Let Your Android Control Your Robot

Today, LEGO has announce a new Android App for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT.  If you have an Android based phone, you can use this to manipulate your LEGO robots using Bluetooth.  I have a Motorola Droid, and I have two MINDSTORMS NXT sets, but have never built anything with them.  I really should get around to doing something about that.

(About half the words in this post are trademarks of someone or other, but I don’t feel like inserting all of the ® and “TM” indicators….)

Amazing Great Ball Contraption video

This is really a work of art – not just for the clever LEGO creations, but maybe even more so for the filmmaking. The modern classical music accompanies the images very well. By taking a series of close-up video shots of various parts of the contraption, each one well composed and from an interesting angle, our interest is maintained throughout. Exceedingly well-done!

Via TechnicBRICKs blog.

Tilted Twister – Mindstorms NXT Robot Solves Rubik’s Cube

I just came across Tilted Twister while reading Mike Walsh’s LEGO Blog (link removed, as apparently his site has been compromised). It’s a Mindstorms NXT robot that can solve the Rubik’s Cube!

The really amazing part is that it’s built using only the parts in the stock NXT kit.  Instructions are provided – I’m tempted to make one myself.  (Note however that you either need to buy a special color sensor, or modify the colors of your Rubik’s Cube so that white and yellow can be distinguished by the stock light sensor.

Daniel Rojas’ Cable Car

One of the more impressive LEGO robots I’ve seen lately is Daniel Rojas’s Cable Car. He came to one of the BayLUG meetings recently and met some of us, and told us about the project, and when he finally posted his finished product he was kind enough to email us about it.

It’s a great model of a cable car, and a very clever robot too. Like the real deal, it has a grab-arm which goes below the track to hold on to a cable which pulls it. And it’s controlled by an RCX (Mindstorms). It even has a working emergency brake! Daniel even made a great YouTube video so we can see it in action:

If you liked that, check the rest of the pics on Daniel’s site.

3D LEGO Chocolate Printer

Hey, your chocolate got on my LEGO! Hey, your LEGO got in my chocolate! Two great tastes that taste great together.

Well, one that tastes great, one that’s great to build with I guess. Anyway, this is one of the most novel uses of LEGO I’ve ever seen – and one of the most novel uses of chocolate at the same time! It is a contraption made (mostly) out of LEGO that creates three-dimensional objects using chocolate!

The tricky parts are not built out of LEGO – the chocolate is melted and the temperature is carefully calibrated so that the desired amount of liquid chocolate comes out for each “pixel.” But the “print head” is moved around using LEGO mechanisms to build objects of any shape. It creates the design one layer at a time until the desired shape is completed.

This isn’t exactly news but it’s new to me. Frankly I don’t know where I came across this first. It’s been featured on LUGNET, BoingBoing, and Slashdot.

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]

LEGO is Not a Crime!

Except in Germany, that is. It seems that a LEGO fan was recently arrested for playing with [tag]LEGO[/tag] [tag]Mindstorms[/tag] on a train. Thanks to my wife Holly for pointing this out.

The question is, how could anyone think that a robotics kit made from LEGO could be used to make a [tag]bomb[/tag]? I’ll give the cops credit for being creative, at least. I hope the guy gets his Mindstorms kit back!

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…