Olars, Kinetic Toy
This project initially caught my attention because it resembled the artificial evolution simulations done by Karl Sims. Olars, Kinetic Toy is a parts-based tool kit that allows you to connect bodies that manipulate and twist at the user's discretion. In this video demo there seems to be two main driver-blocks containing a motor and a knob to control how that motor behaves. The kit includes ligament-type bodies as well that attach to these motors in different ways to give the creature it's animation. These ligaments come in a variety of different shapes that result in surprisingly intricate movements.
Since I was familiar with Karl Sim's evolution simulator it was really fascinating to see a similar mechanism replicated with tangible objects, where the user has to manually provide what the simulation generated automatically. It's interesting how, if the user has a goal in mind for how the creature should move, they will most likely develop it with a particular understanding of how the parts interact, which changes over multiple iterations as they experiment. Eventually that understanding becomes more efficient and accurate at predicting how different structures will behave. I could imagine a person stuck in a room forever with only this kit - working away, generating endless combinations of parts and movements, mindfully crafting a super-organism from these basic components - similar to how the evolution of these creatures was originally calculated in 1994.
I think the biggest drawback of this implementation is it's limited arrangements given a small set of components. There is only one shape that contains motors which allow for a single axis of rotation, and the rest of the static bodies have only a few pre-defined attachment points. Multi-axis rotation would be much harder to implement physically, but if they were to use something like velcro, the shapes could be attached at any position or orientation. It would also be interesting to have different shapes with motors or to include a motor on each ligament, which would allow for much more complicated motion.
As I mentioned before, the essence of Karl Sims evolution simulator plays a major role in this piece. It seems to have taken a process meant to be solely carried out by computers and launches it into the tangible world for people to naturally do what was coded into the simulator. You can see how the limited nature of the physical joints is balanced by more intricate objects to be attached, making it easier to get interesting movements from them and keep the user entertained.