Jan 16, 2015

New version 0.9.0-beta of leJOS available

There's a new version of leJOS available, the Open Source Java platform for MINDSTORMS.
Next to a lot of improvements, the new release 0.9.0-beta comes with new features like webcam and android support.

For details, see the according post at the lejosnews blog.

Jan 10, 2015

Control WEDO with EV3

Ralph Hempel, the creator of the original EV3 bonus model printer.

Ralph created software to control the WEDO usb hub with a EV3. unfortunately this is not an easy added new sensor block in EV3-G but he used a more complex way in creating the code with EV3DEV.
What is EV3DEV?
The ev3dev distribution is a full Debian (jessie) Linux distribution running on the 3.16.x kernel that has been customized for the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 controller.

Rather than use custom language bindings that use direct access to mmap’ed files, this distribution aims to allow as many programming languages as possible to access the EV3 peripherals using simple Linux file access. If your favorite programming language is available as an ARM port, and it can read and write files, you can use it to program the EV3. Currently the ev3dev distribution includes the following languages:

Google Go (golang)

If your favorite language isn’t listed, you can still program with the EV3. ev3dev supports standard apt tools, so once you get up-and-running you can install whatever language you like.

And although you can directly access the APIs via file I/O if you want to, let’s face it: that’s tedious. It’s much easier when you have a higher-level library to use. Learn more about our pre-made language bindings on the documentation page. Features above and beyond the official LEGO kernel include:

Support for Atheros, Realtek, and other wifi chipsets so you’re not stuck with one specific wifi dongle
Support for SSH terminal sessions
Ethernet over USB functionality and a full network stack
Actual user accounts instead of passwordless root access
Fully upgradeable and customizable install using standard “apt” tools, running on the brick
NFS file share / file transfer capability
Automatic NTP clock updates
Access to device drivers through user-space filesystem
Built in text editors like vim and nano
Prebuilt support for programming languages like Lua, perl, gawk, Python, guile, Ruby, and more
Support for all host operating systems including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, even Blackberry!

Put more simply: ev3dev can do almost everything normal Linux can, while the stock LEGO kernel cannot. Using the ev3dev Kernel:
Don’t want to give up your official LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 kernel and rootfs? You don’t need to!

Just install ev3dev on any microSD card (min 1GB suggested, but can you even buy one that small anymore?) and plug it into the microSD slot on the EV3. The uboot loader will look on the card, find the ev3dev kernel and happily boot that instead!

When you want to use the official LEGO tools, just shutdown the EV3, unplug the ev3dev microSD card and restart the brick.

This is still an early beta, so it’s not as polished as the official LEGO offering, but it’s getting better every week as we add support for more of the native EV3 drivers. Alongside the main kernel, work is also being done on brickman, which adds a LEGO-like GUI. The state of the project

Currently, the project is being maintained by @dlech and @rhempel in their spare time. Active development is being done in the main ev3dev-kernel repo as well as in places like brickman and other related packages.

and now it also includes the functions to control and read the WEDO USB hub

DO you want to try?
1) go here and read the instructions for a download on an SD card

Thanks Ralph!

Jan 8, 2015

EV3 plotter

2015 starts with a guest blog entry by Ahmad Alkhatib who posts about his EV3 plotter:

"Hello, I'm Ahmad Alkhatib, a TFOL who loves building and programming EV3 robots, and now you'll read about one of the robots that i really worked hard on, SMAK PLOTT3R.

Powered by two Large motors and a Medium motor, along up with a Color sensor and a Touch sensor. This plotter works perfectly, and can be programmed to draw or right almost anything, with a pen! And with some weird decoration :P

A Large motor is used for lifting/lowering the pen, and the other Large motor is used with moving the Writer Unit which includes the two Large motors. For moving the paper, I used the Medium motor which will inject the paper to the desired position when the Color sensor detect's the paper. The Touch sensor detect the position of the Writer Unit by moving the Writer Unit to the left until the Touch sensor is pressed, and then it moves to the desired position. After that, the pen will write/draw as programmed. The programming wasn't that hard, I programmed some letters as My Blocks and then connected them in a single program, another program was drawing some nice shapes which was also easy. Finally, I want to say that I really enjoyed building and programming this robot and I think that it's one of my best masterpieces until now :)

Don't forget to check out my website and my MINDSTORMS Community profile."

