Feb 27, 2006
"The NXT Step" blog will be 'on vacation' from March 4th to March 12th. Please note that I will be turning on the "Moderate Comments" feature to prevent any abuses. I'll review any comments received on March 13th.
I've received numerous personal emails regarding my blog - thank you for the compliments. I hope to continue to provide news and information on NXT as it comes.
Feb 25, 2006
I'll put in a plug for volunteering for the FLL. Currently the Atlanta, Georgia (USA) volunteer coordinator is looking for adults to volunteer to help with the 3 day event. If you're interested, I can email you the contact information for faster response (the online app procedure takes a little time for you to hear back)
Current Robot Sets, FIRST DVD's, and Coaches' Handbooks begin to ship
New Release Robot Sets and Field Setup Kits begin to ship
International Challenge Announced
References from the article (and products mentioned) can be found here.
Personal Note: if you've never seen or read MAKE magazine, you really need to hunt down a copy. It's from the same folks at O'Reilly that put out the great technology books.
Some thoughts: I mentioned in an earlier post how the tone sensitivity could be used to control the bot by using the sounds from a guitar or a touch tone phone (it if's loud enough or if the sensor is sensitive enough). I like that it can distinguish between two voices... I imagine they must be dissimilar in certain ways (my brother and I sound alike, so it wouldn't work for us).
Only the Ultrasonic Sensor is left to cover (unless maybe the HiTechnic sensors will get some coverage here). Thanks go to Lego Education NXT for providing pictures and information on the sensors, motors, and other items...
They're made by ZAG and sold by Stanley - do a Search for part #14325 (25 Compartment Professional Organizer). You can take out the little yellow boxes or move them around to make space for larger items.
I believe I bought them from Sam's Club for US$6 each... (US$10 online)
They're thin, light, and my favorite part - look at the back - it has the LEGO pattern - holes and studs. Yes, it's the small things that bring me amusement.
Feb 24, 2006
Intro to Technic - some simple discussions.
Technic Tutorials - 3 so far. They indicate more will be created.
Technic Glossary - again, not much... very simplified definitions.
Combining Elements - discusses mixing Standard Lego Brick with Technic
From a power and weight perspective, one of the 'balancing factors' I can imagine (for now) is the number of extra sensors and more powerful motors that can be made/purchased for the RCX. If you are talking about an 'anything goes' competition, the NXT is at a disadvantage due to lack of additional sensors and motors. But we can't expect this to last too long...
Another 'balancing factor' could be the experience factor. There's a lot more trial-and-error testing with the RCX, and it could be argued that inexperience with the NXT system could help the RCX designer(s). If LEGO Education NXT releases its version in August 2006, the experience factor will last only as long as the time needed for the NXT developers to catch up - could be months... or a year or more.
If you examine the last set of challenges for the FLL, it may or may not be difficult to imagine performing the tasks with the NXT. Lack of 'hands-on' with the NXT is what keeps me from writing 'no problem' - who knows, some of the tasks for RCX may truly be difficult or impossible (?) for the NXT - and by that, I mean the basic retail kit and/or Education version.
I have no doubts the NXT is going to be a powerful robotic construction system... my question is simply whether we should even be comparing the NXT with the RCX? I still tend to think of the two as apples and oranges and, therefore, comparisons cannot be fair to either product.
I was looking over some of the designs that can be built with NXT and it occurred to me that there is a SUBSTANTIAL amount of empty space - compared to the RIS and block building.
When it comes to weight, a lot of RIS designs were underpowered by the standard motors. A portion of my design time with the RIS system involved reducing weight; an unfortunate side effect of some of my designs (and maybe yours, too) was that I was forced to reinforce a weak point by building up that area with extra bricks. This hurt my designs in multiple ways, the main 2 being it looked ugly and it was heavier.
With the NXT Technic components, I'm sure weight will always need to be considered, but... look at the empty space of the beams and angled pieces. You'll see holes... LOTS of them.
I realize you cannot compare an NXT bot to a RIS bot - apples to oranges in most cases. But when considering form versus function, it might be interesting to compare 2 bots that perform the same function and weigh them. This may not be that big of a deal, but if the NXT motors are more powerful and the NXT components are even 20% lighter (or more!)... well, think about things like competitions.
If the function is the same (the competition's tasks to complete), but the form is faster, lighter, and more sturdy, are we going to see NXT sending RCX to the bench?
