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Robosapien: Latest Toy Robot From Mark Tilden 181

Onnimikki writes "Mark Tilden has been building really cool BEAM robots for a long time. Now, he's come up with RoboSapien, a toy that no self-respecting geek can go without. Videos of the RoboSapien at the 2004 New York City Toy Fair have been made available by Solarbotics. Mark offers some really good explanations about what makes them work."
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Robosapien: Latest Toy Robot From Mark Tilden

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  • by erick99 ( 743982 ) * <> on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:08PM (#8346478)
    Watch the demo video, the first one on the video page. The technology behind this robot is amazing! Each movement of the robot, for example, returns 50% of the energy used back to the batteries. This means the robot can run it's seven motors for 20 hours. While the robot itself is pretty wild - it can do some pretty wild things and not fall over - the real benefit, I think, is in how these innovations can be translated into more serious robotic applications. If he can do all of this with two chips and 12K of assembler code, imagine the possibilities for something that might cost a bit more than this robot's $99.

    Happy Trails!


    • by l810c ( 551591 ) * on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:19PM (#8346563)
      It's been a few years since I was really interested in things like this. But this thing is just light years ahead of anything I'm aware of.

      This looks like something that's released in Japan 3 years before it ever(if ever) makes it to rest of the world.

      I'm reminded by those multi-million dollar Japanese robots(Doesn't Honda and someone else make one?). They have huge research labs, this guy has literally evolved his robots from bugs to sapiens. The next generations should be amazing.

      Oh yea, and my son will be getting one of these for his 1st birthday in a couple of months. Here, play with the box.

      • The Honda Robot (Score:2, Informative)

        Doesn't Honda [...] make one?

        Yes, Honda has ASIMO [], or Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility. I remember first seeing ASIMO walk around, looking a little creepy, since it walked with a relatively "human" style. It also "...turns sideways, climbs up and down stairs, and turns corners." And it's starting to look more and more human [] with each new prototype.

        • Btw, it's not really an acronym, its a japanese word that means "gait or step". They came up with that sad acronym when it started touring North America.
          • its a japanese word that means "gait or step".
            And here I thought it was an homage to the Good Doctor for inspiring millions of budding robot scientists with stories that didn't revolve around the robots going mad and trying to kill or enslave the humans (Terminator, Matrix, Galactica...) by inventing the three (four) Laws of Robotics.
  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:09PM (#8346488) Homepage Journal
    at best buy, 100$ pricetag
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:10PM (#8346497)
    "A full function fast moving robot minion suitable for all your world domination needs."

    And for only $99? Wow, we should've invested in these in Iraq.
  • by illuminata ( 668963 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:11PM (#8346505) Journal
    Well, I have to give this guy credit, for when he was playing God he didn't choose to create RoboSapien in his own image.

    I mean, shit, a big robotic dude with mean chops would freak me out.
  • by Anonymous Coward
  • by victor_the_cleaner ( 723411 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:13PM (#8346517)
    Blatantly policital:

    Good thing he didn't name it HomoSapien, or the Terminator/Gov. of California (difficult to tell which part is more of a stretch) would say:

    What a Homo Robot? That is illegal!
  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:16PM (#8346536) Homepage Journal
    At the bottom of the page they had 4 links, the one to popular science had this to say.

    the 14-inch-tall RoboSapien, which will retail for about $80 when it hits stores later this year, uses analog transistors to react to signals from the world around it.

    How is this different from the aibo?
    • by kertong ( 179136 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:17PM (#8346550) Homepage
      it isn't $600. :)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Correct, Aibo is approximately 8X the cost, but it adds:
        color CCD,
        3-axis gyroscope,
        300+mhz 32bit RISC processor,
        MemoryStick slot for data storage/user-written code (I have a 16mb card in one of my Aibos, 32mb in the other)
        wireless lan card
        OS based on Unix (Aperios)
        stereo microphones
        14 DOF
        etc. etc. etc.

        In short, this is a neat toy. Aibo is a neat toy, too, but can serve as a robust hardware platform for serious robotics/AI research.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:25PM (#8346588)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:54PM (#8346763)
      Because the robots he builds aren't build using fast microcontrollers and heuristics to get things to move. They're designed using analog techniques (i.e. discrete amplifiers, capacitors, and resistors instead of a custom ASIC - similar to the way people designed things like TVs 30yrs ago with only a couple dozen transistors versus the millions of logic gates in modern TVs). So instead of using a digital timer on a chip you could use a charging capacitor. Well designed analog systems can be much better than digital solutions.

