May 20, 2006

Entertaining NXT video - 7 minutes

The LEGO Education NXT blog has posted a fun video here.

You get a look at the containers they'll eventually be selling. There's also some really quick glimpses of the printed material, but it's hard to see details. I did notice some components in the Education version that I don't have in my retail version... not a big deal as I'm sure there are parts in my kit that won't be found in the Education version.

This brings up the question - do I buy the Education version or the Retail version? I think we can manage a good discussion here on this. A few weeks ago when I had a chance to meet with some fellow MDPers and Soren and Paal of LEGO, this issue did come up.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that the Retail version is designed for a single user (or small group of friends) that will experiment on their own. My opinion is that the RoboCenter is designed to give this user a good understanding of the basics of construction and programming. The RoboCenter is part of the Retail version and, when the 18 challenges are completed, the user can be confident in programming all the sensors and the motors, PLUS have some good techniques in their 'bag of tricks' that are demonstrated during the Challenge Build Instructions.

As for the Education version, the RoboCenter now becomes the Robo Educator. The Challenges are replaced with training that goes along with the Curriculum being developed for integrating the NXT with a classroom setting. I don't have all the details on the Robo Educator, but in my discussions with LEGO I came to understand that the Education NXT version is most definitely designed for a classroom and a planned curriculum.

The sensors count and parts count are also different between kits. The Education version comes with fewer building components, but does come with a few extra sensors that are included to complete the projects in the Robo Educator. The converter cables are included so an existing investment in RCX/RIS parts, motors, and sensors can be maximized. (The converter cables can be purchased separately for those with the Retail kit who would like to integrate the legacy sensors/motors with the newer kit.)

When talking with Soren, I came to understand that there are reasons for the differences between the Retail and Education versions - simply choosing to purchase the Education version because it comes with converter cables and a recharge battery is ignoring the major reason for having two different versions: one is for integration with a classroom and the other is for individual experimentation and the included software instruction is what defines the two.

Let the discussions/debates begin...

Jim

15 comments:

byronczimmer said...

I had this discussion with some of my friends and came to the conclusion that the main reason to purchase the RETAIL version was for the programming environment (assuming you don't want to jump immediately to a 3rd party system and that you CAN without some 'setup' from the retail CD).

The main reasons to purchase the Educational version as a non-educator was for all the bits that are exclusive to the Educational version, namely:
1 Rechargable Battery
3 NXT-RCX converter cables
+1 Touch sensor
3 lamps
For all the 'goodies' in the educational version, you're getting fewer building elements/pieces and no software. The presumption on the software is that the school will be buying a site license.

So my personal opinion is that the first NXT to enter the house will be a retail version.

The second kit to enter the house will be an educational version -- but will come in a few months later (allowing the discretionary dollar fund to recharge a little).

David Levy said...

I will be building curriculum for 4th, 5th and 6th grades. When my retail set arrives in July, I'll be sifting through Robocenter. When my education kits come in August, I have Robo-educator. I'm still debating whether to get the CMU curriculum because I hear its for middle and high school level.

Does anyone have insight on
Robocenter , Robo-edu and CMU curr. as to how I can break it down by grade levels?

William L. Chamberlin said...

I personally don't see why not to prefer the education set over the retail set (if you don't mind paying a little extra for the software), especially if you already have a bunch of Lego Techinc pieces that would be compatible with NXT.
As for the software issue, I (personally) don't mind the challenge of learning a new programing system that's made for a classroom setting. (I've already used the Lego education ROBOLAB for the RCX, and from what I've seen I think it was easier to use than the retail software, even though I never used the retail software.)
Anyway, my mind still isn't totally made up yet.

William

byronczimmer said...

The software (single license) is $42.00 according to this. My understanding is that the retail version and educational versions of the software are identical... I'd love confirmation of that though, since I'm only going by the videos we've seen.

Oh -- and no 'educational' items(sets, software, etc) will ship until August. Currently preorders of the retail version ship in July (at least according to Lego's site).

I think that is the main reason I'm planning on getting the retail version out of the chute -- but why any followons will very likely be 'educational'.

Jim Kelly said...

The software is the same for Education and Retail... it's the Lego Mindstorms NXT program that you've seen in our screenshots, but the difference is what appears on the right side of the screen - RoboCenter in Retail and Robo Educator in Education.

The official word from LEGO is that RoboLab is going away after 2.9 - it is there intention to get behind the new programming language for both versions.

Jim

Matthias Paul Scholz said...

As for me, the rechargable battery is a pretty alluring argument for buying the educational version, even more as it enables you to run the NXT brick with an AC (I hope I have understood that point correctly).

I found it rather obstructive to have the NXT drained from power pretty quick with my rechargable batteries - for program development (which involves a lot of program-download-try-refactor cycles in case of robots), an AC suppy will prove very useful, even for mobile platforms.

