How do I make my robot look good?
That is a large question, and a very subjective question at that.  The following is my approach to BEAM aesthetics.  I hope that you can find some useful tips here that will make your experience with BEAM more enjoyable.  This paper deals mostly with free formed bots, but many of these techniques are useful with you circuit board designers out there.

First and foremost, build your bot as neatly as possible to begin with.
This takes some time and more than a little care.  Make sure your solder joints are neat and all connections are straight and parallel.  If you are using component leads to "pipe" your circuits together, make sure they are square to the other leads and components. Clean the tip of your iron often and keep the tip filed sharp. Use a slightly hotter iron as this seems to make freeforming the piping easier. Just a quick touch of the iron will make clean smooth connections. Don't use to much solder. Small amounts are neater and easier to manage. Be quick, holding the iron in place to long will cause solder joints to soften clear on the other side of the lead. Keep the length of the piping the same on both sides if the circuit has inherent symetry. Add small bits of wire insulation tubing as you build. This can isolate leads which run to close to each other, or it can be done for purely aesthetic reasons. Roll the piece around in your hands as you go. Check all sides to ensure that all is straight and true. This is especially true if your are free forming.  Plan the "look" of your creation before you begin.  Use wire with an insulation color that will match your total design.  Dry fit the large parts to see what the finished overall impression will be. Try to freeform your solar engine so that the positive and negative connections fall in the same place. It's very hard to pipe over to crossed connections. If your design calls for more than one type of engine or circuit, try to make the power leads fall together. Plan it out like the plumbing in the walls of your house. Use a minimum of connections and piping to complete the circuit. Planning in advance will allow for the connections to fall where you want them making your work neater.

Think of the components of your bot as pieces of sculpture.
Each component has a certain shape and size.  Each has a physical relationship to the pieces next to it.  The negative space surrounding the components also gives an impression of overall form.Try fitting together different sizes of caps or resisitors, vary the location of components to coincide with needed support for a solar cell or to aid in attaching the electronics to the motors. Constantly check your work from all sides. You are creating in three dimentions. Take time to look at your work as you flip it over in your hands. Does one side look better than the other? What can you do to make it look better? All things have particular shape relationships that determine it's overall aesthetic appeal. Consider these shape relationships when fitting parts together in order to mimic a real life form such as an insect.  Or a known mechanisim like a NASA lander. You are only limited in this by the electronic restraints of the particular circuit you are using.  That is,  you can't solder a component in the wrong place simply because it looks better there.  But, if you are clever, a way around design obstacles can lead to unexpected and pleasing results.

Use neat mechanical joins.
Solder joints on paper clip frames, 2 part epoxies, and super glue are our allies and if used properly produce strong, neat structural connections.  Make your structural solder joints neat, Dremel or file them if need be. Use a solder with a high silver content to make your joints stronger. I like to use a 60 second epoxy, mixing small amounts at a time. This makes building faster without sacrificing strength. The most often used adhesive is super glue. Use it in a well ventilated area as the fumes are toxic. Place your work away from you or next to a fan which blows the fumes out and away. Use a small drop of super glue to bond the pieces initially. After it sets, apply a drop or two more to fill the voids between the pieces. Be careful! Super glue will run straight into your motor shafts or some other undesireable place if you are not cautious. Apply it in layers to your work. Several layers of super glue can be built up making very strong bonds. Hot glue is pretty much useless on these little bots and I don't recommend using it. Some materials, such as polypropalene, won't accept any glue so avoid using it unless you make a mechanical connection such as with screws or pins.

