Jul 31, 2006

NXT cases for sale

Steve Putz is offering some NXT storage options over at http://www.roboticslearning.com/store/ and he tells me they should be shipping in about 2 to 3 weeks.

Robot magazine article


It hasn't hit the shelves yet, but I was invited to write an article on the NXT for ROBOT magazine issue #4. I cover the retail version and a bot I built that used all the sensors, motors, and as many parts as I could throw at it... ran out of the small black connectors, Hassenpins, all the white beams, and a few other parts.

The editor, Tom Atwood, also managed to get a good interview with Microsoft regarding its new Robotics Studio that is featured in the issue.

15,000+ hits


For June 2006, we had over 11,000 visitors to The NXT STEP. And for July 2006, we've exceeded 16,000. Thanks also to Dylan R. for emailing and letting me know that a Google search for "Mindstorms NXT blog" now has The NXT STEP as #1... kinda cool to see that... thanks again, Dylan.

Take a look at the map... I hope you can find your location highlighted. At this point, the map is so crowded that individual cities are difficult to distinguish, but you can see that the NXT definitely has a world-wide base of fans.

Again, thanks for visiting The NXT STEP - we'll continue to bring you news and discussion on the NXT... and, as always, we welcome and appreciate your comments.

MCP

Now that the Mindstorms Developer Program (MDP) has ended, what's next? Well, LEGO has formed the MCP - Mindstorms Community Partners. Consisting of 20 members from the MDP, all volunteers, the group will continue to work with LEGO in a variety of ways... sounding board, reviewing hardware/software/firmware, and designing new bots... the commitment is for one year.

LEGO will continue to communicate with the MDP, however... so please continue to post your questions and comments here and elsewhere - former MDP who are not with the MCP still have LEGO's ear.

I have accepted a role in the MCP. I don't have a lot of information for you just yet, but I can tell you that the MCP have a dedicated forum similar to the one we used in the MDP. I'll find out the rules we'll be working under and will let you know what I can post about and what I cannot...

It's gonna be a great year...

NXT conversion cables

Here are two NXT converter cables, each is about 35cm (14") long.

The black encapsulation in the centre is welded closed.

Cutting this open, with a saw, reveals that the inside just tries to absorb strain on the cable.

The black and white wires from the NXT connector are soldered to the RCX Technic cable.

Although the NXT cable for the conversion cable actually has three wires, compared to six in the standard connector. The third, red one seems to be there just to help take the strain so that the wires do not pull out of the connector.

For instructions on how to make your own converter cables see Philo's web pages - http://www.philohome.com/nxtcables/nxtcable.htm

- Ttfn, Tony

Jul 30, 2006

Inside the NXT brick: lots of microcontrollers

The NXT actually has 3 microcontrollers making everything tick along.

(1) The little circuit board at the top of the picture is the Bluetooth to serial module. The left most, rectangular chip is the memory with the Bluetooth control software from Cambridge Silicon Radio. The square chip is the CSR Bluecore 4 microcontroller and radio hardware BC417143BQN, supporting Bluetooth v2.0 and EDR. The gold zig-zag trace at the top right hand corner is presumably the antenna.


(2) The main 32-bit ARM controller that runs your programs, an Atmel AT91SAM7S256. This includes Flash memory/file system, RAM and the USB Device interface.


(3) An 8-bit Atmel ATMEGA48. I presume this manages the pulse width modulation (PWM) of the motors, and uses the feedback from the NXT motor rotation sensors to tune the power to each motor.

Correction, courtesy of Jürgen Stuber: the ATmega48 drives the PWM for the motor control, but the rotation sensors feedback to the AT91SAM7s256.

In other words if you set two NXT motors, (e.g. on the left and right sides of a vehicle), to the same power level this controller will try to make both motors turn at the same rate. A notoriously difficult to solve problem in user level programs on the RCX.

Ttfn,
Tony

Unpacking the NXT Education kit

A week on and I have still barely done anything beyond opening all the bags and making sure no parts are missing.

My inventory has been on www.peeron.com for a few days, and bought a grey baseplate today so I should be submitting photos of new parts soon.

There are quite a few differences from the shop NXT kit, amongst the most striking is the absence of the corner pieces the MUP (esp. Steve Hassenplug) fought for. (Ref the Wired article from February.) This has some impact on what can be built!