(Notice the date on the circuitry schematic)
Feb 23, 2006
Also, the site posted (a few days ago) some details on the rechargeable battery that will be compatible with NXT - but NOT sold with the retail version.
1. The 18 challenges appear to be step-by-step instructions provided on-screen instead of a printed book.
2. The icons appear to be different colors, but this MAY simply be a limitation of the photo.
3. There appears to be no explanation for the word 'humanoid' unless these are the steps to create the AlphaREX.
4. I wish you could see actual text for the 'Programming Brief' and the 'Challenge Brief' sections.
Comments on what View or My Files would be? The others, I think, are probably self-explanatory... maybe not. Then again, the options might have changed since this video was taken, too.
Feb 22, 2006
Feb 21, 2006
Read the accompanying article here.
UPDATE: Did anyone notice that they put a touch sensor at the top? Why?? In the other image, it's the sound sensor (see Feb 19 post picture)... weird.
I can't wait to use this thing as a control device.
(And as something only a techie could love - my iPAQ has a little blue blinking LED when BT is turned on. It's a nice, calming color.)
Feb 20, 2006
Check it out here.
And read the Lego Education NXT blog here.
Thanks, Mitch, for the information!
Because it looks like it can be fun to chase the cat or dog with... look at those front claws... it might even be fun to put under the bed and let it rush at my wife's ankles when she gets up in the morning (of course, I'll be sleeping on the sofa the next night).
The thing just looks mischievous. I can't wait to program it for various attack scenarios.
And then, of course, there's programming it for sound - barking when chasing the cat, maybe?
Feb 19, 2006
Q: Do you think the NXT system will be more/less/same 'user-friendly' to the younger designers as the RIS?
SH: They've made a big effort to design a system where kids can have a robot running in 30 minutes. I think they've done that.
One big difference between this Mindstorms kit and the first is that they are also trying to design this so adults can use it. The first time they were just lucky. :) (if you consider a good design as lucky)
Q: Finally, 'paid in bricks' sounds nice - did you enjoy the User Panel experience? Any comments on the joys and/or sorrows of the experience?
SH: First, I do want to point out something that's not clear in your blog. LEGO has created two different groups, the Mindstorms User Panel (MUP) and the Mindstorms Developer Program (MDP). The MUP started with 4 of us, and was expanded to 14.
The MDP will consist of 100 lucky developers who have a chance to start building the next (NXT?) Mindstorms community, even before the product is on the market. Hopefully, by the time the general public is opening their NXTs, there will already be a wealth of information available. I think we're already off to a good start...
To answer your question, it's been a lot of fun, and I'm not spending as much money on my hobby as I had been. :) Of course, that may change in August.
Thanks for asking
Feb 18, 2006
The HiTechnic Bridge will allow the NXT Intelligent Brick to communicate with the Mindstorms RCX Brick.
The HiTechnic Bridge will use an Infrared (IR) Transmitter and Receiver (connected to an NXT sensor port) and that's how it will 'talk' to the RCX through its IR port. Full bidirectional data transfer will be supported and can be initiated by either Brick.
Look for it in August, to coincide with the NXT system retail release. (And check the HiTechnic website for more info very soon, including pictures.)
Thanks again, Steve, for the preview.
Feb 17, 2006
Q: What were your after-thoughts on the WIRED article and how it described the User Panel?
SH: It's been pretty cool. I've had friends from all over contact me after seeing the story. I was expecting more people to ask questions that they know I shouldn't answer. But, everyone's been good about it. And, that's nice, because if we (MUPs) don't mess this up, there could be many more opportunities like this one.
Q: Are you working on Legway 2.0? Any comments on what kind(s) of improvement over the RCX version you expect?
SH: I really haven't had a chance to do that, yet. The one big thing I'm hoping is to build one using all pieces from the standard kit.
I would like to thank Steve for taking the time to answer my questions. I'll have questions 3 and 4 up tomorrow.
Many thanks to Steve for the details provided below. Check out the HiTechnic site here.
The HiTechnic Multiplexor is designed to extend the I/O capabilities of the NXT by providing four additional sensor ports and four additional motor ports. The Multiplexor could be thought of as a mini-NXT, having its own CPU and I/O support hardware. It is powered from an external 9v supply which may be either a battery pack or 9v DC wall transformer.
