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 is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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