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The Joy of BEAM Bots



From BEAM Reference Library:


BEAM is a school of robotics, starting from simple reflexes, in a "bottoms-up" approach. The majority of BEAM robots are non-computerized (although simple CPUs can be used to drive them, in a "horse and rider" sort of way). Unlike many traditional processor-based robots, BEAM robots are cheap, simple, and can be built by a hobbyist with basic skills in a matter of hours. Because of this, BEAM is an excellent way of getting started in robotics, and of learning about electronics.


BEAM is the brainchild of Dr. Mark W. Tilden, formerly a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, now in the managerial stratosphere at Wow-Wee toys, a division of Hasbro (official title: Bio-Mechanical Physicist, R&D Department).


BEAM is an acronym standing for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, Mechanics:


Biology -- It's tough to beat 4 billion years of evolution; the world around us is a wonderful source of inspiration and education. Bear in mind, of course, that unlike Mother Nature, you also have the advantage of gears, motors, bearings, and good glues!

Electronics -- It kind of goes without saying, but this is what we'll use to drive our creations. BEAM robotics, though, strives for rich behaviors from simple circuits. Here's the key: simple and understandable circuits, surprisingly complex in behavior.


Aesthetics -- This just means your creations should look good. I'm an engineer, but even I appreciate a good-looking design. Besides, if a design looks "clean," it's more likely to work (and easier to test / debug) than a design that's tangled and unruly.


Mechanics -- This is the less-than-obvious secret of many successful BEAMbots -- with a clever mechanical design, you can reduce the complexity of the rest of your robot (reducing the number of motors and sensors, for example).


BEAM robotics basically starts from 3 philosophical tenets:


  • Use minimalist electronics

This keeps complexity from "snowballing", and keeps costs down

  • Recycle & reuse components out of technoscrap

This keeps things cheap, and avoids a lot of trips to parts stores; virtually all the parts required to make a BEAM robot can be found in broken electronics (ovens, walkman's, CD players, VCRs, pagers...).

  • Solar power your critter if possible

While less powerful than even a small battery (and, up-front, more expensive), solar cell s last for years; solar-powered BEAMbots don't require constant battery replacements or down-time for battery recharging.

While BEAM robots are often simple (consisting of a solar cell , motor, 2 transistors , and capacitor ), robots as complicated as 8-jointed, 4-legged walking spiders have been built using the principles of BEAM.