May 25, 2006

LEGO is listening

Okay, I've got readers from LEGO corporate and LEGO Education that check in on the blog, so here's our chance to have an open discussion about the converter cable & legacy block subject. I'll also email my contacts to let them know they might want to look in on the discussion...

For starters, I want to provide some short statements from Lisbeth (in red, edited for length):

"... as of today, I have not heard anything about a retail version that will have the legacy blocks, nor has my immediate supervisor..."

"...we’re not trying to make people cancel pre-orders of retail sets so they’ll order from us. We may serve the hobbyist market, but by and large our primary market is educators. Lots and lots of schools have spent lots and lots of money creating LEGO Robotics labs, and we know that school budgets run the gamut from perpetually underfunded to usually underfunded. My understanding is that this is the biggest reason for the inclusion of the legacy blocks and converter cables in the education sets. Schools are much more likely to be purchasing 4 or 8 or 12 sets, as opposed to the average hobbyist... who is most likely only purchasing one set."

"... there’s no intent to scam anyone... we’ve designed the education versions to work better in the classroom than the retail version would. To protect the investments they’ve already made and to justify further expenditures on LEGO Education robotics, it’s important that educators have a transition plan – moving from the old sets to the new. Legacy blocks, converter cables, etc. help with this, and make the purchase of our set more appealing."

"All the little things – sorting trays, rechargeable batteries – those are all things that make using the LEGO Mindstorms in the classroom that much easier for the instructors (who all need all the help they can get, really, they’re asked to do so much in so little time with so much riding on their success). "

---- What I got from Lisbeth's email was that LEGO Education is focused on the needs of teachers and students -they make decisions about their product that are in the best interest of their specific customer(s). I don't think the two divisions met and talked about ways to make one product more appealing than the other... I think LEGO Education took what they saw being developed and went their own direction with it in terms of components and software to be included. Lisbeth has stated she has heard nothing on this subject when it comes to the retail version, but that doesn't necessarily mean bad news - it just means she doesn't know, so let's not read anything more into the statements than that. That said, I will continue to try and get an official statement from LEGO. And as I stated earlier, LEGO has shown they are serious about listening to the customer and I have no doubt they will listen to well-written and logical discussions on this subject.

I'm going to pull back on this one and let the comments/discussions go where they may (within limits). I will inform LEGO and LEGO Education about this post so they can check in if they so choose.


Anonymous said...

Having battery-only as the "peoples" choice is stupid.
If the toy is designed to be played with, parents will be buying batteries like crazy and hating it.

At the minimum, there should have been an AC adapter. Is there enough power through the USB?

byronczimmer said...

Some of what I own, from memory...

= 3 RCXs (one of them a 1.0, for which I purchased an AC adaptor, and it is a godsend)
= 1 Microscout (R2-D2 was cute)
= 15+ motors
= 2-3 micromotors
= 1 Vision Command
= 2 each Robosport and Extreme Creatures Packs
= 3 Rotation Sensors
= Enough Technic sets over the years to fill a few of those 18 gallon rubbermaid tubs, and that's the UNSORTED stuff, the sorted stuff goes into toolboxs with drawers and is restocked from the 'tubs' as needed.
= As many pneumatics parts as I could get my hands on, not listing it all
= A home made 'arena', which is a 3' table painted white with black border for sumo-type competitions

According to the metrics for school purchases, that puts me on par with a small school. Maybe it wasn't all at once, and the above doesn't get into everything I've got. Also, that collection PALES in comparison to some folks I know.

I would very much like to be able to use the equipment already purchased in an integrated fashion with the NXT.

I plan to purchase a rechargable battery for each NXT that comes into the house, which will probably be 2 or 3 by 2008. Again, not all at once, but eventually purchased. The battery cost over time can get very prohibitive.

If the legacy blocks are supported in the Retail version, I will definitely purchase enough NXT -> RCX converter cables to support a handful of 'classic' motors intended for simpler tasks (like driving sorting mechanism that doesn't need precise angle or speed control).

