Mark Tilden

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Mark Tilden in September 2006
Mark Tilden in September 2006

The Founding BEAMer

Mark W. Tilden is the father of BEAM robotics and the designer of the Robosapien humanoid robot and other great WowWee robots. As a robotics physicist he has produced robots capable of interesting and complex behavior using simple analog circuits, often with discrete electronic components, and usually without a microprocessor.


[edit] In The Beginning

Born in the UK (United Kingdom) (Shroud, England to be exact) in 1961, Mark was raised in Ontario Canada. He started at the University of Waterloo but moved on to the Los Alamos National Laboratory where he developed a variety of robots such as the SATbot which instinctively aligned itself to the magnetic field of the Earth, de-mining insectoids, "Nervous Network" theory and applications, interplanetary explorers, and behavioral research into many solar-powered "Living Machines" of his own design.

[edit] Mark’s Signature Line

As can be seen in the two images on the right, Mark would (at least in the in the early years of BEAM robotics) close his emails with an interesting signature line. The words "Gomi no Sensei des" that follow his name are in Japanese and aroused a fair bit curiosity amongst those who have seen them. For example, on Feb 26, 2003 J Wolfgang Goerlich asked...

What does Mark Tilden's old signature, "Gomi no Sensei des", mean? I cannot seem to find the reference, nor translate it with the online tools.

Neil Sandstrom suggested that it means "I am Garbage's Teacher", while Tom Mairs proposed "I am master of junk" as a good translation.

But Bruce Robinson provided what is probably the best answer when he responded...

"Teacher" is the common, but usually inaccurate translation of "sensei". Sensei is a title rather than the description of a profession. It is generally given to teachers, professors, doctors, and other experienced professionals (but not to PhD's). Also to elderly people with a great deal of life experienced. You'll usually find it translated in a dictionary as "doctor; teacher; maestro". We English speakers tend to think of "maestro" as a reference to a master musician or conductor, but there is a more general translation -- master of an art or craft. In this context, then, "master" would be the more correct translation. To further clarify Neil's translation of "desu" (the "u" is silent, hence the mispelling Wolfgang saw), it is considered impolite to use "I" or "you" directly in Japanese. In this context, "desu" would imply "I am". Because "sensei" is a title, used as a signature "gomi no sensei desu" would translate to "Junk Master".

[edit] The Patent

Upon developing the basic parts that make up BEAM robotics; Mark Tilden applied for a patent on June 15, 1992. His US Patent #5,325,031 titled "Adaptive Robotic Nervous System and Control Circuits Therefor" was granted on June 28, 1994. The patent basically deals about Nervous Networks, Nu Neurons and Nv Neurons and how to interconnect them and implement them into robot behaviour.

> CLICK HERE < to examine a copy of Mark's patent.

Mark allowed the patent to expire on June 28, 1998. According to the U.S. Patent Office website the required maintenance fee was not paid.

[edit] Important Emails & Posts From Tilden

The items in this section come mostly from emails and posts that Mark sent to various BEAMers and/or posted to one or another of the BEAM email lists.

Now in Hong Kong, Mark currently works as an freelance robotics designer, consultant and lecturer.

[edit] From BEAM to WowWee - the Evolution of Mark's Design Principles

Over the years Mark Tilden's approach to BEAM robotics have gone through several changes. The following is a brief timeline of Mark's work and how it has evolves. Special thanks to J Wolfgang Goerlich for organizing this timeline and posting (message # 52774) it to the BEAM email list. Unless otherwise noted, all content in this section is taken directly from that e-mail.

[edit] Green Builder


This period begins in 1989 at the Rodney Brooks lecture. The principles are scavenging parts and solar-power; recycled components powered from renewable energy. Here Tilden develops his three laws of Beam robotics. The devices start at the amusing and stretch towards home automation, from the Tally-Ho Automatic Bedwetter and the Aggressive Ashtray to ZAX and SolarSpinner. This period ends in 1992 with the birth of Vbug 1.3 and the transition to A-Life.

