Turning moments

The last couple of weeks has seen a few changes in the house as Benji has finally mastered crawling. Being a rather LARGE baby, he’s been the last of his coffee-group babies to become mobile, but now he’s got it worked out he’s away at high speed. No peaceful sunbathing for the chickens or the neighbour’s cat now.

So, one thing we’ve had to do is to work out what he can get into, up, along, through, etc, that we’d rather him not. The freestanding coat stand, for example, we’ve now bracketed to the wall. Our bookcases are secured anyway from an earthquake point of view, there are some bits of furniture that aren’t. I mean, you can’t practically bracket down a chair, can you? With a couple of pieces, I’ve had a quick go at working out whether he could, in principle, pull them over.

To pull over something on four legs, you need to shift its centre of mass so that it crosses the line between the two legs that are touching the floor  – then gravity will ensure that it falls over. That generally means pulling it towards you. (Pushing just pushes it into the wall). What is of importance is the turning moment you apply to the object about the two nearest legs, compared with the turning moment that is generated by gravity. If you win, then over comes the object. The turning moment about the point is the product of the force applied, multiplied by the perpendicular distance between the force and the point.  Basically, then, the greater the force applied, the larger the turning moment, and the greater distance between where the force is applied and the contact point between the legs and the ground, the greater the turning moment. Thus an adult will be able to tip over a piece of furniture much more effectively by pulling at the top, rather than pulling a quarter of the way up. (This acts in our favour when considering Bubble’s abilities.)

Assuming aforementioned child doesn’t CLIMB the object (and he’s not doing that yet), it’s a simple estimate as to how far up he can pull from. But how hard can he pull?

It’s tough to pull more with a force more than your own weight, unless you have your feet clamped to the floor. The reason is that at some point the friction between one’s feet and the floor is insufficient to keep your feet in one place. Try pushing a heavy box along a polished floor while wearing socks. The box might stay put, and it’s your feet that do the sliding.

So that gives us an estimate of how much force he could reasonable pull with. Therefore we can work out the turning moment, and compare it with that generated by gravity the other way. That’s fairly easy too – estimate the weight of the object and where the centre of mass is in relation to the legs and do the multiplication. A heavy object, with legs wide apart – a light one with only a small footprint on the ground, like our CD rack, will go over rather more easily.

So, at present, I’d be surprised if he’s able to tip anything that has to the potential to cause real damage. But that will change.