Hot Mindstorms NXT News from MacWorld

Published / by Bill

At MacWorld I was talking to the LEGO Education (Dacta) guy there and he told me some interesting things about [tag]Mindstorms[/tag] NXT that I hadn’t heard anywhere else.

I already knew that the [tag]FIRST LEGO League[/tag] would be allowing use of both the old style Mindstorms RCX and the new NXT in the coming season. But since the NXT uses different sensors and motors, the question of backward compatibility has been an area of much speculation in the online [tag]LEGO[/tag] forums such as the LUGNET Robotics group. According to my source, LEGO Education will offer a cable that can connect legacy Mindstorms sensors and motors to the new NXT. He didn’t have specifics about the electrical connections, but it would be a cable that had the 2×2 brick connector used by the current Mindstorms on one end, and the offset RJ12 connector used by NXT on the other.

Also I was wondering about the ongoing life of the original Mindstorms once NXT is available. He was surprised when I told him that LEGO Shop-at-Home has already discontinued their Mindstorms Robotics Invention System kits (which include the 2.0 version of the RCX) but he assured me that [tag]LEGO Education[/tag] will continue to sell their Mindstorms sets (which use the 1.0 version that has a 9V DC power port), even after the NXT becomes available. I believe this is to avoid forcing teachers to replace their entire inventory with NXT sets.

Also, I asked about the power adapters for the NXT bricks. He said that there will not be a power adapter port in the NXT sold by LEGO Education, but that they would offer a special rechargeable battery pack which can be used instead of the usual 6 AA cell batteries. Teachers and AFOL’s who love the power port will be disappointed by this news, but at least the battery pack may have better life than the equivalent set of AA batteries would.

Finally, he confirmed that the NXT units can talk to one another using Bluetooth (but not using USB, as the NXT’s USB port is “slave only”), and that they will have a single address space rather than the current RCX design which segments the memory into five partitions for different programs.
[tags]Dacta[/tags]

Mindstorms strikes again

Published / by Bill

A little over a week ago I finally got around to ordering a [tag]LEGO[/tag] [tag]Mindstorms[/tag] set for the first time. I’ve been a LEGO fan for years but never got around to trying Mindstorms, LEGO’s [tag]robotics[/tag] kit that has been around since 1998. One big reason was that I usually buy LEGO in increments of $10-100 at a time, not the $200 that the Mindstorms Robotics Invention System would have cost. When I did get around to buying it, I chose the educational version from LEGO Education (aka Pitsco aka [tag]Dacta[/tag]). I got the ROBO Technology Set for $159 which should arrive in a few days.

Just a day or so after that, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LEGO announced their next-generation Mindstorms kit, the Mindstorms NXT. Boasting a new 32-bit processor, Bluetooth, built-in USB 2.0, and a whole new set of motors and sensors, the new system promises to bring LEGO robotics to a whole new level. An article in Wired magazine shows how they involved adult LEGO fans to help design the new product, which was a great move by LEGO. They’re finally starting to realize that adults are a significant part of their customer base – and 50% of their robotics customer base, according to their own numbers. Hopefully they will be as accepting of “hacking” the new kit as they were of the original one. I bet someone gets Linux running on it by year’s end!

I’m looking forward to getting my new old Mindstorms set, but I’ll still be counting the days until I can get the new version in the fall when it comes out…

Keeping Bricks Together

Published / by Bill / 3 Comments on Keeping Bricks Together

I recently got an email from someone out of the blue who said that her son was having trouble with his [tag]LEGO[/tag] models falling apart, and asking about using glue. This entry is based on my reply to her, since I figured that others might have the same concern…

LEGO brand models don’t usually have that problem, but the other brands like Mega Blox often do. Of course since they are only held together by friction it is possible for them to fall apart. When that happens there are two choices: put them back together, or take them completely apart and build something else.

Some people view LEGO as just a model you can build from the instructions. But it can be so much more than that. Ever since I was your son’s age, I have always taken the attitude that LEGO’s instructions are a good way to get started, and that you can learn good techniques from them, but the true power of LEGO comes when you design your own things.

Now a seven-year-old can’t be expected to build the kinds of sophisticated models that adults make, but there’s a lot he can do if he’s encouraged to invent his own spacecraft, houses, animals, or whatever. So rather than thinking of a broken LEGO model as a source of frustration, try to think of it as an opportunity to create
something new and different!

But if you really want to glue them, there are certain types of glue that work better than others. I’ve never done it (in fact, most LEGO fans that I know would never glue, paint, or cut their bricks), but another adult LEGO sculptor I know has: Eric Harshbarger. According to his FAQ he uses “Oatey, All Purpose” glue. If you try it, be sure to use good ventilation!!!

BayLUG display at Stoneridge LEGO Store

Published / by Bill / 3 Comments on BayLUG display at Stoneridge LEGO Store

Today I met with other members of [tag]BayLUG[/tag] to set up a new display at the Stoneridge mall [tag]LEGO[/tag] store in Pleasanton, CA. We had a display there for the past month with a Christmas theme, but I wasn’t involved in that. The new theme is miniature models of [tag]San Francisco landmarks[/tag]: I made [tag]Transamerica Pyramid[/tag] and [tag]Lombard Street[/tag] models, which are now on display along with a Coit Tower model from Russell Clark and a waterfront scene by Paul Sinasohn that included a tall ship and the car ferry Sausalito.

My wife Holly took photos of the event and put them on Flickr. UPDATE 21-Feb-2006: Photos also now available on Brickshelf.


Lombard Street

Transamerica Pyramid