(Hyper Cool) Interview with Robosapien creator Mark W. Tilden

Ed Steele November 22, 2004 5

tilden_rs4.jpgWe were lucky enough to catch the attention of the Robosapien’s creator and Robotics Physicist, Mark W. Tilden. Mr. Tilden also created the B.I.O. Bugs toy robots, worked at Los Alamos National Labs, and has consulted for NASA. He happens to be a really nice guy with a sci-fi flair, and he recently sat down with us to answer some of our questions about the Robosapien, the Robosapien2, and if androids really do dream of electric sheep.

GadgetMadness: Were there any features or capabilities that you wanted to include in the Robosapien that were left out? If there were features left out, what were the reasons for not including them?
Mark W. Tilden: Vision was one. Infra-Red LEDs in his palms were aligned with his head so that he’d be able to “see” distant objects through triangulation. Worked fine in analog, but when we tried to port it to digital, didn’t survive the translation.
Quality hands were another. Originally he could pick a dime up from a floor. Had to simplify them for safety and reliability. Had to reduce his arm strength so he couldn’t hurt anyone too.
Accessories were another. We had backpacks, wigs, sunglasses, utility belts, screwdrivers, swords, magnetic armor, flashlights, trays, tables, weights, headbands, beds, forks, balls, hats, etc, etc, but finally decided to release him “au naturale” so users wouldn’t be limited in finding their own. Seems to work, as you well know.
All in all though, I think he’s turned out ok. Even has my hairstyle.
GadgetMadness: Can you tell us any of your plans for the Robosapien 2?
Mark W. Tilden: Top secret. I can say soon no calculator will be safe. Moo ha ha. However, all will be revealed at the New York toy Fair, Feb. 05. Watch the skies, watch the skies.
GadgetMadness: Did you have any robotic toys as a child? If so, which one was your favorite and why? If not, what was your favorite toy growing up?
Mark W. Tilden: Built all my own robot toys from every comic book, tv show, and movie I could get my hands on (lousy impoverished childhood). Of the many hundreds I built, my favorites were my own Heuey, Deuey, and Louie from “Silent Running”.
Still one of the best bot designs in cinematic history I think. Quiet, polite, dedicated, and a lot easier to live with than some blooping trashcans I could mention.
GadgetMadness: What are your impressions or thoughts about the current round of commercial and non-commercial robotic products like the Sony Qrio and Aibo, the Honda Asimo, and others?
Mark W. Tilden: They’re great of course. Complex, taught, expensive, heavy, massive power, computational muscle, and unlimited corporate and government backing supported by thousands of top engineers and programmers.
(Ooo baby.)
Problem is, from experience, they’re an evolutionary dead end. When a
technology hits the complexity barrier (for a little more, you gotta put in a lot), then items like these just become an expensive tease.
There are other solutions. Some are even affordable. RoboSapien is
one of the first volleys, I like to think. I hope.
GadgetMadness: Team NimbRo at the Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg in Germany decided to attach a Pocket PC and a LifeView FlyCam to the head of a Robosapien to give him a second brain and the ability to see, and even wrote software to make him (somewhat) autonomous! How does it make you feel when you see the many modifications and hacks others have made to your creation?

“A single screwdriver takes the RS completely apart, and inside everything is labled, colorcoded, and socketed for convenience.”

Mark W. Tilden: I’m for it of course. It’s what the RoboSapien is designed for. A single screwdriver takes the RS completely apart, and inside everything is labled, colorcoded, and socketed for convenience. Furthermore, we heartly support any third party additions or modifications, and have supplied all the necessary info through many websites.
I wanted a toy I would have killed for as a kid. Open him up and the possibilities skyrocket. Easy to hack, tones of extra space, power to spare, modular sealed gearboxes, gold-plated solder pads, etc, etc.
Next summer will be interesting as that’s when most purchased RoboSapiens will have hit the end of their useful play life. By my estimation that’s when many users will wonder a/ how he works, b/ how he can be improved, and c/ how can I use him for course credit.
Then the evolution will begin. Moo ha ha.
GadgetMadness: We are huge fans of the 1982 Ridley Scott film, “Blade Runner.” Many thought provoking questions are explored in this film, such as what rights should robots have in a human society. Where do you see robots and humans in the next fifty years, and do you think any of the “science fiction” seen in films today regarding robots will become reality?

“I am Blade Runner without the VanGelis soundtrack.”