For that reason, I've already got my eyes on the HiTechnic 'bridge' device so that the NXT is the 'smarts' (steering, precise angular movement) and the RCX is the 'dumb brains' for gross motor control... kind of a right hand/left hand concept.

If the retail version will not support legacy motors or touch sensors, I will have to rethink 'how' I plan to purchase NXTs, because it is very important to me to not simply 'scrap' all of the electronic parts from previous robotics purchases.

I too would like a 'transition plan'.

Jim Kelly said...


I don't understand your post - who said battery-only was the people's choice?

The recharge system will be available for purchase to the general public. It also supports an AC adapter.

byronczimmer said...

He probably means that the retail kit is built only for 6 AA batteries versus including a rechargable battery (which, would either lower the piece count or raise the price away from $250 which I know was a goal).

Also, technically, the rechargable battery is only available from Lego-Education. I couldn't find it anywhere in the retail section.

If I haven't said it enough yet, Jim -- thank you for doing this. It may help LEGO to realize that the home enthusiasts and the educational market are not too far apart when it comes down to brass tacks.

william l. chamberlin said...

Dear Lego,

I agree with all of the above concerning a transition plan and a better power source. And, thanks for considering our comments.


I 'll tell U whats NXT said...

What I hope is that Lego won't cut back by giving all the educators the extra tools and not the public (connecter cables, rechargable batery etc.)
And also I would almost for sure use the rechargeable batery . I mean realy ? How long do six AAA batereys last for ? ( not long )
espeacily if your going to be using your NXT all the time by seeing what makes it go better and what happens if I connect this to that ?

Anonymous said...

I'm not exactly sure what this post is about, unless you are trying to get Lego Education to sell the adapter cables as a separate item. Lego Education sells to individuals, and the rechargeable batteries and Education version of the software are already available for pre-order. You will need an AC adapter, available now, since it is the same one used with the RCX 1.0, but why not buy the education version of the NXT set, and get the rechargeable battery, AC adapter, and converter cables, plus an extra touch sensor? The $42 for the software is more than covered by the battery and charger, especially if you already have a large supply of Technic pieces, and won't really miss the 100+ pieces. The only drawback that I can see is that you will have to wait an extra month, since the Education sets aren't shipping until August, versus July for the retail set. (I have to admit I couldn't wait, so I ordered one of each.)

I've bought from Lego Education for years, since I'm a Mac user and needed to use RoboLAB. The retail RIS software is not useable on Macs. By the way, if you haven't used it, RoboLAB is very powerful and I'm hoping that they haven't dumbed it down in the new version of the software.

Anonymous said...

The Educational Version can run either with the Rechargeable battery pack or 6 x AA Alkaline batteries.

Using the rechargeable batteries you get less power to the motors and a charged battery pack does not last as long as 6 x AA alkalines. When rechargeables come to the end of their discharge cycle there is a steeper decline compared with alkalines. Meaning that that when the rechargables are starting to run out of power the decline is a lot more rapid than with alkalines.

There is going to be interesting in classrooms that make models that incorporate the NXT as a part of the robot (e.g. AlphaRex) as you can't get to the batteries or battery pack without pulling the robot apart.

If your rechargable battery runs out in the middle of the class you have to put the whole robot aside and have it recharge. Teachers will have to always top your rechargable battery pack up at the end of lessons.

In competition though you may want to use alkalines to get the extra power.

If you want an adaptor cable for legacy motors / sensors, make you own. Check out Philo's site

byronczimmer said...

The existance of the cables and rechargable battery is established, and they are available through Lego Education. That's fine. This isn't about the availability of the hardware items given that Lego Education will ship to home addresses (they didn't always used to).

This doesn't invalidate the question of whether or not the retail branch will package the rechargable battery and AC adaptor for general sale, obviously there's a demand for it...

I believe the crux of the question is this:
The retail version of the software has HELP files which detail the use and existance of "Legacy Programming Blocks" (LPBs) with a starred caveat that one must contact Lego Education in order to obtain the connector cables (with a weblink provided). In other words, a retail customer will know about the LPBs because of the software they purchased with the RETAIL kit, without ever accessing any online resources, blogs, industry secret sites or buying anything else.

