • Clutter
  • Wasted man-hours
  • Unnoticed product recalls
  • Compulsive spending
  • Allergic reactions
  • Credit Fraud
  • Running out of milk
  • Lost product manual/warranty
  • Advertising wasted on the uninterested
  • Medical research
  • Landfills