What is BEAM?
BEAM is an acronym which stands for Biology, Electronics, Asthetics, and Mechanics. BEAM was conceived by Dr. Mark Tilden to explore the fundamental biological principles which govern life on our planet. BEAM is now a thriving hobby which involves people from all age groups and backgrounds. Here's a little more about the components of BEAM.
Biology. By incorporating simple biological principles into robots, we make these robots more capable. Nature has, over millions and millions of years, refined creatures to match their habitats. Some creatures, like cockroaches, don't even have a central nervous system. These creatures simply react to their environment and search for food. It is these simple reactions to the environment which make BEAM robots so robust.
Electronics. Using simple electronic components, BEAM roboticists mimic simple processes developed and refined by mother nature. There are Nervous Neurons, which react very quickly to stimuli. There are Neural Neurons, which have a slight delay before reacting to a stimuli. There is the Microcore, which is simply a pulse generator that can be sped up or slowed down by the Neurons. BEAM robots use mainly extremely simple circuits to simulate these interactions. This means that virtually anyone can build BEAM robots.
Asthetics. Your robot should be neatly and efficiently constructed. Loose wires or bad soldering can lead to the death of your little critter. With proper attention to detail, solar robots can live for many tens of years. This is typical of Mark Tilden's robots. They are almost perfectly constructed using carefully planned layouts. Many have only a couple small wires going into the motors, and some are even cleaned by putting them into the Dishwasher! This section is closely related to the Mechanical section.
Mechanics. The mechanical design of a robot is critical for its survival. Just think what would have happened to fish if they didn't have smooth skin and the proper waving motion of the tail. They would have all been too slow to escape predators and would have become extinct long ago. Each creature has its own unique abilities that help ensure its survival. It is important to build BEAM robots with the necessary mechanical strength to survive environment as well. Some may have to be strong enough to survive a fall from a table, while others must be able to fend off other robots struggling to take over their territory (i.e. for solar robots, the lighted area of the table)
The Simple Facts
My mission is to do more with less and ultimately do everything with nothing - Wilf Rigter
BEAM robotics is a fusion of simple electronic circuitry and mother nature. Many BEAM robots have been built which can follow light, follow sound, walk, crawl, squirm, blink, and react to their environment. Yes, I said REACT. This type of robotics doesn't rely upon complex computer programs or microprocessors. Instead, BEAM is an attempt to create a robot capable enough to walk around and not get into trouble while keeping the electronic "brain" as simple and cheap as possible. This type of robot could then be used to carry out simple exploratory mission in hostile environments while carrying on its back a computer based sensor system to gather and transmit information back home.

When using a computer to develop a robotic platform, each and every variable must be accounted for in the programming. For example, what to do if the robot walks into a corner or needs to get over, around, or through an obstacle. BEAM robots have proven themselves to be quite capable of dealing with these situations using very simple circuits like the Bicore, Nervous Neurons, Neural Neurons, and the Microcore. Many of these capable little robots use only a small handful of simple components like transistors, capacitors, resistors, and the occasional 50 cent Integrated Circuit. Not only are BEAM robots fairly inexpensive and simple, they can be built and enjoyed by people from all age groups. They are simple enough that children in grade school can build them!

While many "Serious" roboticists deny the usefulness of BEAM technology, it is very hard for them to deny when a BEAM robot costing about 60 bucks outperforms a million dollar computer based rival of similar mechanical design. I have built a 2-motor walker, and have seen it get a leg stuck, and then promptly adjust its behavior slightly and simply pull its leg out and keep on walking! All with only about 25 components! Including the legs, motors, and batteries! That's impressive. And to top it all off, many of the robots I build are built mainly of techno-trash. Items like old computers, VCRs, tape players, CD players, and vibrating pagers give me almost all the supplies needed to create a new creature. The enjoyment you would get from building these capable little creatures is matched only by the knowledge gained while doing it. Many of these Robotic Bugs last for many, many years without needing batteries.

For people interested in building their own BEAM Robots, I have assembled a Links page which includes many websites related to robotics and electronics. There are also several Excellent books on the subject, my favorite being "Junkbots, Bugbots, and bots on Wheels". This book delivers the goods! Very simple and easy to understand with step-by-step directions for building several "species" of BEAM Robots, including a walking robot! You can pick up this book at Solarbotics.Com.