The instruction book (& software) only has one model - the Multibot (aka Tribot), in a base version and 7 alternate add-on assemblies; sensors in various positions, a light and the golf/hockey arm. (But not the grabber.)

[Note the light uses a converter cable to the older Technic/Mindstorms NXT connectors, and must be connected to one of the three motor ports.]

At this point I have not seen the retail kit, but I believe there are also instructions for the Alpha Rex, Spike and a Robo Arm. One reason is doubtless so that the Multibot can be re-used by classes without a lot of initial assembly time. Perhaps also these models use pieces not in the Educational kit?

The NXT Education software is not supplied in the kit, but as two parts (1) a set of 2 CD-ROMs, (software & some documentation) and (2) a site/class licence to allow use with any number of NXT kits. Similar to the arrangement for the RoboLab educational software used with the RCX.

The software requires Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Mac OS X, as with retail version of the NXT. Somewhat dissappointing as I only have one XP machine, and the only related functionality that the software appears able to use is the Windows XP Bluetooth stack.

My JVC mini-notebook (MP XP3210) has a screen too small to meet the software's requirement, and a small & full 20Gb hard drive. So I connected up an external monitor and an external hard drive to install on to. Software installed okay, but put up a message about untested Bluetooth drivers being present.

Not that helpful as I did not have Bluetooth dongle installed but I have previously installed drivers for at least three different Bluetooth dongles! Which one was it complaining about?


- Ttfn, Tony

Jul 27, 2006

Hold off on the CBS download...

For those who got word about the Clicking Brick Syndrome fix this morning... do NOT download and install it just yet... more info to come.

Jim

Programming Files available for download for BI's

LEGO's now has the programming files for the clock and sound bot for download.

Get them here.

Jul 26, 2006

Experimentation with AlphaRex

Jeff posted a link in a comment about his experiments with the AlphaRex. I'm moving it up to a regular post so it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

Read it here.

It includes some nice coding example as well as a nice reference to another bot - the Toddler (check out page 39 of the PDF to see the final Toddler bot).

If you find similar write-ups, please email me with a link...

Another letter to LEGO...

Back in mid-April 2006, I wrote an open letter to LEGO, including some thoughts and ideas for the future of the NXT. This is part II.

Dear LEGO,

So, now that the NXT is in hands other than the MDP's, I wanted to write to you again and revisit some of my original items as well as some new ones.

First, some revisits:

1. I would still love a Black NXT Intelligent Brick. Black robots are just cool (to me). How about a NXT Nano?

2. So far, the only product I see listed on the official website is the basic retail kit (product # 8527). The tab says "Products" (plural) so I'm hoping to see some new stuff soon. But I'm patient.

3. We need an OFFICIAL NXT FORUM. No offense, but the current one doesn't offer much right now besides "NXT RULEZ!" and similar posts...

4. The link to new Building Instructions via "My Portal" in the software - cool. Give us more, please... including programming instructions.

5. I would like to know (and I'm sure others are curious, too) about feedback you are receiving from teachers/educators who are using or plan on using it in the classroom. I imagine there's not a lot right now, but you're going to have to be your own cheerleader right now until others begin sharing their successes (and failures) online.

6. I'd still love a quarterly or bi-annual NXT magazine, but I'm sure that's low on your list right now. And make it free to students if you ever offer it.

And now some new items:

1. Others have requested it and I'd like to add my own vote: Please PLEASE consider adding Technic components to the LEGO Factory. Letting us purchase mixtures of pieces to further customize our bots would be a great feature. I imagine that letting us purchase individual pieces (go ahead and set a minimum order level) will generate more income than you anticipate.

2. Design Contests - Stir up the excitement NOW and offer up some prizes for a few design categories. How about the 4 in the software - Humanoids, Animals, Machines, Vehicles? You need to get some more bots in the public eye other than Spike and AlphaRex and the best way to do it is to let your customers do it for you. (You gave the MDP a Grand Challenge - now give the general public one. - (NOTE: I'll be posting a writeup on the MDP Grand Challenge very soon, readers).

3. Offer up a nice financial prize for the person or team that builds the FIRST LEGO Mindstorms NXT biped. There's been some discussion on what would be needed to build one on The NXT STEP blog and BNXT and there's doubt as to its viability. Money talks - offer up a financial prize and you might get some surprising innovation. Yes, there might be some sensors that are needed that haven't been built yet - but just put the challenge out there with some rules/guidelines and see what happens.

