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Simple robotics that use analog circuits
BEAM robotics (acronym for "Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics") is a style of robotics that primarily uses simple analog circuits (instead of a microprocessor; though some "mutants" exist that do). BEAM is alternatively said to stand for:
Building Evolution Anarchy Modularity
Biotechnology Ethnology Analogy Morphology
Most BEAM robots are unusually simple in design compared to traditional mobile robots, and trade off flexibility in purpose for robustness of performance.
Mechanisms and principles
The basic BEAM principles focus on a stimulus-response based ability within a machine. The underlying mechanism was invented by Mark W. Tilden where the circuit of the artificial neurons is used to simulate biological neuron behaviors. Previously, there is some similar mechanism research by Ed Rietman in 'Experiments In Artificial Neural Networks'. Tilden's circuit is often compared to a shift register, but with several important features making it a useful circuit in a mobile robot.
Other rules that are included (and, in various degree applied):
# Use the least possible number of electronic elements (""keep it simple"")
# Recycle and reuse technoscrap
# Use radiant energy (such as solar power)
There are a large number of BEAM robots designed to use solar power from small solar arrays to power a "Solar Engine" which creates autonomous robots capable of operating under a wide range of lighting conditions. Besides the simplistic computational layer of Tilden's "Nervous Networks", BEAM has brought a multitude of useful tools to a roboticist's toolbox. The "Solar Engine" circuit, many H-bridge circuits for small motor control, tactile sensor designs, and meso-scale (palm-sized) robot construction techniques have been documented and shared by the BEAM community.
Being focused on "reaction-based" behaviors (as originally inspired by the work of Rod Brooks), BEAM robotics attempts to copy the characteristics and behaviors of natural organisms, with the ultimate goal of domesticating these "wild" robots. BEAM robotics also promotes the value of aesthetics in the design of the device, as to prove the adage "form follows function" (a good-looking robot is often better built and more robust than a poor-looking one).
Unlike many other types of robots controlled by microcontrollers, BEAM robots are built on the principle of using multiple simple behaviors linked directly to sensor systems with little signal conditioning. This design philosophy is closely echoed in the classic book "Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology", which through a series of thought experiments explores the development of complex robot behaviors through simple inhibitory and excitory sensor links to the actuators. Microcontrollers and programming are usually not a part of a traditional (aka., "pure" ) BEAM robot due to the very low-level hardware-centric design philosophy.
There are successful robot designs mating the two technologies. These "hybrids" fulfill a requirement needing robust control systems with the flexibility of dynamic programming, like the "horse-and-rider" topology BEAMbots (ed., The ScoutWalker 3 is such a robot ). A robot using BEAM technology controls the physical robot body (the "horse"), and the microcontroller and programming influences (and if needed, subsumes) the robot body from the "rider" position . The rider component is not necessary for the robot to function, but it will lose the important influence of a "smarter brain" telling it what to do.
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