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BEAM From the Ground Up is a BEAM Reference Library site.

A bit of background on BEAM
BEAM -- what it is, what it's used for

While traditional approaches essentially start with a "brain," and attempt to build robots "downward" from that, BEAM robotics starts from simple reflexes, in a "bottoms-up" approach. The majority of BEAM robots are non-computerized (although simple CPUs can be used to drive them, in a "horse and rider" sort of way).

Unlike many traditional processor-based robots, BEAM robots are cheap, simple, and can be built by a hobbyist with basic skills in a matter of hours. Because of this, BEAM is an excellent way of getting started in robotics, and of learning about electronics.

Traditional robotics
BEAM robotics


Relatively expensive

Cheap (often < $10 US)


Processor-based, potentially very complex

Simple, discrete components, no processors

Time to build

Fairly long


Required skills

Electronics, programming, controls theory

Soldering, simple math

Required tools

CPU programming equipment (PC, cross-compiler, etc.)

Soldering iron, solder, epoxy

BEAM is the brainchild of Mark W. Tilden who is currently working as a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory ; all the work described on (or linked to by) these pages is based on a patent under his name ('though it's since expired), so make sure you read up about the legalities .

BEAM is an acronym standing for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, Mechanics; let's break this down:

Biology -- It's tough to beat 4 billion years of evolution; the world around us is a wonderful source of inspiration and education. Bear in mind, of course, that unlike Mother Nature, you also have the advantage of gears, motors, bearings, and good glues!

Electronics -- It kind of goes without saying, but this is what we'll use to drive our creations. BEAM robotics, though, strives for rich behaviors from simple circuits. Here's the key: simple and understandable circuits, surprisingly complex in behavior.

Aesthetics -- This just means your creations should look good. I'm an engineer, but even I appreciate a good-looking design. Besides, if a design looks "clean," it's more likely to work (and easier to test / debug) than a design that's tangled and unruly.

Mechanics -- This is the less-than-obvious secret of many successful BEAMbots -- with a clever mechanical design, you can reduce the complexity of the rest of your robot (reducing the number of motors and sensors, for example).

BEAM robotics basically starts from 3 philosophical tenets:

  • Use minimalist electronics
    This keeps complexity from "snowballing", and keeps costs down
  • Recycle & reuse components out of technoscrap
    This keeps things cheap, and avoids a lot of trips to parts stores; virtually all the parts required to make a BEAM robot can be found in broken electronics (ovens, walkman's, CD players, VCRs, pagers...). More on salvaging parts
    here .
  • Solar power your critter if possible
    While less powerful than even a small battery (and, up-front, more expensive),
    solar cells last for years; solar-powered BEAMbots don't require constant battery replacements or down-time for battery recharging.

While BEAM robots are often simple (consisting of a solar cell, motor, 2 transistors, and capacitor), robots as complicated as 8-jointed, 4-legged walking spiders have been built using the principles of BEAM. Start with simple creations, and move up to more complex designs when you're comfortable!

For more information...

Jim Vernon has a really good essay on aesthetics here; make sure to wander around through his web site for some really striking design ideas!

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Page author: Eric Seale
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