Mark W. Tilden: Ever walk through florescent Hong Kong at midnight wearing a trenchcoat in a hard rain contemplating your next massive robot production line? I am Blade Runner without the VanGelis soundtrack. I foresee in the next five years needing a full time team just to retire errant Biomorphs who escape from their masters during city wide role-play games.
As I work with a bunch of kung-fu expert, air-weapon toting, sci-fi loving, robot nutjo… er… enthusiasts, my only concern is how I’m going to target my gun wearing those super thick Tyrel glasses. 8)
As for the real future of robotics, I can say it is a/ close and b/ fun. Modern communication technology is designed to bring the world to you, but robotics will soon bring you to the world, fast, cheap, and pretty much risk free.
They won’t replace humans, but there are other things they can do outside what biologics are capable of. It’ll be interesting, and left-shifted from what many expect. Very different from most mass-media predictions.
However, Bladerunner isn’t far wrong. For example, I’ve already said, in perfect seriousness, “They’re my friends. I make them.”
Makes ya think.
GadgetMadness: The Bandai Wonderborg (popular in Japan, limited release in the US) was programmable using the Bandai Wonderswan handheld gaming system and had many different add on limbs and sensors. Are there any add-ons planned for the Robosapien?
Mark Tilden: We had a great program set for the Sony Clie under Palm 3, but that item has since been canceled. Our biggest problem is that there is no mass-media computing platform with a built-in Infra Red port that makes the interface practical. We had a few nibbles from some cell-phone
companies, but they never returned our calls.
However, as the Robosapien is infra-red controlled, I knew there’s be some cross compatible platforms out there people would discover and use. Even learning remote controls work fine.
We’re not planning any electronic add-ons for him, but I know others are. Should be interesting to see what they’ll be like.
GadgetMadness: Did you see our music video starring the Robosapien? If so, did you like it?

“Thank Gawhd I’m in toys — a venue to exercise my more ironic humor on an unsuspecting public.”

Mark Tilden: It stalled half way through download, but from what I saw, it’s great. This is the sort of thing the RS is perfect for. He always starts on queue, takes direction perfectly, isn’t afraid of doing something degrading, and works for batteries.
In my own unfinished work “Terror of the Ten-Buck Tit from Temple Street”, the RS saves Hong Kong from the savagery of surplus sex-toy stock sucking sinister at the cities sinue (sic).
Why not?
The point being, and your video shows this perfectly, robots can be used for fun, which is a very different take than most. In science, industry, space, and the military, robots are soooo serious, which is a good thing as scientists must convince sponsors that they’re doing real work instead of just hacking around (Thank Gawhd I’m in toys — a venue to exercise my more ironic humor on an unsuspecting public).
Regardless, robots are going to be our Waldos soon, for quite a while, and will be happy to do so. Might as well have a laugh.
/end of line/
Mr. Tilden, we hold you in the highest regard and would like to thank you very, very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Being the robo-geeks we are, this was a real dream come true for us.
There you have it. “Watch the skies?” We can hardly wait to see what he means!
(My special thanks to Jackie for setting all of this up for us. YOU’RE THE ABSOLUTE BEST)

RELATED: GadgetMadness Ultimate Robosapien Review

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.


  1. Okdork.com November 24, 2004 at 12:23 am -

    interesting tech crap

    created his own play station 2 portable.benheck.com – Movie Section L-Mail: you send the email, they print it out and then ship it. clever, stupid, failure red ferret: decent crap of new techs other noteworthy sites: year’s hottest toy…

  2. RoboDad November 26, 2004 at 11:50 pm -

    Tiden has a great sense of humour. I can almost see the flying Robovulture. Sweeeet!

  3. Steve November 29, 2004 at 6:39 pm -

    This thing looks like the foe of Robocop.

  4. Cool Or What? November 30, 2004 at 9:57 am -

    Interview with RoboSapien inventor Mark W. Tiden

  5. RoboBob November 30, 2004 at 1:18 pm -

    You’ve got to do a remote with a usb port and a sequence number pad.
    So I can upload, download sequences from the computer.
    Edit them and store them there, share them over the internet,
    and call them up on the remote after unplugging from computer.
    This alone would be worth about $150 to many folks.
    Next, an address switch on the bots, so I can command my army.
    Just some thoughts, which you have probably already had.
    Must be able to store and share sequences over the net.
    Great job so far. You’ve started a revolution.