Going Ape over RoboSapien

Posted 25 Nov 2003 at 17:31 UTC by The Swirling Brain Share This

Taiwan News has an article about RoboSapien being a humanoid robot that dishes out kung fu moves. Mark Tilton, aka BEAM religious leader, and hyped as a Nasa scientist (you either like him or hate him), is helping Wow Wee toys create the RoboSapien which will be coming soon to stores at around $100 each. RoboSapien is build on the BEAM concept like their previous toy BIO Bugs (popular a couple a years ago), but instead of a bug it is sort of like a fast lumbering ape. It walks like a ape, it growls like an ape, it even passes gas like an ape. It can dance and do kung fu. I"m sure kids will go ape over this thing.

From a spy at the skunk works, posted 25 Nov 2003 at 19:36 UTC by Frank McNeill » (Apprentice)

I don't think Tilden worked for NASA, he was a scientist at Los Alamos National Labs when he started building inexpensive little robots that are controlled by sensors and nervous networks rather than microprocessors. The RoboSapien thing is something of a departure from the beam concept because it has a remote control feature that is almost as verboten as a CPU in beam circles.

Most of the people that read this will know more about beambots than I do. In my opinion, beambots represent an evolutionary dead end, much like the insects they are based on. That isn't actually a bad thing in the case of insects because the reason that they have dead ended is that it isn't necessary for their continued survival.

In the case of beambots I doubt that they will survive in the pure form, since microprocessors are a lot smaller, cheaper and more reliable than they were when Tilden developed his beambots. Some beam features are likely to be adapted for use in advanced robots as reflexive responses similar to those of of mammals, and faster than responses generated by a brain or a computer.

I don't think Tilden set out to be a "God" and know that the more knowledgeable of his adherents don't see him that way. He is respected, but a lot of the current projects use wheels, and there has been some talk of propellers, in contrast with Tilden's creations which had legs for clambering over rough spots and were designed to survive rather extensive degrees of damage.

Tilden and BEAM robotics in general, posted 25 Nov 2003 at 21:49 UTC by Solarbotics » (Master)

He worked primarily for LANL, but did do some consulting for JPL/Nasa at times, although to what extent, I don't know.

I wouldn't be as so general to make the claim about remotes and CPUs being shunned with BEAM - that's been blown way out of proportion in the past. It's more about appropriate technology. Why use a micro when a handful of IC's can do it more robustly and cheaply? As for remotes, I don't think that's ever really been discussed on the BEAM mailing lists...

I can see your point regarding BEAM leading to the same "dead-end" as insects, but for a lot of us, that's a great ultimate goal!

I do know for certain that working for a toy company means he's building a lot more than what he used to at LANL, and there's no question about his ability to build dynamite robots.

BTW, there's more pics and videos of the early RoboSapien at

Re: Tilden and beam robotics (and bugs), posted 26 Nov 2003 at 13:42 UTC by Frank McNeill » (Apprentice)

This is to concede that Solarbotics, a.k.a. Dave Hrynkiw, made a better assessment of Tilden and beam robotics than I did. I stated that because beam robots are based primarily on the structures and motions of bugs that seem to have reached evolutionary dead ends, beam robots are likely to dead end.

That isn't absolute truth, but is nearer to it for the original beam robots that Mark Tilden constructed than for those of deciples that use wheels and other components not available to bugs and can evolve further by using sensors, motors, and power sources that are most definitely evolving.

Beambots still have a lot of evolving to do before they come close to the complexity and mystery of bug structure and behavior. As far as I know, no beambot has the five-jointed leg and dual actuation ("mechanical" for retraction, "hydraulic for extension) of a spider; the defense mechanism of a bombardier beetle, or the as yet unexplained methods ants use for cooperative endeavors that don't seem to be regulated by signals from a queen or George W. Bush of antdom.

I should also mention that the beam group is by far the most vibrant and active discussion group I have intruded upon, It has slightly under a thousand members, but more daily activity than other groups I have joined that had several times as many members, but had become mutual admiration societies for a small number of them.

There are also a lot of yahoo groups that have interesting specialties, but no members, and no entries. I still haven't found a way to build a free website, and have considered moving my files into one of these dead "groups" the way a hermit crab moves into the shell of a deceased gastropod to use it as a "gastro-pad‧' end of ramble.

I am still curious as to how, posted 26 Nov 2003 at 14:32 UTC by earlwb » (Master)

I am still curious as to how chiggers and mites know which grass stalk is the tallest and climb to the top of only the taller stalks and not the shorter ones. These things are like the size of ground pepper, but they've figured it out all by themselves. That's got to be useful in robotics.

Triangulation probably, posted 26 Nov 2003 at 21:47 UTC by Frank McNeill » (Apprentice)

My supposition is that a chigger holds a stick in front of its compound eyes so that the top of the stick aligns with the top of a stalk. Then the chigger measures the distance to the base of the stalk by putting the stick on the ground, marking where the end is, replacing the stick, several times and forming an equal number of sticks that are laid end to end to approximate the height of the stalk. It is likely that Eqyptian surveyors used this technique after seing chiggers doing it.

It is known that they, Egyptians, not chiggers, used rope loops with knots at intervals of three, four and five units to lay out square corners. I did something similar when I was doing mechanical design. There weren't many of the guidelines for drafting that exist now, so a machinist would know that dimensions expressed as fractions could be laid out using a steel rule, but that dimensions expressed as decimal numbers should be laid out with greater precision on x-y tables with decimal readouts.

I discovered that the conventional 15, 30 and 45 degree angles other draftsmen used could be converted into approximations with cartesian coordinates that machinists prefer to angles. The trick is to divide one of these angles by two, find its tangent, select a fraction that is close to the tangent, find its arc tangent and double it to find one of the angles for a right triangle with rational sides. A triangle with sides of 20, 21 and 29 units of length comes fairly close to 45 degrees. I used a programmable calculator with a program of my devising and learned how to irritate drafting checkers and bosses by using fractional dimensions expressed in eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds etc. to conceal the trickery. I would watch surreptitiously while my victims whipped out their calculators to check my dimensions and turned to give me hard looks. Sounds rather petty, but I JUST DON'T LIKE BOSSES!!

mite islands, posted 26 Nov 2003 at 22:25 UTC by steve » (Master)

Those clumps of mites at the tips of the grass blades are called mite islands. As to why they do, it's just the particular behavior that leads to the best chance of survival. The mites who didn't do it died out through natural selection. When a host walks by and brushes against the blade of grass, they all jump on the host en mass and start having dinner. A google search on mite islands might help turn up some research on how they pick the tallest grass blade. But don't count on it. There's been a shortage of acarologists (folks who study mites) the last decade or so and not much new research goes on these days.

I know, posted 28 Nov 2003 at 03:23 UTC by earlwb » (Master)

I know about the mite islands. It's just something the size of a small grain of sand on the ground, can crawl up to a gigantic grass stalk (in relation to it) that appears to be miles tall, and determine if it is the tallest one or not. Then move on to the next, etc. Then start up the first tall one found.

I suspect the mites, feel the grass stalk, and the vibrations or waving in the wind (frequency of motion as compared to thickness and hieght) is what they are looking for. There is probably some minimum vibration or movement cycle that ques them in for climbing the taller stalks. But on the other hand it might be as simple as an odor trail, the stalk with more mites climbing up on it must be good as everyone else was climbing it too. So go for that stalk as well.

Like you stated there aren't anyone studying mites much anymore. It seems the guy that raises mites for sale and sells them is about the only expert around anymore.

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