/Matthias

ps. Dear me, children these days obviously are more used to this anime-like flick-flack-scene-switching style of videos than we old fossils are - is it only me who's eyes are dropping out and who's brain is indulging into epileptic tremor with this video?

william l. chamberlin said...

I'm 15 years old and I don't like the movie either.

Tom Johnson said...

I would guess that the educational version of nxt-g is slightly more capable in that it contains support for the legacy sensors.

Which brings up a question: Is there any way to add functionality to nxt-g? For example, based on a cursory look at NBC, the standard nxt firmware supports drawing graphics to the LCD. This does not seem to be possible in nxt-g. I routinely program in LabVIEW and would like to add such functionality. Is there a mechanism to do so?

Tom

Jim Kelly said...

Tom,

The Retail version of the software may have support for the legacy sensors and motors... sorry this hasn't been mentioned sooner.

The HELP documentation for the software covers the legacy sensors and motors, but so far I haven't seen the blocks used to control them... not sure if something has to be 'unlocked' for them to show up in the retail version.

Jim

Lisbeth said...

Just wanted to try to clarify about the software...

The programming environment for the Retail version is identical to the programming environment for the Education version. The biggest difference, like Jim said, is that Retail comes with RoboCenter, while the Education version comes with Robot Educator.
RoboCenter focuses on getting the user to be able to build and program four major types of models. Robot Educator, however, uses shorter tutorials that help the user understand how to use each of the programming blocks on both the common and advanced palettes. The goal of Robot Educator is to give students chunks of knowledge that they can then turn around and apply to whatever challenge they are given. It's this fundamental focus that is so distinct from the Retail - we want students to be able to take the concepts they learn in building and programming and apply them to math, science, engineering, and technology principles.

Tom is right, however, in guessing that the Education version supports the legacy sensors and motors. As far as I know, there is no way to "unlock" those programming blocks in the retail version (keep in mind, however, that I've got no hacking skills to speak of though...).

If any of you have any questions regarding the Education NXT, please email me at NXT@LEGOeducation.com. We're sharing as much info as we can, I promise. Often, emails I get will prompt a blog post, so your questions will help others as well.

Thanks,
Lisbeth White
Product Specialist
LEGO Education

Jim Kelly said...

Well, Lisbeth, since you offered... :)

Can you find out about the missing legacy blocks in the retail software? If the converter cables are going to be offered for sale to those of us with the retail kit, there's must be plans for making the legacy programming blocks available... either through 'unlocking' or maybe a patch to the software. I noticed in the HELP documentation that legacy motors and sensors are starred (*) to differentiate the instructions - since they were included in the retail version of the software I can only HOPE that the blocks will be made available to us. Thanks!

Jim

Lisbeth said...

Well, as far as I know, there are no plans for the retail version to offer those legacy blocks at all. While we will be selling those converter cables, we focus our sales at educators, so we can't help but officially assume that people purchasing those converter cables and having them sent to home addresses are just teachers working from home after school is out...

I don't know if the retail division of LEGO has any plans to sell the converter cables. My understanding is that RIS, the RCX, and all it's accompanianing parts are pretty much a dead deal.

Lisbeth

byronczimmer said...

Lego has always been about building on the previous incarnation.

Duplo blocks are many children's first introduction to LEGO. Duplo blocks can be stacked with certain 'normal' bricks (most notably the 2x4s) to allow graduation from one system to the next without having to forgo the older pieces.

Studded beams with holes can connect to 'normal' Lego pieces to then allow the introduction of Technics elements.

The software has already been developed for the legacy sensors.

The converter cables are already being produced.

Most of the customers who seem to be buzzing about the NXT probably own an RCX and accompanying sensors.

It seems illogical for LEGO to NOT offer these already produced items for sale to the interested general public.

This answer may be the impotus for mass cancellations of NXT preorders (retail) and an equal increase in orders for Eduational versions, which isn't necessarily good for LEGO's relationship with retailers.

Jim Kelly said...

I have requested information on the MDP forum regarding the legacy programming blocks.

Let's hold off on threats to cancel pre-orders... LEGO demonstrated its willingness to listen to its customers by implementing the MDP, and I for one will not start boycotting everytime I don't get my way.

I am in that group that owns both RIS and NXT... while I'd love to be able to integrate them, it's not a deal breaker for me - I'd rather give LEGO an opportunity to explain how this will work or why it won't be available.

byronczimmer said...

Wasn't a threat, just an observation. Everyone who is aware that there are two versions (retail & educational) and whose budget only allows for one purchase has asked 'which should I get'.

If the same cost answer is 'you can't use legacy items with the retail set but you can with the educational set' then the choice is clear, and would require a cancellation of the retail set and a preorder of the educational one.

I wasn't advocating a boycott, god forbid -- just a change of which set to purchase... retail or educational.

It still baffles me that there are such vast discrepancies between the two 'arms' of Lego.

However, it *is* a question that needs answers, as many of the folks I've talked to have indicated 'I'll just purchase a few converter cables later'... But if the firmware doesn't support that option, it's not an option.

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