LEGO Studio in a Trailer?

I came across this article (thanks to BayLUG member David Simmons, via email) detailing how one family has coped with the stresses the LEGO hobby places on storage and work space in their home – buy a trailer and move the collection out there! That’s one way to solve the problem. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go measure the slab in our back yard…

Interview with LEGO CEO

I know this was posted a couple of weeks ago but I only just now saw it for the first time. There’s an interview on TODAYonline with Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, the CEO of LEGO, around his recent trip to Singapore. He touches on a very important point for LEGO fans – is LEGO going to be obsolete like a typewriter, or a booming industry like books? Both have been challenged by newer technologies and media, but the typewriter industry is dead while books are selling better than ever. Can LEGO pull it off? What do you think?

Via The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide Blog (Allan Bedford).[tags]lego,ceo,interview[/tags]

What kind of car should LEGO make?

Found on the LEGO Forums:

Apparently the LEGO company is thinking about making a new set which would be a model of a car. Not just any car though – one chosen by the LEGO fan community!! That’s right, we get to nominate any year/make/model of car that we might want to see rendered in the brick. What would you pick? Comment here or post in the original thread. (If you comment here I’ll forward your choices on…) The LEGO Ambassadors will collate the “votes” and LEGO will hopefully release a set of the most popular choice.

The rules? he car must be from the past 30 years, and well known in the US and the UK.

What’s my choice? I have to go with the VW Bug. Or maybe a Hummer. Maybe a VW microbus? A Corvette? 1965 Ford Mustang! No wait, too old.

This may take some thought. For now, I’ll stick with the Bug (they were still making them in the late ’70’s so it barely squeaks in).

And of course, whatever they don’t pick would still be good fodder for us to try to make, just for the challenge…

Online Pick A Brick At Last!

Ever since LEGO started offering bulk parts online through the Shop-At-Home service, fans have been hoping they would come out with an online Pick-A-Brick where we could specify a quantity and color of brick to order. Pick-A-Brick Homepage ImageThey’ve finally done it! The new Factory Pick A Brick service allows you to select bricks by type or color and enter the quantity that you want. They have all the same parts that you can use in the LEGO Digital Designer program.

The prices are quite reasonable too, for some things at least. For example dark-red 1×2 bricks are 10 cents each, which is the same as what you would pay on BrickLink. And 9V track is $1.50 for a piece of straight or curved track – comparing that with 8 pieces for $12.99 at the LEGO store or in the conventional LEGO online shop, you save $0.99 by ordering it from Pick A Brick!

The user interface is quite good, apparently using AJAX technology. You can even get close-ups of the parts and rotate them around to view them from different angles.

I don’t know if this is only available in the US (I suspect it may be) or in other countries. So please post a comment and let me know whether it works in your country if you’re outside the US.

Via Jonathan Lopes on LUGNET.[tags]lego,legofactory,shopathome,pickabrick,bricklink,news[/tags]

New IR Train Set Reviewed

LEGO is coming out with a new line of battery-powered, infrared (IR) remote controlled trains this year, and Larry Pieniazek has written a review. There’s a long discussion thread on LUGNET about it here (use this link to see the full text of all replies on one page).

UPDATE: The other new set in the IR trains line, a cargo train, has been reviewed by Steve Barile. The LUGNET thread is here (full text).

Like a lot of people who have heard about these new sets, I have mixed feelings. I’m really concerned about the move away from powered track, and worried about losing the existing train system (which LEGO continues to sell for the moment as the “Hobby Train” line, but may discontinue next year if sales aren’t good – see Save 9V Trains for details). But this may be what LEGO needs to do in order to sell more trains to kids at a more reasonable price point than the current system. And I’m excited by the way the new motors have wheels that are removable, connected by Technic axles instead of permanently fixed to the power brick.

As for the BayLTC train shows, the loss of powered track would be a blow. Though we do collectively have a pretty good-sized collection of powered track, the prospect of losing our source is not comforting. And of course, one of the nice things about doing LEGO train layouts is that we can tell people where they can get the product. If they discontinue the powered rail, we won’t be able to do that. And we can’t really switch to the new system: for one thing, it “times out” if it is left running for very long (I haven’t seen a report of exactly how long) so we’d have to keep using the remotes to keep them running. And for another, the reports are that the new motors are not very strong. Our current layouts often feature very long trains pulled by several motors at once, but apparently the new system has trouble with only three cars. However, I suppose the remote control units could be useful in the yard for switching – using powered rail, it’s awkward to ensure that only one yard track has power if there are other locomotives parked there.

I think the best scenario is for LEGO to continue making and selling both lines of trains. I urge everyone to continue buying the old 9V system to send a message to LEGO that they shouldn’t discontinue it. And try the new system – it could be fun too.[tags]lego,trains,ir,9v[/tags]

Mindstorms NXT Firmware to be Open Source

LEGO has announced that the new version of Mindstorms will have open source firmware! This is very exciting news for anyone who likes to hack on robotics. While people reverse-engineered the original Mindstorms to come up with an alternative firmware called LegOS (which was renamed to BrickOS at the request of LEGO’s legal department), this time around LEGO is supporting software hacking from the get-go.

Also in the announcement, they’ll be making the Bluetooth interface and the 6-conductor connector system public and releasing Developer Kits for both software and hardware. They don’t say for sure that it will be free, but I hope that it will be.

Information about the NXT system is starting to become available via the panel of adult fans that LEGO has been consulting with (the Mindstorms Developer Program non-disclosure agreements allow them to release some information as of May 1, 2006). Here are some of the things I’ve found:

I’m looking forward to August when we get to see full retail availability of NXT![tags]lego,robotics,mindstorms,nxt[/tags]

Hot Mindstorms NXT News from MacWorld

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.

Mindstorms strikes again

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…