4. I'm curious about the Web Downloads tab in the software. Are you planning on offering some expansion programming blocks for download soon?

5. This last one is just a big Thank You! I haven't had this much fun building and designing in years. I hope LEGO has a long, successful run with the NXT.

Jim Kelly

NXT Repository online now...

Over at nxtasy.org, the crew there has got their new Repository up and running. They're asking for submissions of code (including MyBlocks), tutorials, and more... take a look.

Jul 25, 2006

BROC - NXT at Microsoft

Here is the C/NET News report on the visit LEGO and 3 MDPs (Steven Hassenplug, David Schilling, and myself) made at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington near Seattle on July 24th 2006 for a Big Robot On Campus (BROC) stop. It was very fun for everyone and well received by the 200+ attending. See some of the pictures.

"BenG" of the old Official MindStorms Forums fame, was also there. Seems he is now an intern in the Microsoft Robotics Group. Go Axelrod!!

Hey, I can see my arm behind the NXT Las Vegas Slot Machine!

The Hassenplug Clones strike again!

Christopher

Early NXT Biped experiment...

Take a look over at bnxt.com - Filip has 1/3 or more of a NXT Biped started. But what a start! There are so many questions about the possibility of creating a true NXT biped, but this was a nice experiment to test the waters... love the feet/ankle design.

This was with 3 NXT kits that Filip has just received... keep an eye on his blog, because I have a feeling you'll be seeing a LOT of experiments and new design work coming from him.

Jim

For visitors to New York City...


Fellow MDPer Robert F. Crean has informed me that the FAO Schwarz 5th Avenue store in New York City now has a LEGO news channel that broadcasts "All LEGO, All the time" - 2 feet tall mini-figs (named Rick Brickster and Cathy Clicksnap) provide the news and some Mindstorms content is in the works.

Thanks, Robert, for the info.

Jul 24, 2006

NXT rechargeable battery and charger

For my first post I was going to put up photos of the inside of my NXT brick. Just two minor things stopped me:

1. I only have a picture of the top side of the circuit board, as I have not yet persuaded the battery terminals to become disconnected. (I guess I need a bigger bit for my soldering iron, and some extra hands to help pull when the solder is melted.)

2. Jürgen Stuber has just beaten me to it - http://www.jstuber.net/lego/nxt-programming/nxt-hardware.html

That I have disassembled my NXT so quickly will tell you something about me, for good or ill. In mitigation I must point out that the software arrived a day later than the hardware, and the temptation was great.

I shell visit the NXT internals later, but for now here is some info I have not seen covered elsewhere...

This is the rechargeable battery in the NXT Educational kit:

Notice the light grey half width studless beam balanced on the lip of the battery; illustrating that the battery protrudes the whole height of the beam from the back of the NXT brick.
The battery can be recharged whilst installed in the NXT, unless it is completely discharged.
The green LED illuminates when the transformer is connected, and the red LED whilst the battery is charging.





The postive and negative terminals of the battery pack are at the bottom corners of this second picture.
Just inside these you can see two silver dots - some of the blind rivets keeping the housing sealed.
To the top, just before the clip that holds the battery pack inside the NXT, is a plastic pin that operates a button inside the NXT. Presumably the switch simply indicates that a rechargeable battery is fitted - perhaps in order to limit the power level to the motors?



This is the UK charger, notice the only identification or label on the charger brick is on the side facing the wall. It does not even mention Lego, but has safety test symbols and describes the output as 10V ac 7VA.
There is a Lego sticker on the wire, but that seems likely to be lost quite quickly in a classroom.
The other side of the sticker has symbols warning against connection to mobile phones, tape players and radios.
The printed instructions very strongly say not to use a non-Lego charger.

Tony

Allow me to introduce myself briefly

I work as a software engineer, with a background also in electronics. Once upon a time, in a universe far far away I was a child who like many others played with Lego, and put a Lego motor in some of my model cars and lorries.

When I saw the Lego NXT article in February's Wired magazine I saw the toy that I wished I had as a little boy!

Readers of the NXT STEP may have noticed my comments from time to time; often complaining that the UK (like the rest of Europe) has to wait until September or later for pre-ordered NXT kits to ship.

Well I have been very lucky, and received a NXT Educational kit on Friday: strictly speaking a bundle of the Educational kit, a charger and the software.