      The main reason people don't do things in analog more often is that its hard to design and its typically even harder to design something that can be mass produced (due to tolerances/ manufacturing variations). A popular control systems design book has a photo of his UniBug on the cover because it's such a neat applications of controls theory. The bug can walk without needing any long fine tuning to get parameters to just the right value.

      Of course analog design suffers from a whole host of problems that the digital world is relatively immune to. For example, noise in an analog system is a huge killer whereas noise in a digital system isn't so bad untill you start working at >100MHz. For example, 1-2mv (that's 10^-3) of noise in your analog system can be deadly if you're amplifying that signal by 100x-1000x whereas 1-2mv of noise in a digital part isn't such a big problem.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Part of the genius of Tilden's nevous network (different from neural network) technology is that it makes use of the analog noise. The back-EMF (noise) from the dc motors is used to directly inform the nervous neuron about physical interactions with the environment.
        What are ordinarily considered problems to be engineered out of analog designs are considered as opportunities for exploitation by BEAM roboticists
  • At last (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrystalCut ( 307381 ) * on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:16PM (#8346538) Homepage Journal
    A small, somewhat cute robot that wouldn't freak you at at 4 AM if you bumped into it.

    Actually, I found this pretty cool. Amazing these little guys have such ablities consdering the technology.

    After seeing countless videos of many different robots, this is on the only one I could see putting on my desk. Don't know how the ghosts who haunt my abode are going to feel about it though.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:18PM (#8346559)
    ...our tiny, little overlords.
  • Mirrors? (Score:1, Insightful)

    Can anybody who manages to get to the page make a mirror, maybe even .torrent's for the videos? It's been maybe 5 minutes and hasn't loaded for me yet.
  • by victor_the_cleaner ( 723411 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:21PM (#8346572)
    from the WooWee web site:

    - Speaks fluent international "caveman".

    It's nice to see more interest in 'caveman', unlike dying languages such as Latin or 'Furby []'.

    Although 'caveman' is not a selection at Babel Fish [] yet.

  • dammit! (Score:5, Funny)

    by kertong ( 179136 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:21PM (#8346574) Homepage

    "- 67 pre-programmed functions including pick-up, throw, kick, sweep,dance, fart, beltch, rap, and half-a-dozen different kung-fu moves.
    - Speaks fluent international "caveman".
    - Three demonstration modes: Disco dance, Rude behavior, and Kung Fu kata.

    Well, looks like I'm going to lose my job to a $100 robot.
  • If not, that should be stage two. Why buy one $99 minion to bully your colleagues with, when you can buy two that will work as a team (heh). And of course, who could resist the sick pleasure of making them fight each other for batteries.
  • Dammit, these things are taking over the internet already
  • RoboSapien media (Score:5, Informative)

    by dnixon112 ( 663069 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:27PM (#8346603)
    Bigger picture: []

    Video: []
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:30PM (#8346624)
    Farts, belches, who needs bio-brats when you can have one of these for $99 and less than 9 months waiting time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:31PM (#8346634)
    Pray tell, why is this an especially interesting development? This toy is basically a remote-controlled device. Far from a "robot", like AIBO or QRIO which actually have autonomous capabilities and can decide to do things on their own.

    I move to strike the word "robot" from any device that is not autonomous in some fashion... :)
    • by EtherealSys ( 695211 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:56PM (#8346771) Homepage
      In my opinion, this is an exciting article, not because of the robot's capabilities, but because of its price tag. This is bringing some pretty sophisticated robotics to a completely different market than the AIBO or QRIO. If these motor skills can really be done at such a price, there's no reason why we shouldnt see pretty dramatic drops in the prices of the more expensive tech toys.
      • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:18PM (#8346871) Homepage
        If these motor skills can really be done at such a price, there's no reason why we shouldnt see pretty dramatic drops in the prices of the more expensive tech toys.

        Don't be so sure. These are analog control circuits, not digital logic. So there' s no CPU or microcontroller to program with autonomous-ish behavior. And theres not an easy (or cheap) way to control the analog circuits even with add-on digital controller of some sort or add new response behavior based on new sensor inputs -- the discrete component operating ranges are to small to produce the wide variety of behavior you can do with digital logic.

        So, if you want this toy to do something new, you can't just tweak some assembly code, or vary the pulse-code modulation signal to a servo, you have to design a new control circuit. There's the rub.