Jan 2, 2015

Happy new year and a GR3AT 2015

Happy new year to all the readers
for those looking for a challenge to build, there is a nice holiday build at the LEGO.MINDSTORMS.COM website.

“There’s no place like home for the Holidays,” the old song says, and the LEGO MINDSTORMS team couldn’t agree more! We want the LMS Community to cozy up by the fire and invent some robots that can help, “Make the season bright” at home.

Can you make a robotic yule log? A tree decorating bot? A cookie delivery system for Santa? A light up Menorah? A robot that can “Let it Snow” inside? A robot that sends a new years greeting

Wherever your imagination takes you don’t “drop the new years ball” and miss this fun and exciting challenge. Get in the spirit, get to your workshop, and get building!

All entries must be tagged “HomeForTheHolidays”
The deadline is close: January 15, 2015, but there is still time

See this page for more details: LEGO MINDSTORMS Home for the Holidays Community Building Challenge
Time to build !

Dec 8, 2014

New EV3 book "Lego Mindstorms EV3 Essentials"

End of October, a new EV3 book has been released named "Lego Mindstorms EV3 Essentials" and the publisher, Packt Publishing, kindly sent me a copy and asked me for a public review.

The book, written by Abid H. Mujtaba, is an introduction to LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 that focuses on three parts of the system:
  1. the electronic hardware components (Intelligent Brick, motors, sensors)
  2. the On-Brick programming features
  3. using leJOS, the Java platform for EV3, putting a strong emphasis on Linux in that part
As I only had access to the E-book version, I can't provide an opinion on the quality of the paper nor on the binding of the hardcopy version; also, I cannot tell about the quality of the images there - as the publisher told me the images in the paper version are black-and-white only, in contrast tot the E-Book version.

What I like about the book is the first section where a thorough introduction to the brick, the motors and the sensors is given, following the smart idea to use the ports view on the brick's menu to look into the capabilities of the motors and  sensors. The only drawbacks here are the usage of the NXT ultrasonic sensor to show and explain the Ultrasonic sensor in the EV3 set and some minor mistakes like a wrong explanation of the way the IR sensor internally works and doubtful statements to the precision of the motors.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am not so happy with the remaining parts of the book.
Most important, I still have issues in figuring out the target audience of the book intended by the autor: the graphical programming environment that comes with the set is completely left out of the book and not a single example for it is provided; instead, the author concentrates on the On-Brick programming capabilities here which in my opinion are a drudgery to use and do not take you very far.
Even more, following that the author strongly focuses on Linux  and some of its features that certainly are beyond the skills of the common PC or MaC user: a large portion here deals with infrastructural stuff like using MAKE files and Gradle on Linux or how to copy compiled EV3 programs to the SD card. Though the author with his background as an Android developer obviously is very fond of these tools, in the interest of his readers he would have been well advised here to use the handy and easy-of-use tools instead that already come with LeJOS or the seamless leJOS integration into Eclipse.

As a result, one need to state that the book most likely is not suited for children or programming beginners.

On the other hand, experienced users with a Linux and programming background might find the book too basic: the only non-trivial program in the whole book is a line follower in the last chapter, however with a very simple and unsophisticated algorithm. There is no discussion in the book of the advanced features that make leJOS such a powerful and interesting framework for EV3 programming.
Even more, the leJOS program example code in the book obviously relates to an outdated, early  version of the framework and will not compile with the most recent versions of leJOS.
As a result, one might think that robot builders  with a programming background might be better off with a dedicated leJOS book like Brian Bagnall's new one that also provides a thorough introduction to the EV3 hardware and to using leJOS with a start-of -the art IDE like Eclipse (beyond just using IDEs for editing only, as the author somewhat surprisingly recommends).

This overall opinion is backed by the fact that there is not a single new and original robot to be found in the book: the only robot used in the book is TRACK3r (with an additional IR sensor attached) that comes with the EV3 Home Edition set.

To sum up, the target audience of the book might be a group of people who are familiar with Linux, love to use leJOS with tools like Gradle and Make  instead of the ones LeJOS already brings along, but have no experience with leJOS programming so far and are fine with no new robots and only a superficial discussion of the capabilities of leJOS.
That subset of EV3 users, though, might be rather small.

And, besides, it's "LEGO®", not "Lego" ...

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