Very lucky indeed that the distributor used one of their limited supply to complete my order, rather than to send it as a partial consignment to a school or college that had ordered lots of kits for their classes.

I have mentioned previously, in a comment, that Lego have a tool to find the educational distributors for each country:
http://www.lego.com/education/default.asp?page=5&l2id=8_1

I cannot promise you will be so lucky, schools & colleges in Europe have placed lots of orders and teachers and techicians are trying to get the NXT kits ready for the new school term in September.

Tony

Welcome New Contributor

Tony Naggs has joined The NXT STEP as a contributor... welcome, Tony.

Jim

Jul 21, 2006

BT and PDA control (and PCs)

Brian's on a short vacation and probably unable to post, so I want to share a link with you that was given to him to share... all I can say is - VERY COOL!

From the site: "OnBrick is a 20 button programmable NXT remote controller for PDAs & PCs, using Bluetooth."

Get it here.

Have fun with it.

Non-elegant programming solution

Here's the problem: I have a bot that uses motor B and an arm to lift a heavy item. The motor is powerful enough to lift the item. After the item is lifted, the bot program continues on its way (maybe moving forward or backwards or moving into a LOOP block with a sensor trigger.) The problem occurs after motor B completes its lifting motion. As soon as the program moves forward, the weight of the heavy object causes motor B to spin in the opposite direction (gravity, not powered) and the arm (and object) slowly lowers (sometimes quickly).

So my next solution was to put motor B's action in parallel with the rest of the graphical code. I created a branch off of the main one and put motor B there... but here's the next problem. I can either program motor B to spin (rotation or degrees) in an Unlimited fashion, BUT I must have something for motor B to lift the item against and then when it hits, keep applying upward force (motor B still running, but the motor isn't actually spinning). This might work, but I actually need the item held parallel to the floor and not being pushed against something to hold it... once again, doing it this way works until motor B finishes its rotation and then the heavy object lowers again to the ground.

My solution isn't elegant, but I figured it was worth sharing in case someone else encounters this problem. What I did was configure Motor B to spin 90 degrees (.25 rotations) and at that point the object is being held, parallel to the ground. I then inserted a LOOP block - inside the loop block is MOVE block for Motor B to spin down .1 rotation and then another MOVE block that has Motor B spin up .1 rotation... I set the LOOP to loop Forever, and it worked... the bot holds the object parallel to the floor... the .1 rotation up and down motion isn't even noticeable... but the solution is that the motor is quickly spinning up and down, up and down and never powers down for the object to sink down again.

Anyone have a better solution? I tried applying a MOVE block that stops Motor B (braking) after the initial Motor B block lifts the object, but I didn't think it would work... and it didn't. What is really needed is for the MOVE blocks to have a check box that says "After motion is completed, lock the motor" or something similar to keep the motor from spinning.

If anyone else has any ideas, please post them.

Danny's Johnny5


See the previous post for a link to view Danny's profile, but I just have to post an image of the new J5.

Danny, great job! The J5 looks awesome and it's obvious you've put a lot of thought and planning into the bot.

Jul 20, 2006

Another MDP profile

Kert pointed out that Danny's profile has now been added to the official site... check it out here.

Building Instructions has gone Live

Check out the new Building Instructions on the official website here.

Clock and the SoundBot BI's are provided... be watching the 'My Portal' area within your software for matching files soon.

Jul 19, 2006

NXT Memory concerns/complaints

There have been some recent posts on other Mindstorms forums about the on-board memory of the NXT brick. One forum posting in particular concerned the FLL challenges and the size of the NXT-G programming language files - the concern being whether the files were so large that the brick would not be able to hold enough programs to finish all the challenges.

I would like to offer up a prediction, not based on any insider-info: I believe that sometime within the next 6-9 months, LEGO will make available a USB add-on that will look like a normal NXT sensor (in size and shape) but will simply function as a pen-drive/flash-mem device. This will most likely require a new firmware update, but that's another discussion :) It will connect via a USB cable to the USB port on the brick (not stealing a sensor or motor port, if that's even possible, which I doubt) and can thus be mounted to your bot just like a sensor and not require you to build around something plugged directly into the USB port.

Again, just a guess...

Football (USA: Soccer) video link


For those of you who would like to share the video of the NXT with kids (and grown kids), just forward them this image which explains where to click to view it. Thanks go to the person who emailed it to me... I have had a few emails from people who were clicking in the wrong place and weren't able to view the vid...