[edit] Robobiologist


The second period opens with the famous Vbugs: Spyder, Walkman, and Lobster. The principles revolve around building Living Machines, focusing on devices with legs and avoiding anthropomorphic designs. Tilden imagines creating self-sustaining robots, later to tame them to do our bidding. This period runs from 1993 to 1997, ending in the writing of "Theoretical foundations for nervous networks."

[edit] Chaos Engineer


The Beam principles focus on applying chaos theory to design robot ecosystems. The ideal is a method that takes in the goal along with "detailed environment specifications" and designing attractors for robotic devices and ecosystems. Rovers are acceptable, particularly if they are driven by coupled chaotic oscillators. This period begins with the M/S Bicore BeamAnt and closes with Tilden leaving LANL for WowWee.

[edit] Toy Consultant


This period runs from 2001 to 2004, roughly from the BIO-Bugs to the RoboSapien. Beam Nv Nets are useful for prototyping, and blob microcontrollers are acceptable for production. Tilden builds a whole suite of prototyped toys, most of which are not produced, focusing on building relatively inexpensive toys.

[edit] Robotic Physicist


I am tentatively putting the start of this period in December of 2004, linking it to when WowWee. trademarks the Robonetics moniker (thanks Adi!). By this time, WowWee has freed itself from Hasbro and formed a separate Robotics division. Tilden's new title as represents a decreased focus on A-Life and [chaos theory with a corresponding increase in the physical properties. Tilden's principles seem to be primarily in areas of motor control and power management.

[edit] Summary

Such divided, one can see how Beam devices express the principles of their time. The VBug is represents the principles of a Robobiologist, the UniBug is that of a Chaos Engineer, and the BIO-Bug that of a Toy Maker. Likewise, the solar engine represents the first period, the Microcore the second, and the Unicore the third. From the Solarbotics perspective, Symets and SolarSpeeders are first period devices, ScoutWalker I and II are second period, and ScoutWalker III are third. The Robo-* entertainment robots represent the culmination of all these periods.

Each period has its own taboos. Reading press releases from the Green Builder period, one hears of the evils of batteries and on/off switches. The Robobiologist warns against making wheeled or anthropomorphic robots. Finally, anti-processor sentiment reaches its peak with the Chaos Engineer.

At first glance, there does not seem to be much unity in Mark Tilden's Beam principles. Other than, of course, the unity of the whole that comes from one man searching for better modes of thought and for better ways to build.

[edit] Some of Mark's Creations

[edit] From the BEAM Apocrypha

The following are a few odd and interesting examples of Mark's early creations.

[edit] Robots with WowWee

Since 2001, Mark has produced a number of Biomorphic robotics-based items through his work with WowWee Toys, including:

[edit] Videos of Interest

[edit] MWT's long-expired resume

On Marh 03, 2011, Mark Tilden shared what he called his [[MWT's long-expired resume|long-expired resume' (2000) with droidmakr (AKA {Clifford Boerema). There is simply too much information to squeeze into this section, but it can be viewed > HERE <. With the exception of removing the email addresses, and necessary Wiki formating, it is presaented in its entirety, as it was recieved.

[edit] Items Worth Noting Since 2000

[edit] External References

[edit] Other Papers

Many of the following publications are avalable from the Reference Library hosted by long time BEAM supporter Solarbots

  • A biologically inspired neural network controller for an infrared tracking system (Janette R. Frigo, Mark W. Tilden) Los Alamos National Laboratory, MSD448/NIS-4, Los Alamos, NM, 87545
  • Analog computation with rings of quasiperiodic oscillators: the microdynamics of cognition in living machines (Edward A. Rietman, Mark W. Tilden, Manor Askenazi)

[edit] Interviews and Articles

  • Redefining Robots - By Paul Trachtman, Originally published in SMITHSONIAN (February 2000)

[edit] Miscellaneous Links

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