Once those connector cables are purchased, does that Retail customer have ACCESS to those LPBs with the software they already own, or must they then purchase a different programming environment (for $42.00) from Lego Education to be able to program with the LPBs?

Answers I would expect:
A) Yes, Retail customers have the LPBs already, the MDPers just haven't found them.
B) Yes, Retail customers have the LPBs, but have to do something special or enter an unlock code that will be publically available.
C) No, Retail customers have no access to the LPBs, but can download a patch to the firmware for FREE.
D) No, Retail customers have no access to the LPBs, but can purchase a patch to the firmware for a MODEST COST (less than $42).
E) No, Retail customers have no access to the LPBs and must purchase the Lego Education Programming environment (at $42) in order to access to the LPBs.

Finally, if the answer is 'E', it makes a legacy equipment owner wonder why they should get the RETAIL version since they will (most likely) already have large quantities of building elements and are primarily interested in the NXT brick and programming environment.

I hope this clarifies the concern.

I am not seeking to get 'something for nothing', I'm trying to determine the best cost-benefit ratio and 'access to LPBs in the programming environment' is a definite factor.

Anonymous said...

Today 26-may, I tried to get the public code as promised out of Lego USA - figured with the product due in a month & change, I could start work on firmware and hardware additons and mods needed to overcome the crippling limitations of 3 I/O with power, 4 I/O with minimal power, tiny memory and program storage.
---Got Nothing except found out tech support hasn't gotten anything yet.
I have put together the following Good News: 1) The only difference between a "slave" USB (as on NXT block) and a "master" is ability to supply 5V power. If firmware can be written to make NXT output on the USB line DEVICE ID/data or listen for Calling NXT by Device ID/data, we might be able to add up to 255 devices - at *least* a flash card reader, expanding program storage to 2G per card.
2)Based on Mindsensors'(tm) announcement of a device to turn a sensor input into a motor control with external power, it's fair to say that all 7 outlets (power accepted) are the same! This means we're going to need to carry around some D-cells, not a problem!
3)Based on the use of an ARM-7 32-bit core, while we may have to break in and rewire the NXT box, it SHOULD be possible to: ADD SRAM - a LOT of SRAM.... AND ADD a LOT of I/O based on the old, old, micro-p concept of considering any address OVER real memory is I/O - how would this work? Tahe a given "address and replace each bit with a flip/flop with buffered output to the "world"
OUTPUT: The flop is set by the CPU's buffered memory 'write' and read by an external device - 8 bits per byte, 32 per word (4 locations) The "real world" device has to rule on what that 1 or 0 means.
INPUT: The flop - writing to a buffered "memory" location, is set by the outside device - firmware interprets input's significance.
Analog input/output? Set 8 or 16 bits at a shot.
Speed worries? No Lego 'bot will outrun a 4.7MHz CPU unless someone can't program.
Lego has *not* listened, considering the relatively low cost of using available CPU abilities, at least connected to external connectors that those with a good hardware background or simple expansion kits for those without could use.

Look at it this way - I thought the $149 lift truck would make an ideal platform for an NXT -pwered arm. Then I counted up the motors (many could be simple ones, no steppers required)... 7+, sensors, many simple 1-bit binary touch sensors, maybe some advanced stuff like electronic compasses... 7+

So, with TWO NXT sets, or just one modified brick, the job could be done.

I want to get started NOW, let's have the proposed open designs and 'ware!

Anonymous said...

One of the issues is also that the legacy cables are not available unless you buy the Lego Education basic kit. Hopefully they will be available for seprate purchase once the kits start shipping.

Jim Kelly said...

As an MDPer and someone whom has regular contact with LEGO and LEGO Education, I can tell you that LEGO most certainly IS listening...