Jim

MDP missing in action?

Someone noted that out of 100 (incredibly lucky!) folks selected for the MDP, a paltry 10 MDP profiles with perhaps two dozen plus projects between them seems like a very poor return... for both LEGO and the community. I'm not upset (or even very surprised) at that comment, but I think there are some other points that need to be considered. And since a lot of you applied to the MDP program, or at least expect to "reap the rewards", I think this deserves a very public response. So here it goes...

First, being in the MDP was not a paid position, and so all this testing, learning, building, and playing had to go on around our "day jobs". In my case that was stay-at-home Dad for the summer, so I had a distinct advantage (in the fall I start teaching college-level physics again, and my on-line presence will certainly take a hit). While the MDP in general is a very very enthusiastic group, it was not a group of people with unlimited time - just a group of talented, enthusiastic folks trying to do as much as possible with the tools at hand. Yes, some of the MDP worked harder than others, because of interest or time constraints. And some undoubtably had other commitments come up later that reduced their contribution. I think that's probably standard for any group of people in this sort of situation.

Second, much of that time was spent doing exactly what LEGO asked us to do, things like testing the software intensely. Outside the MDP (and the NDA) this wasn't seen, but it took a good bit of time and is one of the reasons the finished product works as it does.

Third, as Jim mentioned, there's new stuff coming to light every day, and I suspect this will continue for some time. Not all of it will be through LEGO, however: for instance, Microsoft is jumping on the NXT bandwagon, and due to the MDP there is already someone to provide critical comment on some of their attempts (thanks Matthias). That's another continuing spin-off of the MDP.

Finally, the MDP was (and is!) very diverse group of people. We were actually not brought together to generate content for the LEGO MDP profiles - far from it! There are...
  • Teachers, who have already developed curriculums or modified FLL coaches guides, provided feedback to LEGO as well as FLL and homeschooling communities, and in general jump-started the process, before product release, of how to apply it in an educational setting.
  • Writers, some of whom already have books in progress (several, at last count), and some of whom are planning books, or helping as reviewers
  • Extreme builders, who have tried their hand at building studless, and using new design elements like Hassenpins, in some cases putting these out in Brickshelf, or other forums.
  • "Bare metal" types, who within hours of getting their NXT's, had opened them up to began the reverse engineering process to jump-start the hardware community.
  • "Close to the metal" types, embedded systems programmers, who immediate began working on ways to reprogram the NXT at a very low level, first understanding and eventually hopefully replacing the firmware.
  • Sensor builders, to design, protoype, build, & test, and then actually get production started on custom third-party sensors... all to be released nearly at the same time as LEGO launches the NXT, instead of years later.
  • Higher-level programmers, developing environments for other languages, on various platforms (PC, Mac, PDA, cell phones), as well as third-party utilities to edit and create .rso files, .ric files, etc. Some of this is also already come to light, even though it's still before the "official" release date.
  • Artists, to give their own view on a new technology and the consequences in a wider cultural context.
  • Torture testers who spent time trying to break the new toy in different ways, to expose flaws in the hardware or software, reporting these back to LEGO or other members of the MDP to be addressed.
  • Bloggers (such as Jim), to provide an on-line presence and link between all these seperate elements and the growing community of NXT users. And in some cases, folks like Jim have leveraged their ability be bringing new bloggers in to the field (like me).
Note that only a very few of those groups above (& I'm certain I'm still missing some important ones) are going to have a lot of visibility. One of the reasons the MDP was created was to provide a seed to grow a community around, and to allow this to happen faster than it would otherwise. And in this case, I think LEGO did a wise thing and scattered 100 of those seeds very widely, to make sure that some of them took root.

As I said before, I am NOT upset by folks who feel "sour grapes" towards what the MDP has provided them with; you have every right to ask those questions and hold those opinions. But I wanted to present a larger picture of what (at least I feel) the MDP entailed. Now there are members of the MDP spread out all over the place as seeds of a diverse community... and if you are dissatisfied with the direction that is moving, good! Because it means you (yes you!) can help craft a stronger community. The MDP are seeds - time to join us.

