Jun 12, 2006

Back in the office...

Hello, everyone. I'm happy to see that Brian kept you entertained with some great posts. I've got some reading to catch up on and I need to check in with my contacts.

I did receive an email from an 'insider' with a rather vague statement, but I'll share it with you here and you can make of it what you will... when discussing upcoming projects for MSNXT, the email simply said "we cannot tell you, but wait for the surprise!"

I would suggest keeping an eye on the official website...

Jim

10 comments:

byronczimmer said...

This was a surprise!
On the United States Preorder Page (as linked from the official site's 'preorder now' box on the bottom left):

Sorry, item is not available in this country.

William L. Chamberlin said...

Hmmm. . . I guess retail ran out of stock of NXT?

William L. Chamberlin said...

Here's something interesting. . .
The following paragraph can be found at this link:

http://www.lego.com/eng/service/faqs.asp?section=ConsumerService-FAQ-Products&catid=E8D0CD47-16B8-4B2F-900C-8FC40C163598&faqid=20503#20503

"Is the new MINDSTORMS NXT set compatible with the Robotics Invention System sets?"

"Regarding compatibility between a MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System set and a NXT set, there will be a converter cable available that will allow you to connect your existing RCX compatible sensors and motors to the NXT brick. This will come in handy for many users who wish to continue using their considerable collection of existing sensors. It will also make it possible to use the existing LEGO temperature sensor in conjunction with the NXT. Since the NXT set does not include a temperature sensor at this time, this will greatly benefit those who rely on that sensor for specific projects. In order to use the legacy sensors and motors, in addition to the converter cable, you will need to download a file from the web. This file will contain programming icons for the legacy sensors. We expect to have this file ready as a free download by the beginning of August.
Finally, the NXT brick will not be able to communicate with the RCX brick. You could physically connect them but nothing would come of it just as it wasn’t possible to have two RCX bricks communicate through a connecting cable."

William

Jim Kelly said...

William,

Thanks for posting the link... that does sound like LEGO intends to release an update that will make the legacy sensors available...

Jim

byronczimmer said...

Nice find William!

I'm really glad to hear this!

Anonymous said...

There are a few comments hidden on the Lego-Education (DACA) page, though calls to their line get you less info than what's posted.

I am eagerly awaiting my NXT kit, ordered before they apparently ran out for the July 1 Mass Shippment (various stores may *also* have their own allocations for pre-order at whatever the price) BUT:

I am deeply afraid LEGO didn't "get" the real reasons RSX didn't become the hyper-popular toy the corporation expected.

It isn't the complexity - rather the complexity of trying to create sufficient I/O to use the thing - made worse by the decision that *all* motors should be within 1 degree accuracy motors.

Look, the CPU at the heart of the NXT block is the sme thing in the latesgt Palm PDAs, the ones even capable of running a limited Windows clone!

Stripped of the heavy screen demand, you would think they would at least use a flash memory port for a gig of program storage or easy program changes... And, with a 32-bit CPU throw in a half-gig of RAM for us to play with? Nope.

WORSE - you would think they'd provide eight, maybe 16 ports for the heavy-feedback motors (not necesserally locally powered, but what's a few batteries between friends?) Plus 16 or 32 variable resistance or pulse-mod or even scr misc. motor controls and 64+ binary outputs, 32 latched - to be plugged into a fairly cheap opto-isolator expansion board to make useful.

AND with that, 128 (a whole FOUR words) binary inputs using the same kind of opto-isolators, reversed, and anothr 16 or 32 (with expansion boards, OK, no problem) ADC inputs - yes, 8,16,32 -bit ADCs still cost a bit, but not too much for the dedicwted builder, considering adding the *potential* for all this expansion would have added almost nothing to the price, just a series of pop-the-sides-off high-density connectors for the plug-ins.

Now, pre-release materiaql indicates it shoulod be possible to slave a robot to an immovable PC via Bluetooth or, with little work, bi-di Bluetooth to 802.11 wireless.

But unless the brick is open to hard hacking, it looks like the same kludges used for Mindstorms I expansion will be with us again - like 1965 resistor ladder DACs/ADCs out of the 1960 LINC computer manual, or jurry-rigging MUXes based on digital signal to port 1 (Device 3) READ Port 1 so you can hang four or more simple switches off a port, but using a pure digital read will still be a Royal Pain AND IRQs will be worse.

I'm really hoping I'll be surprised, and I'll find a torx-screw-covered panel covering all the other contacts and ports available on most ARM-7 core controllers. WHY do I doubt it?

Anyone in the Beta crew able to say how hard a hack we're looking at to build highly sensitive and responsive?
-dmr

Anonymous said...