        Still kinda cool to watch an $80 robot do a little jig with decent dexterity. It's a great achievement in low-cost analog feedback control systems. If we just knew how to make cheap resistors and capacitors with wide ranges of easily-controllable parameters, we'd be seeing some major advancements spawning from this.. .
        • Actualy human are basicaly an analog unit. Good concept of using analog which in motor control works better than trying to do it digitaly.

          If this thing runs! Then pitty the poor cat population! { Evil laughter goes here! }
          • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:46PM (#8347002) Homepage
            Well, strictly speaking everything in the real world is analog, of course. But, in the way we're using the terms here, analog means made from discrete analog components and feedback circuits with fixed values, which are distinctly unlike the human's (and other animals') unique ability to vary the analog operations in such widely varying and relatively precise ways.

            Digital, as relevant here (like an Aibo), means able to be approximated by binary values and transformed by logical operations using digital circuits that drive digital-analog converters such as servos and motors with "digital" imputs and controls. This sort of thing lends itself very easily to programming that can be changed and modified easily, sensors added to the system with little impact or re-design needed, etc.

            My point was that analog discrete devices, like the ones used in this toy, tend to be only cheap enough to warrant a system price of $80 when they are the plain old-fashioned fixed values, which means the circuit made of these that controls the behavior is not variable (its behavior depends on these fixed values). It does one thing, and has a few circuits that it can shunt in an out to do several canned things. But making it do a new thing, even a slight variation is hard and expensive, and adding a new input from a new sensor, something trivial in most digital control systems (like an Aibo), is nigh impossible.

            So, again, the only way this sort of analog-circuit control system robot toy will help bring down the cost of other, digital processor-based robots, is if we find a way to make cheap discrete components with variable parameter values controllable by digital logic, and even then the savings would be pretty small. You still need the ASIC with the microcontroller in it. Maybe your servos and motors could be a bit cheaper -- maybe.
            • by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Saturday February 21, 2004 @01:37AM (#8347692)
              The real world can be analog and digital at the same time. It's red not blue. it's a sort of pinkish red. Is time discreet or continuos? What do you mean you do not know!

              Fixed, what is fixed? There are a lot of fixed values in the human body. In fact most of the body is based on very fixed processes. Feed back, is a very fixed response. The complexity comes with the sheer number of feedback systems working in parrallel. We cannot model this complexity with a pre-programmed system, but it may be possible to simulate the feedback and then set those loose to model the system.

              Have you _EVER_ worked with a digital robot, adding a new senosr is not easy? Adding a new response is not easy. In fact this is one of the main stumbling blocks of digital robots. Everytime you add a new sensor you have to explicity program for it. That means the robot is limited by the imagination/time of the designer.

              In response to your last paragraph, take a look at beam robots. See how they can do tasks with a few components that complex digital robots cannot. See how they deal with component failures. Think about how this ties back to nature. See that tieing into a feedback circuit is easy, but ultimately unpredictable.

              This whole area is opening up after 50+ years of going in the wrong direction and achieving only predictable systems. AI/AL is embracing simple systems that combine automatically to implement complexity.

              Read Stephen Wolfram, Steve Grand and Mark Tilden. All three are showing that unpredictable complexity can be modeled by designing simple feedback systems and then letting them interfere with each other. Chaos theory is the underlying mathamatics.

              To cast aside this arena as just a cheap toy is to be blind to the sheer scope of the undertaking.

              Orville, Wilbour put down that paper plane it's just a toy.

              • I didn't say it wasn't interesting. One the contrary, it is an amazing control system, to repeat myself.

                The real world can be analog and digital at the same time. It's red not blue. it's a sort of pinkish red. Is time discreet or continuos? What do you mean you do not know!

                Time is continuous on the scale of interest to robotics -- human scale. No question.

                Fixed, what is fixed? There are a lot of fixed values in the human body. In fact most of the body is based on very fixed processes. Feed ba
              • In response to your last paragraph, take a look at beam robots. See how they can do tasks with a few components that complex digital robots cannot.

                ... and see all the things complex digital robots can do that beam robots cannot. I'll stop working on traditional robots when someone wins with a beam robot in RoboCup. I'm not holding my breath.

                It's kind of like saying launching satellites is trivial because you can build cheap and simple model rockets. Or this: O(n^2) algoritms are usually a lot simple
    • Is a programable industrial robot a robot?