--
Brian Davis

The NXT goes virtual in Second Life

I commented recently that perhaps Steve Hassenplug's MDP profile that just went up was thinner than it might have been, due to all the other stuff he's doing... and at the same time I was writing that, he happened to squirt me an email with still more interesting stuff. Yes, he (and many of the rest of us) are busy busy busy... but at least Steve's "busy" is still pushing a lot of stuff forward, publicly:

Big Robot on Campus in Second Life

It looks like this is a group effort between Wired magazine, Second Life, LEGO, and others - Steve will be there, for instance. Even more interesting, it apears to be the launch of a LEGO program, "Big Robot on Campus", which might be very interesting... The NXT tour, anyone? If any of you out there are Second Lifers (I'm certain there're some of you out there), are you going to attend? Build with virtual LEGO? Meet Steve Haseenplug? Let us know how this shapes up!

--
Brian Davis

Another MDP profile added

Steve Hassenplug's MDP profile has been added to the official website... check it out here.

Move over ROOMBA...

Jul 18, 2006

New Compass sensor photos from Mindsensors.com


Dr. Nitin Patil with mindsensors.com emailed me some new photos of the compass center and components. Mindsensors.com is taking pre-orders now.

Components, including cable.










Compass sensor








Ready to mount...

Another NXT media appearance - Mouse

Evidently one of Steve Hassenplug's NXT-based robots, called "Mouse", got a two-page spread in the MIT Technology Review this month (Jul/Aug). I don't have a copy (wish I did), but if any of our readers do have access, perhaps they could post a comment describing the article.

--
Brian Davis

Jul 17, 2006

More good stuff from Mindsensors.com

Dave W. mentioned that Mindsensors.com is possibly working on speech synthesis for the NXT... a quick trip over to the website also shows some new items such as a motor multiplexor, allowing you to add up to 4 more motors - it plugs into one of your sensor ports. You can pre-order and it ships after July 20.

Also seen is an RCX sensor adapter, allowing you to connect the legacy sensors to the NXT without using a converter cable.

There's also a RCX-to-NXT Communication adapter - it doesn't say much other than it's used to "enable 2-way communications between the RCX and NXT."

And the other items mentioned as 'in the works':

Various LED's
Binary Tilt sensor
GP2D12/GP2D120/GP2Y0A21YK interface
Pneumatic Pressure Sensor

Check it out here. Click on the "Coming Soon for NXT" link to see it all...

Robotics Studio based NXT Remote Control

Remember my earlier posts regarding some tries with Microsoft's Robotics Studio?
Well, it finally resulted in a first version of an application that enables you to remotely control the NXT motors with a simple graphical user interface running on the PC (to be more specific: on the Robotics Studio runtime).

Feel free to have a go at it - feedback is highly appreciated.

Jul 16, 2006

Magazine review - 5 stars

Tony N. sent this over... Stuff Magazine has a short online review of the NXT... they poke a little fun at it, but they still give it 5 stars. Check it out here.

Jul 14, 2006

Request for Language options

Reader Amos asks: "I have investigated Robot C, which looks to be more of what I want. Do you know of any other tools/programs that would allow me to program my NXT?"

Feel free to offer up some options for Amos to consider... many of you probably know of languages in development of which I might not be aware. Thanks.

Jul 13, 2006

Grubbing for more NXT models...

Menno Gorter, another member of the MDP, has designed very novel NXT-based robot. Take a look at his new additions to his Brickshelf gallery. It clearly uses a lot of the double-bent liftarms, but it looks like a really interesting solution (and it looks very, well... grub-like!). Well done, Menno!

The NXT-grub

--
Brian Davis

Clicking Brick Syndrome update...

Watch this spot for updates in the next few days on this issue. We're told that LEGO is very close to releasing a patch (final testing phase), and as soon as we know where to send you folks we'll post it here. Hopefully in a few more days, the patch will be out...

--
Brian Davis

Jul 11, 2006

Bot from Panama


I received an email from Dylan in Panama:

"I'd like to submit my very first creation and quite possibly the first in all of Panama. A sound activated camera. I builtit snugly around my Casio Exilim EX-Z3. The design is very simple and the program is even simpler: when it hears a sound the motor rotates gently for 2 seconds moving the triggering arm down toward the shutter button, then the motor rotates 20 degrees back to original position."


Thanks for submitting, Dylan.

Jim

Nice New Site - NXT Hacks

Check it out here.

Jul 9, 2006

New NXT Forum

A recent post regarding Lugnet:

A new newsgroup/list lugnet.robotics.nxt has been created for the focused
discussion of LEGO NXT issues.

