At a glance, Robosapien looks great versus the old school box on wheels with clear dome head. Ooh, you say, looks kinda like a muscled storm trooper. We nod in polite agreement, but behind your back, we snicker at your total lack of appreciation of the advanced robotic theory involved.
Robosapien was the first consumer robot based on biomorphic robotics. Biomorphic robotics is building robots that are based on the principles of biological systems. Often these systems have no CPU but instead sensors that are linked together in such a way so that it mimics artificial intelligence.
A New Philosophy for Robot Kind BEAM is an acronym for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics and Mechanics. Dr. Mark W. Tilden founded this relatively new branch of robotic sciences in 1989, based on the premise that behavioral-rich robots need not be the wickedly complex projects reserved only for well-funded labs.
Put another way, traditional approaches to creating robots have started with creating a sophisticated brain to maneuver the mechanics of the body. Though not discounting the incredible engineering feats of robots built this way, most notably the Sony Qrio and Honda Asimo, Mark Tilden strongly contends that this is the wrong approach to take.
It is like trying to emulate a human when modern technology and research can not realistically copy a bug from your garden. “[It is] an evolutionary dead end,” says Tilden. BEAM robotics is about taking the bottom-up approach, to start from mastering the simple bug and moving up from there.
Rather than attempt to create a centralized robo-brain to process every variable input and spit out a decision, why not use a system known as subsumption architecture. Subsumption architecture is a clever technique where the actions of a robot are managed in layers, each layer controlling one facet of the robots operation.
For example, a low-level layer could be ‘Walk Forward,’ which the robot will happily do until it bumps into something. At this point, the slightly higher level ‘Lift Leg Higher’ kicks in, overriding the ‘Walk Forward’ layer until the robot successfully climbs over the obstacle, at which point ‘Lift Leg Higher’ stops, and the low-level ‘Walk Forward’ takes over again.
So Tilden began building robot bugs on this principle, and more selfish creatures they could not have been.
Whys that? Well Tilden decided that Asimovs famous Three Laws of Robotics were no good. A review of those laws are:
1. Do no harm to humans.
2. Follow humans commands unless the command is to hurt a human.
3. Live with it. Those are pretty serious laws.
So the evil genius known as Dr. Hyde, I mean Mark Tilden, made up his own Three Laws of Robotics:
1. A robot must protect its existence at all costs.
2. You need to find a power source and maintain access to that power source.
3. You need to always be on the search for a better power source.
So in laymen terms:
1. Protect thy self.
2. Feed yourself and do not rely on anyone else to feed you.
3. Move thy self to better real estate.
Mark Tilden’s logic for making selfish robots is that, in the evolutionary chain in humans, we evolved by being selfish. Therefore, if we want robots to evolve, we have to allow them to be selfish to.
From Selfish Robot Bugs To Sapiens
So after leaving the government and NASA, Mark found a job at a toy company who wanted to use his cheaper method of building robots, subsumption architecture, as a way to bring affordable robots to consumers. That company is Wow Wee.
Then came the project that brought inexpensive robots to the masses: Robosapien. This biped humanoid robot was hundreds of dollars less than other humanoid robots and has some impressive moves and sounds.
In Robosapien, you see the basics of BEAM philosophy and technological research. It follows the B as a biomorphic rendition of humans, E for the fact you can not throw it in a bathtub, A because it is stylin, and one heck of a lot of M going into the robo-dancing capability.
Hello Mr. Sapien
Like no robot ever before, the Robosapien is affordable to the masses. The Robosapien is a crowning accomplishment when it comes to mobility, power consumption, programmability, and maybe most importantly: hackability.
The Robosapien’s arm has 360 degree motion because of flexible elbow joints mounted on biomorphic shoulder joints. The hand has 3 fingers which let the Robosapien grip, pick up, and throw objects. It has the ability to walk using real biped motion. The only other robots on the market that can do this cost around $ 1,000.
Now most robots use a ton of power to operate. A set of batteries might last an hour or two at most. But this is not the case with the Robosapien which runs for up to 10 hours! Robosapien was designed with outstanding mechanical physics. For example, if you move Robosapiens arm you actually generate power for it.
Do not expect the Robosapien to cook you breakfast you lazy dog. At least not until a later version. But you can still do some cool things with the Robosapien like playing a game of pull my finger, having it guard your room, or watching it wander around taking swings at things.
So what is so hot about the hackability, and is that even a word you ask? Tilden went through some serious effort to be sure that robot enthusiasts could take apart the robot, as he would have done as a child, and tinker with modifications.
The inside of the robot has all parts color coded so you can quickly and easily identify which parts do what. There is also lots of room inside to accommodate almost any kind of hack you can think of. There are even books on the different things you can do by hacking the robot. If you have hacked your Robosapien, send your hack in and if it is good, I will publish it for all to either love or hate.
And Another Thing
So the next time you look at your Robosapien give a respectful nod to the worlds first-ever robot based on the science of applied biomorphic robotics. Then go chase a cat with it.
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Biology 1B – Lecture 17: Foundations of Evolutionary Biology