      • is this really programmable, or can you just choose the order of execution of canned actions with no sensor feedback or branching or looping possible?
    • by elmegil ( 12001 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:31PM (#8346942) Homepage Journal
      It does sound automomously programmable, just not completely behavioral like Aibo. Of course it's not $1500 either. Also there's this bit from the All Nerd Review article:

      What Tilden emphasized with the RoboSimian, was the customization possibilities involved. Are you listening, action figure customizing freaks? Now you can dress up and paint your very own robot. He also said that because of its affordability, techno-geeks (I'm looking at you, Dave) can open this sucker up and play around with his insides, looking to see not only how he works, but what can be done to him. Wise move.

      If Mark Tilden says he made it so you could play with the guts, I think I'm gonna want to play with the guts.

      • This could be REALLY fun to play with I want to buy one, and create a 20$ modchip for it that allows you to turn it into a weapon of miniature distruction (WMD)

        Then, late one night, sneak an army of these into iraq. Take that GWB!!!

        Can you imagine like 20 of these things having a game of tag?
    • How about we leave AI for autonomous functionality

      And continue using robotics correctly to refer to ROBOTS

      Like Mr. Roboto.
    • To all who think this is a particularly "analog" device, I'd like to point out that in the "intro" video clip, the ending words are:

      So, that's pretty cool for a hundred buck robot with no gyroscope, the brain of a calculator and two chips inside, one, the Hitachi motor driver based upon nervous network control technology, and two, a dedicated sound processor based on a 4-depth stack modified PIC20 and 12K of assembler code.

      (see also )

      This is a radio con

  • by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:40PM (#8346671) Homepage
    A full function fast moving robot minion suitable for all your world domination needs.

    *looks at robot*

    Well, sure, if you plan to dominate the portion of the world that's smaller than 14 inches.

    I guess that could work. I mean, if you control the floors and electrical outlets, you pretty much control everything.
  • More Videos (Score:3, Informative)

    by smr2x ( 266420 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:42PM (#8346682) Homepage
    Hate to do this to this poor server.. But there's a zip file with two videos here: []

    Have fun!

  • Reminds me of... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Beolach ( 518512 ) <beolach@j u n o . c om> on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:42PM (#8346683) Homepage Journal
    The trailer/advertisement for the I, Robot [] movie being made right now. Looks more like an ad for an actual robot, rather than a movie.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:44PM (#8346701)

    BestBuy is taking preorders for RoboSapien [] at $99.99 shipped free. has it for $89.99 [] but no free shipping.

  • that's a shame.. I hope that they made it optional at least! I want to make my robosapiens scare the crap out of my housemate when he gets home! :)
  • whatever happened to rocket guy? has he blown himself up yet?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:52PM (#8346756)
    I got this at least second hand so if somebody has a more accurate version I would be interested to hear it.

    Mark was giving a presentation at a conference. He was showing off one of his small insect robots. He then (to the audience's horror) crumpled it up like a wad of paper and put it down on top of the overhead projector. The audience was then able to see it unfold itself and walk away.

    Unfortunately, the story has a larger context which explains how it comes to be that Mark is down in the States rather than still here in Canada. Again, I would be interested in hearing an accurate version of the story.
    • by mkucic ( 755054 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:25PM (#8346907)
      This is true! Mark Tilden visits the Telluride workshop each year. This is gathering of Neuromorphics junkie, I being one of them attended one year. He builds robots using a very simple basic building block. Each building block being able to run on its own. The building blocks connect together to form a larger system. He can literally damage the system and it will continue to operate. Each block adapting to the lack of input from its neighboring block. Kinda weird to watch someone rips wires out of the gut of a system and then see the thing adapt to the loss and still move along.

    • One of the core ideas he's getting across when he does that (or at least at the time when I saw him talk back in '92 or '93) is that analog is a lot more robust when it comes to failure modes and design considerations. If you have a more robust platform to start building upon, you can do more with less.

      He's a fascinating guy to meet in person. You have to have your wits about you and be hard-core techie to track his conversations though. :-)

      When everyone else was focused on computationally intensive app
    • Mark was giving a presentation at a conference. He was showing off one of his small insect robots. He then (to the audience's horror) crumpled it up like a wad of paper and put it down on top of the overhead projector

      Sounds like Mark. When he was a lab tech at University of Waterloo, I got to see him do similar things on many occasions, although maybe not as extreme. Then again, his budget was whatever he could scrounge at surplus electronics stores. He'd bend and twist the wire legs of robots, flip them
  • > a toy that no self-respecting geek can go without

    Apparently I am not very self-respecting!
  • by Dr. Ion ( 169741 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:05PM (#8346812)
    The Solarbotics server is under a bit of stress, so here's a torrent [] for all four video files, 42.7MB total.
  • One day americans will rule the world from their couches thanks to their robot slaves . . .
  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:15PM (#8346852) Homepage Journal
    Does that make it an android?
  • THUD! CRASH! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SWTP_OS9 ( 658064 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:22PM (#8346892)
    Well need to wire the jaw back in place this is outstanding. Now tie it into a computer as a hire leval brain and wow!