I just called Lego to make sure my preorder was still happening since the "not available" message was disturbing. Apparently they have a mistake on the website. Only the NXT with the free batteries is not available in the US. They are still taking preorders for the regular set, to ship July 1. The person I spoke to said she would pass the info on to her supervisor so they can fix/clarify the order page.

Brian Davis said...

> I am deeply afraid LEGO didn't "get" the
> real reasons RCX didn't become the hyper-
> popular toy the corporation expected.

Actually, sales of the RCX are (I think) a record for the company - their #1 selling item of all time, and they *still* sell, even now years later.

As to the wealth of suggestions, those are *great*... if you are a professional robotics type, or even a hobbiest with a deep interest. But that's not what LEGO makes: quite simply, they make toys, for kids. Adding all that stuff would increase the usability of the NXT drasticly, but also raise the cost some... and if only one user in 100 (or less) uses those features, then it probably does not make for a wise economic decision.

That's LEGO's problem - ours is how to have the maximum fun with this "childs toy". Here (I feel) LEGO has stepped up to the plate more than ever: they *have* modified hardware based on how *adult* test groups reacted (not just kids). And they have allowed us in the MDP (and, soon enough, everybody else) deeper access to the internals of the product than any other toy manufacturer has ever dreamed of. And at a deeper level, they've built in some features that are going to make "hacking" at least as easy as before, if not more so. For instance, the NXT can handle "legacy" RCX sensors... which means we should be able to port many of our RCX hacks over to the NXT. Beyond that, sensor ports support a digital communication protocall (*light-years* beyond what they RCX could handle), making for a whole new world of possibilities.

I'm not sure what it will take to move the NXT to the level you want - but I *do* know the NXT is already (months before release) ten times closer to that level than the RCX will ever be... and look what we've done with the RCX!

--
Brian "pull my off the soapbox" Davis

Jim Kelly said...

I would like to add some comments to Brian's post.

It's only on its 3rd issue at this point, but ROBOT magazine is one of the sources of information I use to see what else is going on in the robot hobbyist world. Let me tell you what I've found so far...

1. There are cheaper robotic kits, many from $20 to $100. The drawback: most of these are of a pre-designed form, with one or 2 functions (line follower or Scribbler comes to mind).

2. There are more advanced robotic kits, many from $700 to $1500. Drawback: Most are heavy on the servo motors and programming the bots to do advanced movements - hand-stands, cartwheels, backflips, etc. and lack any additional sensors. Also, these can be tricky for younger designers to build and some require a good working knowledge of some advanced programming techniques as well as extreme patience when it comes to assembly.

3. There are kits similar to Mindstorms (VEX) in price ($200-400). With VEX, the program must be purchased separately or else the bot is simply remote-controlled. LynxMotion sells something it calls the "Servo Erector Set" where you can pick the individual components, but again, you're limited to mainly servos and the mounting hardware/frames used to connect them PLUS the circuit board/IC seem to be limited at this time to motion control and very few sensors like the Ultrasonic, Light, Touch, etc... they're available, but pricey AND I would say not for the novice.

My point: I can NOT find the functionality of this kit, with this collection of sensors, parts, and the easy-to-use software in any currently existing robotics kit at this price.

I'm not trying to lessen anyone's concerns about whether they will be able to do something in particular with this kit... there are going to be a lot of special projects that will not be possible with the basic kit - I've actually encountered a few myself. (Arrays were considered non-existent until Brian Davis showed us otherwise.)

But at this point, I am extremely impressed with this new kit. Let's give LEGO a break until everyone has their kits in hand and has begun to build and program.

byronczimmer said...

A third voice, and I'm not an MDP'er.

LEGO had a very firm price point of $250. Roughly equivalent to the video game consoles out on the market - making it a tempting alternative to those products for the parents, who are the ones with the money.

Because LEGO's building elements are universally compatible (right down to the legacy sensors/motors, THANK YOU LEGO!!!), this is just a 'starter kit', to which other bricks are expected to be added on, be they other Technic sets, gear packs or, and this is key, other NXTs.

Because of the bluetooth communication, you can link up as many NXTs as you want, each one performing a specific function of a larger robotic whole, an idea that I think fits wonderfully with LEGO's base concept.

Sure, if you had multiple external powersupplies optoisolated from the chipset powering multiple motors, yes, it'd be possible to do more, but for most applications, three (or six) motors is going to do the trick.

Aftermarket vendors, such as hiTechnic, are already coming out with motor multiplexers which let you power multiple motors from a single NXT from an external power supply, and they'll be available when the NXT launches. I'm sure home electronic experts could create their own versions.

Finally, it may even be possible for the software writers/hackers to make specialized blocks to control some of these aftermarket devices as though they were native.

A single 2x4 brick isn't very interesting. It's when you start combining it with other bricks that the magic starts to happen. The same is true of the NXT. Just one is going to be fun. Two or more is going to really open some possibilities.

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