Read here about Lego, a common rectilinear modelling toy, and its role in the discovery and development of tensegrity-related concepts.
Lego (trademarked in capitals as LEGO) is a line of construction toys manufactured by the Lego Group, a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark. The company's flagship product, Lego, consists of colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures and various other parts. The toys were originally designed in the 1940s in Europe and have achieved an international appeal, with an extensive subculture that supports Lego movies, games, video games, competitions, and four Lego themed amusement parks.
Lego bricks can be assembled and connected in many ways, to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings, and even working robots. Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects. While the early bricks were nearly all rectilinear, based on squares, rectangles and cubes, the company also introduced round pieces, and Technic LEGO as struts and pins.
Before 2020 LEGO played a minor role in tensegrity modelling, due to its predominately 90 degree coordination. In 2020, people began using a combination of LEGO and string to form a tensegrity structure. The model-making went viral, and soon inspired imitations of this "LEGO tensegrity" structure made out of wood, metal and acrylics.
Lewis Matheson, a physics teacher and YouTuber at @Physics Online, explained the science behind the LEGO tensegrity sculptures. This video was posted by Beyond The Brick, : https://youtu.be/2ieGV5pv6Ks
Lego's Implicit Model of Reality
Lego, like any toy, conveys an implicit model of reality. Tensegrity researchers that urge each child to have a Skwish are implicitly saying that childhood use of models affects the emerging adult's comprehension of reality.
Lego was a ubiquitous toy for the generation that invented, perfected and programmed the computers and software that make up the early World Wide Web. Object Oriented Programming (OOP), for example, is thought to be inspired by, or at least metaphorically similar, to the ease with which OOP inventors and programmers clicked together their LEGO constructions in their youth.
The following are aspects of LEGO play that are alien to the tensegrity mindset. (a) 90 degree coordination as a way to construct or model reality. (b) compression structures with weak tension are an ideal way to model reality. LEGO blocks stick together weakly, they are much better at resisting compressive forces. (c) compression and tension are bound into the brick, and are not separated out as they are in tensegrity structures with tendons and struts.
The Lego Tensegrity Craze
The earliest known version of the "LEGO Tensegrity" was posted by Cheng Gang on a YouTube channel in November 2019. The previous September, Cheng Gang had posted a classic 6 strut tensegrity, with struts composed of LEGO Technic and tendons from rubber bands. The same day he posted a wind driven walking LEGO construction, showing his general motion in dynamical systems. He then posted what would become known as the LEGO Tensegrity (see below for its details).
September's post, a 6 strut tensegrity:
The following November 13, 2019, the earliest known LEGO Tensegrity, from string and Technic:
It is not known who first stumbled across this video and copied it, but in March 2020 the COVID pandemic saw many people locked at home and looking for activities. Many of them built and posted LEGO tensegrity constructions.
The resulting burst of creative activity can be divided into the following types.
Basic LEGO Tensegrity
Standard Lego bricks are assembled to form two bases: a lower base and an upper base. The two bases are often identical. An arm is constructed, attached firmly to the base, protruding some distance from it, and ending with an affordance positioned in the center of the plane of the base, though some distance apart from it. For the bottom base, the arm protrudes upwards, and ends in the geometric center of the base, so that if one were to drop a plumb line from the arms' end, it would touch the exact center of the shape outlined by the base. The same applies to the upper base, though in reverse: the arm protrudes downwards, and ends in the geometric center of the upper base, so that if one were to drop a plumb line from the exact center of the shape outlined by the upper base, it would touch the end of the arm below. String or chain is attached to at least three equidistant locations on the bases' perimeter. When the bases are rectangular, the string is usually attached to the corners. An additional string joins the two arms. Decorative pieces may be added to the upper or lower part, such as LEGO characters.
This tensegrity form, with central arm and two opposed bases, was an innovation at the time: no earlier known structure resembles it.
In addition to the basic LEGO Tensegrity structure, electrical-powered motors are added to the upper or lower part.
Below are two images that Indracore uploaded to Instagram.
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is iterated, with , electrical-powered motors are added to the upper or lower part.
Paper (Origami, Playing Cards)
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is articulated with origami constructions or playing cards.
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is articulated with wooden sticks such as popsicle sticks.
A superhero figure is a prominent feature of one of the bases, usually the upper base. The finest of these integrate the hero's superpowers into the design, e.g., the arms are shooting "rays" which are the elastic tendons levitating the hero.
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is articulated with the top closed so as to form a tabletop.
Upside Down World
The 2012 Canadian-French film Upside Down (French: Un monde à l'envers) is evoked, with each opposing base articulating a world that is mutually Upside Down in relation to the other. The film starred Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst and Timothy Spall and was directed by Juan Diego Solanas.
A vehicle is a prominent feature of one of the bases, usually the upper base. The finest of these integrate the vehicles perceived movement, such as lfight, into the design, e.g., the exhaust of the vehicle is a tendon supporting it.
Wire and/or Glass
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is articulated with wire and glass materials.
3D Printing Plastics
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is articulated with 3D printed materials.
The basic LEGO Tensegrity structure is articulated with animals decorating it.
Using Lego to Model Classic Tensegrity Structures
The still from a video, below, shows the use of LEGO technic struts in the deployment of a folding, two module, "needle tower" dynamic structure, by Dario Genovese .