The four sensor ports are compatible with those in the NXT, supporting digital I/O and able to perform both active and passive RCX compatible analog input as well.
The four motor ports are also fully compatible to the NXT's motor ports. Software within the Multiplexor receives commands from the NXT and performs motor control functions based upon feedback from the motors' built-in rotation sensors, just as the NXT does.
The HiTechnic Multiplexor has a ninth port, the Connect I/O Port, which connects to the one of the NXT's sensor ports. The NXT communicates with the Multiplexor over this connection, transferring packets of sensor data and motor control data.
Built into the Multiplexor is a routing device which permits digital lines to be temporally switched directly through to one of the four sensor ports allowing the NXT to communicate directly with the attached sensor.
On another subject - I haven't heard anything yet about the MUP. It's driving me crazy waiting.
Legacy Sensors compatibility appear to be a possibility for Mindstorms NXT with the availability of the HiTechnic multiplexor (see earlier post). Here are some links for companies and/or sites that offer legacy sensors for sale.
Homebrew sensors (scroll down to the "Homebrew" section)
Feb 16, 2006
Also, (great news) legacy sensors and motors (for the RCX) are ALSO supported by the Multiplexor. No price or release date has been set.
Image is copyright of HiTechnic Products.
Feb 15, 2006
Here is my third question to Soren Lund, Director of LEGO Group’s MINDSTORMS division. (See my earlier posts for questions 1 and 2.)
Q: Has the NXT system been 'tested' by a younger group (ages 10-15)? IF so, what were their reactions?
SL: We are always testing new products with kids. For MINDSTORMS NXT the focus has been the 10-14 year target group. The NXT generation will not only utilize sophisticated technologies, it will also be easier to use for the new user 10 and up. We have designed and tested a Quick Start process so any child 10 and up can build, program and test a robot within 30 minutes. Our tests show that the kids really appreciate this and they love the new cool looking robots. They also find the new programming environment very intuitive and easy to use.
My interest in the NXT system lies with the younger designers. A recent article in TIME magazine asked the question "Is America Flunking Science?" I'm hoping with all the current interest in robots (not just NXT) that kids will find areas such as engineering, programming, physics, etc. to be interesting and challenging. When I was a kid, I had my 150 Electronics Projects Kit (from Radio Shack) that I enjoyed - I also had my Erector Set and I loved programming in BASIC. The NXT would have been a dream for me at age 10.
A quote from the email: "...instructions to build them are not provided in the sets you will be able to buy in stores."
I don't see anything in those images that hasn't already been mentioned for the retail version (4 sensors and 3 motors), but there might be something internal or out-of-view that isn't available in the retail kit. But again, it was stated that these are not robots that have instructions provided in the retail set.
I just wanted to pass along that little warning... (plus a heads-up was given in the email: "... the light sensor is up next ...")
Q: Has there been any discussion yet about expansion kits (like the Vision Command System)?
SL: We are always looking into how we can expand the consumer offer. It has to be components or products that truly benefit the consumers. One example is a rechargeable battery pack. This is one of the most asked for components for MINDSTORMS Generation 1 (The RCX Generation). When we launch MINDSTORMS NXT later this year we will also offer a rechargeable battery pack.
Well, there you have it - they plan on making the rechargeable battery pack available as an add-on/expansion. That's good news for all - especially those of us who dislike purchasing batteries for many reasons - economic, environmental, etc.
Feb 14, 2006
You'll also get to see a closeup of the digital screen on the Intelligent Brick. There are also some images of a cable, the back of a sensor, and a connected sensor. Finally, some good closeups of the scorpion and Alpha.
Feb 13, 2006
Q: What surprised you most about the new NXT components? By this, I mean are you pleased with the changeover to Technic components and do you feel it will be a more useful and easier to build with than the RCX/Bricks version?
SL: From the beginning of the project, we defined the strategy for the next generation of MINDSTORMS. We wanted to take advantage of the new technologies in the market to make it easier to build and program robots but also to allow for more sophisticated use of our toolset. The Interactive Servo Motor is a good example of this. Because of the feedback loop from the motors to the NXT it is now very easy to make a robot go straight. If one motor is a bit ahead of the other motor then the NXT will tell that motor to wait for the other motor. For the first time user this will happen automatically. For the advanced user you now have a motor that you can control very precisely - down to one degree. The feedback we got from the MUP (MINDSTORMS User Panel) when we showed them the motor was: "Do you know what kind of sophisticated robots we can build when we get that motor?"