Feel free to crosspost between .robotics / .robotics.rcx and .robotics.nxt, as
appropriate, or just to .robotics if you feel your topic is of a more general
nature.

CHARTER/PURPOSE
===============

lugnet.robotics
Building, creating, and developing with added technologies: the LEGO
MINDSTORMS™ RIS, other programmable bricks, vision systems, bar-code
readers, radio controlled units, research sites, microcode / embedded
programming, etc.

-> lugnet.robotics.nxt
Focused discussion group for NXT™ programmable bricks: Alternative
software or firmware, in-depth technical discussions, collaboration,
planning, architecture, analysis, etc.

New resource for Educators (and the rest of us)...

Thanks, Tom, for pointing us to this link. Some really good stuff - code to download, Manuals, tools, etc...

Jul 8, 2006

NXT Wiki needs your help

A new NXT wiki has popped up over at http://www.nxt-mindstorms.com/wiki/Main_Page - they're looking for contributors, so take a look. If you think you can offer some good material, please consider joining the wiki team.

Educator needs some help...

Reader Adam sent me an email recently: "I am a teacher and want to use Mindstorms in my classroom. I have the money to get them, and I would like to get the NXT, but my administrator wants to go with the tried and true RCX. She feels that a lot of the wrinkles have already been worked out of that system, and feels we shouldn't be the guinea pigs for the new system. Keep in mind that using anything in a classroom setting is quite different than just tinkering on your own. You have to be able to get a meaningful task accomplished in a set period of time without technical glitches. We are also concerned about the new building system and think in might be hard for seventh grade girls (who I teach) to use it. I would be very thankful if you or other who visit your site could offer some opinions. Would the NXT offer that much more to my students?"

Please add your thoughts for Adam if you have any... thanks!

Jim

Maybe one day robots will be this flexible...

Some of you have already discovered it, but for those who missed the earlier link, here's a link to a new video posted on the official NXT website.

Jul 7, 2006

Update on the Firmware Issue

We were contacted by a friend within LEGO this morning with a little bit more information on this. They are aware (& working furiously!) on this issue, and have some fixes in view that need some more testing: but they can reproduce the problem on both Macs and PCs (it is not platform dependant), and hope to have some more information in a few days.

I wish I could simply say, "here's the fix guys, sorry for the delay", but this is on the right track... and hopefully in a few days the "fix will be in".

--
Brian Davis

Some NXT relevant cites from the Microsoft Robotics Studio Newsgroup

The newsgroup for the Microsoft Robotics Studio is up and running now for some days and the Microsoft guys have become creditably responsive on questions, hence I consider it worthwhile to abstract some statements made there in respect to NXT support.
For details please refer to the newsgroup in question itself (which is a advicable place to visit anyway for anybody interested in the Robotics Studio).

As to Studio services not running on the NXT hardware

[...] in the case of the NXT, if you want to create an application with our development tools you do require a PC with the NXT and [...] we do not currently support code development and deployment on the NXT hardware. This is the approach that we discussed with LEGO and they agreed would be the best way to start.
(tandyt,06/29/2006)

[...] rather than assuming that all your processsing horsepower is limited to a single compute unit, it can be spread across multiple processors. [...]I believe that our future will not be of isolated robots doing multiple functions, but sets of specialized robots that are coordinated (or maybe both).
(tandyt,06/29/2006)

What would be required is to port our runtime (probably subset) to run on the native firmware (or replace the firmware with something like Windows CE).
[...] this could probably be done by a third party, but probably requires
some technical information/support from LEGO and Microsoft. Generally we
would expect a hardware vendor to provide this with support from us [...]
We need to talk further with the folks at LEGO because creating something that would natively compile and execute would compete with what they are supplying.
(tandyt,06/29/2006)

Features planned for upcoming releases

[...] we are working on a program to run on the NXT which will properly inform our services of sensor events.
(Ben Axelrod, 06/27/2006)

We can also give you a nice debugging environment for your custom code that you can download on the NXT, plus a UI to monitor your NXT when its roaming
around.
(George Chrysanthakopoulos, 07/03/2006)

Bluetooth communication from NXT to PC] is definately possible and its exactly we will be showing with our next set of LegoNXT services and tutorial.
(Ben Axelrod, 06/27/2006)

[...] we do plan in our next release to give you a lot more "standalone code" that runs on the NXT and communicates with MSRS services on the PC.
(George Chrysanthakopoulos, 07/03/2006)

Pricing model (will Robotics Studio be available for free in the future also?)

