Coronavirus Deer, a Da Vinci Helicopter, and Why No-One In The Metaverse Has Legs

I find you the finest reading material in my weekly Linkfest

Clive Thompson


The week hath begun.

Monday has been vanquished.

You deserve a treat — so here’s my weekly Linkfest, crammed full of reading!

1) 🦿Artist makes climbing robot caterpillars

Reuben Heyday Margolin is an artist who makes “kinetic sculptures that seek to combine the sensuousness of nature with the logic of math”, as he puts it.

That caterpillar above — slowly and organically inching its way over a jagged pile of wood — is one of his more recent creations. As Margolin describes it …

Created in 2019, exactly 20 years after my first caterpillar, this one can tackle variably curved terrain. Inside the caterpillar is a micro-controller holding a file with a quarter million angles. As the motors sequentially follow these angles, the caterpillar traverses the woodpile.

The woodpile is not as random as it looks, but follows a predetermined polynomial spline within certain bounds of curvature. It is made of scrap wood and took about week to make. The caterpillar took several months, although a lot of that time was spent learning about servo motors, micro-controllers, Terminal and Python, and learning how to use an oscilloscope to trouble shoot the square wave signal that carries the angular information.

But the crux of the work was a gloriously fun math problem. Solving caterpillar motion over arbitrary curved surfaces is the toughest, and most rewarding, math that I’ve gotten into yet. It took me several months as well.

It’s pretty mesmerizing! He has many more videos of his other kinetic artwork at his site.

2) 🥽 Why no-one in the metaverse has legs

“Yeah, I don’t have legs either”



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.