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The BEAM Glossary says:

Mark Tilden holding his first andhis latest BEAM based robots(Image copyright Mark W. Tilden,used with permission)
Mark Tilden holding his first and
his latest BEAM based robots
(Image copyright Mark W. Tilden,
used with permission)
  • A term used when referring to a method of evolving robots from lesser to greater competence through human-assisted selective evolution, usually by way of in-situ progressive "Robot Jurassic Park" analysis, and/or good natured BEAM competitions.

Incapable of self-reproduction, robots cannot as yet pass on successful survival characteristics to new generations of machines (or often even roboticists for complex reasons). However if devices are made survival-oriented and inexpensive, they can be observed and modified over long periods in closed real-world environments called "Robot Jurassic Parks (RJPs)". These parks can be equipped with various hurdles to test extremes of the robots' "interactive competence" and even social interactions with each other. As the roboticist is the "Small God" of the park, they become the evolving force for in-body modifications and next-gen improvements. The park is also a great place to safely restrain self-mobile solar robots, put them on display for guests, and even protect them from household felines (who do have the patience to wait 20 min for a device to move before subsequent destruction).

Taking RJP study to the next level, Mark Tilden came up with the idea of the BEAM Robot Olympics in 1991 (inspired by a Glasgow "Robot Olympics" event in 1990) where roboticists could compare, contrast, and even modify their designs on the fly. The BEAM Games evolved around 13 successively complex competitions and three basic principles to keep it interesting.

BEAM Games Principles: 1 - All robots must be built by the human competitor. No kits or dads-help allowed. 2 - All robots must move and execute their competitions autonomously, no radio-control. 3 - Cheating is encouraged.

This was a twist on standard Lamarkian evolution, different from many current "battle to the death" robot competitions which generally wind up with the (second) best robots being creamed. The goal was to create an atmosphere where ideas, concepts, parts, and tools could be exchanged freely, and creations swiftly made or modified right at the competition (a benefit of the swift BEAM development philosophy). The BEAM games had 4 main prizes, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and "Lunatic Fringe", the last being the broad audience favorite. Some noted winners of the Lunatic Fringe awards were the "Engineer-Sim-Bot", a self mobile cup that asked for beer then found the nearest wall and pissed all over it before returning to beg; the "Tally Hoe Automatic Bedwetter (THAB)" which randomly leapt on a bed in the middle of the night soaking the occupant; and the "Existential Micromouse" which gave a cogent argument as to why it was, for all intents and purposes, given the grand scale of an ever expanding universe, already at the center of the maze (this argument took 45 seconds and was, at the time, a new Micromouse record, but was disqualified as it required esoteric presuppositions not then in testable evidence).

BEAM Robot Games are still active today in competitions, colleges, universities, and schools all over the world and is widely supported through the community, plans, and kits.

So by viewing a human being as a robot's way of making another robot, an inexpensive method of development, a KISS philosophy, and a good-natured viral-social network, Mark Tilden believed it possible for machine evolution to occur. And for him, it did, progressing from his first Solarover in 1989 to the voice-activated, walking, talking mass-marketed Joebot humanoid in 2009.

20 years of BEAM robot evolution from a 2-Nv neuron Solarover to a working Bender-style humanoid, plus human.

NOTE: The material on this page was provided by Mark Tilden in an email to Clifford Boerema</small>

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