    That made the Sony one look like 2 year old mush!

    Are they sure it will go for 99 dollars! WOW!
  • I've got to say... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by smr2x ( 266420 )
    This is one of the only robots I'd buy. Looks fun and entertaining, but the real clincher for me is the price.

    A robot has always been a geek toy I've wanted, and this one will definitely fit my price range.

    If anyone else has simliar, relatively low-priced robots, fill me in?

  • I bought an R2D2 last year, and I love it. It was especially fun at work when it'd roam around and annoy the engineers trying to work. (Hey, I still had status for having the neat toy!) One thing, though, is that there's a small window of opportunity where one can get away with that, and having a stationary mode for it would have been nice. They didn't put any sort of port on it where I could plug in from the wall. Pity because I'd like to have had that thing sitting my desk and turning it's head at e
  • At first glance, I thought this had something to do with Solarbabies [], arguably one of the worst films ever made. But it doesn't, so this is just plain ol' off-topic.
  • Robosexual (Score:4, Funny)

    by giminy ( 94188 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @11:20PM (#8347155) Homepage Journal
    Now, he's come up with RoboSapien, a toy that no self-respecting geek can go without.

    At first glance, I thought this said "can go out with."
  • I guess the Army will be buying a couple of these to prototype their little "robotic minion" projects out on.

    Shame it's not programmable, it'd be a great U.S. Wonderborg [].
  • by Penguinshit ( 591885 ) on Saturday February 21, 2004 @12:08AM (#8347395) Homepage Journal

    Finally I'll have someone to blame my flatulence on besides the dog and my wife (neither of whom are amused).
  • Grand & Tilden (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Saturday February 21, 2004 @12:10AM (#8347405)
    I'm sort of an amateur AI/AL person, unlike the MIT clowns I admit to it :-)

    There is a great deal in common between this and the game/work of Steve Grand. Steve has started to work with robotics and I think this a mistake. He could have taken his software to the next level.

    Both Grand and Tilden feel that you can create life with very simple processes. You do not need to spell about how something is to behave but what something is. This is a fundamental change from the traditional AI/AL approach.

    The exciting thing is that the approach of using simple processes is paying dividends. Where Grand might explain conciousness, Tilden can explain physiology.

    Where is computing going in the future, take a look at the work of these two gentlemen and see for your self.
  • Love the robot, hate the cameraman!

    Was it really necessary to keep Mark Tilden in the shot at ALL times? Could we have gotten ONE close-up of the robot? A medium shot even?

    Open source sig, feel free to modify it's source and distribute publicly.

  • Sapiens is the singular form. Sapientes is plural. So homo sapiens is singular and its plural form would be homines sapientes.
  • Just drop a thousand of these on Mars for pre-construction in advance for humans to land. Pave out runways and habitat in advence with a army of robot critters. Loose one or two, no big deal.

    If you make 'em the size of a HumVee or a Cat then you have something that could do dirt work for years on solar power

  • I'd recommend at least
    • Additional Battery Capacity
    • PC Interface (via RF, naturally)
    • Video Camera
    THEN you have something you can call a robot worthy of an Alpha Geek
  • A friend of mine and I used to trade tapes with this guy. Of course he's working on a Giant Robot -- he's an ANIME FANBOY....

  • What about a robotic Spider? Or some sort of multi-legged animal.. I presume that would make it easier and quicker on the ground, and you can just imagine all the looks from the envious geeks you know. Maybe something along the lines of a crab, so that it has gripping legs to pick up things as well as severl legs so it scurries along the ground.. I'd buy that! I'm not so sure about a slow mechanical monkey that burps and farts though..
  • Or does this thing look like it wouldn't tip over no matter what it did because of how big those feet are, and the fact that they have the weight of the batteries in them?

    Now, all joking aside, this is seriously cool. A robotic toy I can afford (after college) which has a longer battery life than almost all similar toys on the market. Wow. When will we get to the point where they sell a shell unit like that, that allows us to upgrade it and add our own modules? I'd love a plug and play robot that wasn't

A formal parsing algorithm should not always be used. -- D. Gries