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Solarbotics has posted some video from its vault, portions of the 1995 BEAM Games, with BEAM inventor Mark Tilden talking about his VBug 1.5 (built from little more than a couple of Sony Walkmans and an Oven Timer Unit). I bought a BEAM VHS tape back then (I think of this event), which included this footage. It was horrible quality and I had to listen to it over and over again to piece together what he was saying. This is a little better, but still hard to hear and likely for hardcore BEAMers only.

I definitely still remember the impact it had on me and how much rethinking it made do about what constitutes a robot, artificial “intelligence,” etc. If a “dumb bot,” with basically some analog oscillators and relays for “brains,” can successfully navigate a space by simple bump sensor/switches, or simply by bouncing off of things, is it any less successful/intelligent than a robot that has digital processors, code, sophisticated sensors, and builds maps of its world and negotiates those? The BEAM answer is, of course: No.

Mark Tilden explaining Walkman (VBug1.5) at the 1995 BEAM Robot Games

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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