I'll be the first to say when I think LEGO has done something wrong - I'm not a paid spokesperson (I had to pay LEGO for my beta kit) nor do I receive any special treatment from LEGO other than an open line of communication. The problem I see is that LEGO is never going to make everyone happy. They provide 3 motors, people want 4... they provide inputs for 4 sensors, people want 5. Robotics is still in its infancy (some will argue that, but we're not at the point yet where robots are like PCs with interchangeable parts, standards for component sizes, etc.)... and while I'd love to have a robotics kit custom-made, just for me, I'm happy with the progress that is being made in getting kits out at a reasonable price with reasonable capabilities.

Just my 3 cents...


Franklin said...

Something about Lego education requires some explanation. It is a US based Company. I am from the Netherlands. When I use their Shipping Wizard they tell me that they do not ship outside US. If there is a local Representative in your own country (take The Netherlands for example) then items may be purchased through these local representatives. If there are no local representatives then a special request can be made to have items shipped outside the US directly from Lego Education but only in certain circumstances. If there is a local representatice in your country, such as is the case in the Netherlands most are private small 1-man companies. Most of them do not have anything in stock and have an order-and-delivery-on-demand policy. Because of cost they do not deliver to individuals, only bulk to schools. So my opinion is that all works fine in the US but when you live in Europe most people are stuck unless Lego Denmark itself makes these items (such as rechargeable battery packs etc etc)available via their online shop. Funny enough I did order items through the US store online and could select my country and have Lego Education US have it shipped to the Netherlands with extra cost for shipping?? Is this a mistake on their website or have things changed shortly? Can anyone explain this! Regards from a Lego Fan, Franklin

byronczimmer said...


Some of the items you mention are cost/benefit tradeoffs, and can be overcome within the limitations provided.

Want more than 3 motors? Multiplex using 3rd party equipment (such as hiTechnic) or if you want a pure Lego solution, buy two NXTs and use bluetooth for communication. Then you can have one NXT be the 'driver' and the other be the 'gunner' (or whatever function you needed the bonus motors for).

Same thing with sensors -- need more? Multiplex them with 3rd party stuff, or use a second NXT and bluetooth.

The inclusion of bluetooth was the answer to all of the normal 'I want more' questions and shows incredible foresight. It was the right solution within the cost parameters Lego had set forth.

Robitcs has been used in industry for decades, and the Lego NXT even has a port specifically designed to the robotics information bus standards used today.

LEGO has done many, MANY things right with this, and I'm still as excited as a kid in December as ship date approaches. I just wish you would hear from Lego-Retail on the LPB & cable question.

Jim Kelly said...

I have received word from a reader that the Education version of the software DOES have the legacy blocks... built in.

This leaves only 2 possibilities:

1. The legacy blocks can be added to the retail software (with an update or patch).

2. The legacy blocks CANNOT be added to the retail software via update or patch.

I think option 1 is more likely, but I still haven't heard an official word. You'll know as soon as I do... but for now, the issue is still unresolved.

Brian Davis said...

OK, here's some other tidbits (better late thsan never)...

> 1) The only difference between a "slave" USB
> (as on NXT block) and a "master" is ability to
> supply 5V power.

As far as I know, this is not actually the case. Yes, supplying power is one important difference between USB master & slave... but there are other differences on hardware (the chipsets). So turning the NXT USB port into a USB master (and thus plugging in things like simple FLASH cards) is not that simple.

> it's fair to say that all 7 outlets (power
> accepted) are the same!

They are not. If you think about it, this makes sense: the motors need some specific control (PWM), that is not needed on the input circuits, and such PWM is usually done in HW. So the ports are not interchangable.

> Lego has *not* listened...

I agree with jim on this - I think they have listened, but their goals may be very different than yours. Remember they are making a toy, for kids - the fact that the rest of us are going to use it in other ways is not likely LEGOs main marketing thrust.

> let's have the proposed open
> designs and 'ware!

They are coming - but I think LEGO wants to make sure that they have it as firmly nailed down and documented as possible.

Brian Davis

byronczimmer said...

I waited until this fell to the archives to ping this issue.

Has there been any further word?

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