The Emperor (may he live for ever) feels that walking is too much trouble. He should be able to simply stand upright and his shoes take him where he wants them to. He also wants to impress his subjects by appearing to glide without moving his legs.

In medieval times there is no no obvious technology for this, so his Chief Advisor has suggested that insects be affixed to the soles of a special pair of slippers. When the emperor stands up, the extra weight will cause the insects to start to move in order to escape. The emperor simply has to point his feet in the right direction.

Motivation - Why not get people to carry him? The Emperor wishes to appear to glide everywhere as though by magic. If the soles of slippers are of insufficient area, then he can instead stand on a flat rigid plate and his voluminous robes can obscure its edges.


As head of the design team, how do I go about achieving this? Is it even possible?

  1. Should I employ a small number of large insects such as Goliath beetles or is it more efficient to employ many, many small insects such as ants?

  2. What is the minimum area of the base plate such that the insects can carry the Emperor's weight (200lb 90kg) without being squashed?


  1. Insects are farmed for the purpose and replaced as necessary. There is always a spare base-plate/pair of slippers on hand.
  2. The surface area of the soles of the slippers/base-plate should be as small as possible consistent with being able to support the Emperor's weight for a ten-minute journey from one throne to another.
  3. The floors are smooth and flat. The emperor will be carried by courtiers up stairs or steep slopes.
  4. The insects are any species of real-life Earth insect. They can be imported if necessary.
  5. Please ask for other clarifications before answering.
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I love this question, although (a) an emporer that lazy wouldn't bother standing up, he'd just stay seated and let the little tykes carry the throne around (an answer that addressed the balance problem being moved around while standing without something to hold onto would earn at least one extra point). and (b) the phrase "herding cats" comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 17 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ Your question is conflicted. You say the insects are bred for purpose but then ask how heavy is too heavy as if you want real-life constraints for insects that can't exist. Plus you have the hard science tag. Square cubed law + insect leg surface pressure + chemical energy stores + insect leg strength pressure prevent all this under a hard science tag. What would work are wheely (or marble ball) shoes with "sled" dogs...or sled servants, more practically. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Apr 17 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen - They aren't selectively bred. They're just ordinary real-life Earth insects that are farmed. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Apr 17 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ Then the hard science tag rules the whole thing out immediately. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Apr 17 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen - I've allowed that he can instead stand on a robe-concealed platform if greater surface area is needed. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Apr 17 at 20:38

Among ants, the record is a 500mg weight lift, 100x its body weight. 90kg mean would take 180,000 ants. Unsure what their endurance is under those conditions. Giving each ant 12mm x 4.16mm of space, you get an area of 9 square meters minimum.

Wood (2 x 4s) have a density of 881kg/m^3. A 9 square meter platform made of 1/4" thick material (which is too thin to work, I believe) weighs 100kg. You end up in a cycle where the weight due to increased platform area increases faster than the area required by the ants to support it.

This also ignores endurance issues under such weight.

In any case, you definitely want wheels or bearings of some kind if you attempt this.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ you could have a steady stream of ant replacing the tired ones to ease the endurance. Or a line of ants, they don't move much each, just pass the platform like a wave. $\endgroup$ – Allan Apr 17 at 21:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Allan You could but that requires even more area which increases weight again, which as you can see above is a problem. Would be much alleviated by a bearing surface. Being pushed around on 2 by 2 foot platform by one or two people makes a lot more sense than wave upon wave of ants dozens of square meters across. Might be okay for public appearances but a PITA in day to day life. Stacking the muscle power vertically reduces footprint which insects can't do. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Apr 17 at 21:19
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I personally favour dung beetles pushing marble ball bearings. But they would need to run in a circulating pattern as the balls roll out from under the back of platform $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Apr 17 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Would wheels change anything? From my understanding the wheels could probably support the platform and ants could push it, but I couldn’t find any sources on that. $\endgroup$ – Ekadh Singh Apr 18 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Yay Yes, that is whole reason we use wheels. Rolling enables a pushing force which is only a fraction of the sliding force which in turn is only a fraction of the lifting force (weight). Look up coefficient of friction (and rolling friction) equation. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Apr 18 at 19:10

Rhino beetles are rumouredto be able to lift 850 times their own weight. However there is a lack of evidencefor that so let's stick to what can be proven.

http://jeb.biologists.org/content/199/3/609.abstract Dung bettles can lift 100 times their weight. At 20mg and requiring 15cm by 7.5cm then at 1m square they can lift 176 kg. (88 beetles).

Wood (2 x 4s) have a density of 881kg/m^3. A 1 square meter platform made of 1/2" thick material weighs 22kg. Combined weight is 112kg.

Minimising the platform would give 0.8 meter square platform. This could accommodate 56 beetles and could support 112kg. Combined weight would now be 105kg. As this only requires 53 beetles then 3 can die enroute and not be a big problem.

HOWEVER 100 times their weight is not sustainable according to that reference. 30 times is. The tipping point will lie between those two numbers. If an element of selective breeding was introduced then you can push towards a higher value.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.