It was also very important for us to make it easier to build stable, moving robots. The LEGO TECHNIC building system helps us do that. By staying 100% with the TECHNIC elements it is easier for kids 10 years and up to create their own robots. You will be amazed when you see how easy it is to build the Quick Start model.
(Soren Lund, center, Popular Mechanics magazine Editor’s Choice Award)
Many thanks to Mr. Lund for his response. Questions 2 and 3 will be posted soon... so please check back.
Feb 11, 2006
Feb 9, 2006
Constructopedia.media.mit.edu has a great little tutorial on how this is done using the Technic pieces (and some gears). Very little is known about the inclusion of gears with the NXT system, but the tutorial still shows you how the majority of the movement is accomplished.
(Click here to see the scorpion tail movement.)
Feb 7, 2006
1. nxtbot.com - thanks to Jeff for many of the images you see - I can't take credit for a lot of these images as I wasn't at CES 2006. Jeff took some good photos of software and hardware.
2. bnxt.com - Filip has a great site, too... plus he has the aggregate news feed that pulls from numerous sources.
3. nxtclub.com - Steve and Lisa have another blog site dedicated to NXT that I check quite often.
1. I don't see any gears... do you?
2. 4 rubber (?) tires
3. The Challenges (18) are pre-programmed and appear along right side of software (in the left-most image of the software at top of box lid)
4. 2 books - one is probably the "Quick Start Guide" mentioned in the middle-right box with image of robot.
Click on the "News and Announcements" section to read about it. Oh, and some (or all) of the User Panel members will get a version of it to test out. If you are selected as a member, contact HiTechnic to find out more details.
The Dr. Dobb's website has a 3-minute MP3 that mentions NXT. The coverage starts at the 1:50 mark. It doesn't really mention anything new, but for the first time I caught the statement about the sound sensor responding to 'tones'.
Voice controlled devices have many drawbacks. Not everyone's voice has the same pitch/tone. Volume is an issue, as some people speak louder, some softer. Many voice-controlled or activated devices have to be programmed for a particular person. If someone else's voice doesn't match up... no luck in operating the device.
While voice control might be tricky, if the sound sensor can be programmed to distinguish tones from the high to low spectrum, it opens up the possibility of controlling a robot through many different household item that can project easily identifiable (AND DISTINCT) tones: piano keys, touch-tone phone, guitar strings, etc.
This should be a LOT of fun to play around with...
Feb 6, 2006
For me, I volunteered in the on-line application to participate with writing. As a freelance technical writer, I'm hoping (if picked) to help with documentation and maybe some articles and/or a book or 2. What did you register to help out with?
Feb 4, 2006
Feb 3, 2006
Excerpt: "A unique opportunity for 100 LEGO MINDSTORMS pioneers who are 18 years old or older.
The LEGO MINDSTORMS Team would like to invite 100 individuals to purchase the MINDSTORMS NXT product (at a discount) before its public launch and take part in the LEGO MINDSTORMS Developer Program. We’re looking for developer-minded people who are ready to spend a good amount of time tinkering with LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT––the next generation of LEGO MINDSTORMS––providing us with constructive feedback and other assistance as we finalize the product."
Take a good look at this image; it's not a real photo. It appears to be a CAD-drawing of one of the NXT robots. (See the earlier post, "Some new NXT robot variations" to see an actual photo of this robot.)
I have a few questions:
(1) Was CAD software used to create this image?
(2) If CAD software wasn't used, was a photo simply manipulated to create it?
(2) If it is a CAD design, will the software be made available to NXT users?
Feb 2, 2006
Feb 1, 2006
If you have any thoughts as to the function of any of these, please share.
Click on the image at right for a larger view with comments.
So many of these images look like variations of the same base - I'm going to take a guess and say that these may be images of some of the robot challenges mentioned in the NXT press release (18 of them). It looks like after the base is designed, the sensors are attached in various configurations to change the function of the robot.
This may be the NXT equivalent to the RIS Roverbot.
I've seen this picture quite a few times, but I can't quite figure out what it is... any thoughts?
UPDATE: Based on some comments I've received, it appears that this is a CLOCK. See the hour and minute hands on the lower-front? Not sure if the definition of a robot includes the standard clock, but I'm quite surprised and impressed to see this little design.