An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN
Scientist makes robots without computer brains
April 30, 1998
Web posted at: 1:50 p.m. EDT (1750 GMT)
LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY, New Mexico (CNN) -- Canadian
research scientist Mark Tilden is treading a road less
traveled by other robot-constructors: rather than using
digital circuits -- which is to say computers -- he uses
analog equipment to control and guide what he calls his
Tilden bases his work on his patented paradigm for robotic
control known as "nervous nets."
"A nervous net is to the human body the way the neural net is
to the human brain -- in other words: head and neck
optional," Tilden said.
Tilden's nervous net is essentially a self-stabilizing
(mostly solar-powered) control circuit that guides the limbs
of a small robot.
The robots' simple components, such as diodes and
transistors, can be tweaked to cause them to react
differently to various stimuli, such as light or solid
In order to build his micro robots, Tilden uses dead floppy
drives, parts of old VCRs and CD players, old volt-meters,
pagers, toys, etc.
Human-like robots, such as C-3PO in the science fiction movie
"Star Wars," are just a myth, Tilden says. "They really are
fictitious creatures, I mean, right up there with Santa Claus
and the Easter Bunny."
Tilden says "computers aren't good for everything," and
points out that the current computer-controlled robots are
still far too prone to malfunction.
|Tilden: "Personalities come out in these devices..."
85K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
|Mark Tilden talks about his micro robots|
Instead of looking at computer CPUs, he is taking his cue
from nature, particularly insects. And he is trying to find
out how they are built, how they move -- and how they adapt
to their environment.
So far, Tilden has built more than 300 robots of 44 different
His goal is to develop a robot than can one day work without
supervision, for example in security functions, dealing with
toxic materials or working in hazardous environments.