Consider a finish for your bot.
A wise man once said, "People don't buy cars, they buy a paint job and a set of tires."  There is a ring of truth to that.  Consider color schemes and matching electronic components that not only work but go together  like an outfit my wife takes an hour to decide is perfect.  Many of the bots we build use a blue trim pot.  This almost delegates the use of a blue color scheme.  This can be covered with another color, and I've seen different colored pots out there, but the blue seems common.  I usually try to make my bots "two tone" as it used to be called in the auto industry.  Usually a dominant color is silver or metallic.  Mixed with a second color, usually a primary color, a striking two tone effect can be achived that looks very finished, yet still maintains a mechanical look. Another method is to use complimentary colors.  Such as a primary and secondary, yellow and green for instance, on the same bot in a symmetrical pattern.  Color relationships, symmetry, and pattern are the words to remember when considering color.  Many materials can be used to color your bot, paint being the most obvious.  Usually we don't need to paint our beam beasties because if you build them neatly they have a metallic, finished look anyway.  Paint is uselful to cover small areas, or for touch ups.  I suppose a BEAM bot could be completely painted, particularly an Aquabot, but I prefer to see the mechanism as a part of the aesthetic appeal.  By adding small areas of color we accent the mechanisms look by giving it a "factory" finish.  Colored electrical tape, automotive pin stripe tape, colored shrink tubing, and decals or sticker material provide endless sources to dress up your bot.  Be careful not to over do it.  Let the beauty of your building skills show through , don't drown your bot with condiments.

Think of color schemes you have seen and liked and apply the look to your bot.
Remember that no matter how you pattern it certain colors hold special meaning and should be avoided.  Unless the effect is intentional , like red and green combinations usually impy Christmas.  Black and orange usually mean Holloween, and red, white, and blue are considered patriotic colors in many countries.  I know these descriptions are heavily western eccentric so take it for what it is worth to you and the area you live in.  Usually,  the base color of these BEAM beasties is a bright metallic sliver, especially if you skin the cap.  I like to apply  color to the bot sparingly, accenting large smooth surfaces.  The cap, motors, and motor mounts are usually good places to start.  You can also apply the color to the solar cell to tie it in with the rest of the bot. Thin strips of electrical tape and automotive pin stripe can be adhered better if you place a small drop of super glue at the overlap point. This will ensure that it won't unravel from your carbot in a hot car. Try to see the "body lines" of your bot. The large shapes, angle of the solar cells or legs, and the curve of the body all can be accented to bring out the design of your creation. Do a simple sketch of your bot and dress it up in two or three different ways or colors. Many useful ideas can be discovered this way.

Brazenly copy!
If you see something you like, a color scheme or body shape, copy it.  Give the person credit for your inspiration and soak in the experience.  Copying is the best way to learn.  Once you master the technique  that you are copying, move on. You can now apply what you have learned to your new projects.  Your original works will be all the better for it.

Sketch out your ideas.
If you have an idea, whether simple or complex, do some doodling on paper first.  You can explore different characteristics of form and function this way without needless mistakes.  Try to keep the relationships of component scales accurate in your drawings.  I have found that the first step in figure drawing is very helpful in getting proportions of a new bot project correct.  The idea is to draw a natural , biological shape, say a scorpion, but sketch out the shapes loosely with cylinders and boxes.  Now replace the shapes with known electronic components to scale.  Rearrange the shapes a couple of times. Don't be afraid to make a mistake, just let your ideas flow onto the page. I bet you didn't know there was so much in there, did you :)? This technique can illustrate design flaws and hurtles long before you pick up a soldering iron.

Above all , have fun!
Take your time, enjoy yourself.  You are not being timed, this is not a race.  When someone tells me they can build a bot in less than 30 minutes, I think, "Well, you get out what you put in."  The BEAM myth of the greatest builder being the fastest is ridiculous and undermines the quality of many of the bots out there.  Do what works for you! I sometimes take several days to complete a bot.  I even add a couple of days at the end to work on the finish of the bot alone.  Now, these aren't eight hour days, but a lot of time is allotted to explore different approaches.  Everyone is differerent.  The quality of the craftsmanship of the bot in your hand is the most important issue if your are comparing.
I hope this has given you some ideas and inspires you to look for new and unique approaches to building and finishing your bots.  It's your time and effort, so give it your best shot!

Copyright 1999 Jim Mullins - DBA Studio One, All Rights Reserved