[...] we haven't announced final licensing yet. The preview is free for all to use. Like our VS folks we prefer to evaluate the response to the preview before we lock things down. Further, we do understand the state of the industry and the community
and believe that at the present time it is not likely to generate large
revenues yet and to help the industry bootstrap itself it must be affordable
to a large audience. So we are evaluating how best to do that which still
makes good business sense and while I won't make a commitment at this point,
the model our VS people have adopted about having a free subset and a
moderately priced commerial offering is attractive.
(tandyt,06/29/2006)

Jul 6, 2006

Line Follower program


Some reader (jeff) has posted a link to a Line Follower program for the NXT, written in NXT-G.
As it was published in a comment to a blog entry regarding a completely different topic, I thought it worthwhile to give this one its own homeland here, making it less likely to be missed by readers and easier for discussions.

Jul 3, 2006

NXT Impressions from Fana'Briques 2006


Dearies,

On the weekend just gone by, the Fana'Briques 2006 event took place in Rosheim (Alsace).
Amongst other things (for instance a 3-meters-sized bike made completely of LEGO, as a showcatcher for the Tour de France passing by), there has been a GBC train by Jean-Marc "Joubarc" Nimal from BeLUG that I was allowed to join with my first-ever GBC module - thanks again for that, Joubarc! :-)

Feel free to have a look at the impressions from there (pictures and movies).

/Matthias Paul

Jul 1, 2006

Real Life calls...

I'll be out of town July 3-7 - very limited Internet access (probably none at all). All you readers in the USA have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July.

To all our readers, please continue to submit your comments and experiences...

Jim

Ask and you shall receive, I guess...

Well, maybe I spoke too soon... The LEGO Education NXT blog has posted an updated pricing list... check it out here.

Let's try this one: Hey LEGO - how about some info on expansion packs (can't hurt to try, right?)

Jim

Come on, LEGO Education!

I hate to be the bad guy here and bring this up, but the LEGO Education NXT blog hasn't had a new post since May 26... over a month with no updates.

Is anyone out there? HELLO?????









...Hello... (echo)

Clicking Brick Syndrome

Here is a potential temporary fix for the dreaded “Clicking Brick Syndrome”. Note that this is not coming from any official source, but what I and some others have managed to put together to fix a problem that we can’t actually reproduce… in other words, blame me, not LEGO, and if it looks like a shotgun approach, it is (but it’s the best I’ve got).

1) Completely disconnect your NXT from the computer (no USB connection).
2) Remove all external BlueTooth dongles from your computer, and turn BlueTooth off on the computer (just to be sure).
3) Reboot the computer (this is to make sure no other application is trying to compete for the USB port).
4) Restart the Mindstorms application (and, if possible, don’t start any other applications).
5) Remove one battery from the NXT for a couple of seconds, then reinsert it.
5) Push the NXT reset button firmly for five seconds (make sure you actually press it, and press it for the whole five seconds).
6) Now (with the NXT clicking and the environment up and running), connect the NXT to the computer via the USB cable. Preferably use a “primary” USB port, one on the computer itself and not on a keyboard or monitor.
7) On a PC, you can go to the device manager and check to see if the NXT shows up in “Firmware Update Mode” (if not, you may need to uninstall and reinstall the software and drivers)
8) Update the firmware to 1.03 using the “update firmware” under the tools menu.
9) If this does not work, try *briefly* (one second) pushing the reset button again.

If the above sequence does not work, try repeating steps 1-9 but using a different USB port on the computer.

If even *that* doesn’t work, try installing the software on a different computer and repeating the entire process.

Please use the comments section of this post to announce your results: what you did, what seemed to fix it, or what else you tried and it still refuses to do anything but click. Feel free to include any and all system information you can dig out as well: what we can piece together I’ll try to get to the right hands within LEGO. For those interested in the details, one potential conflict that could be causing this is the Mindstorms environment not finding the NXT at the USB port it thinks it is connected at: thus all the fuss about having other applications closed, and physically switching USB ports.

PS - thanks to commentor Rick Rhodes for bringing this up as well, in the form of a forwarded list from "John".

--
Brian Davis

Brief DAZLR video

Well, here's a movie I haven't yet posted to this blog, that Jim has again hosted for me. DAZLR spins in place to try to locate targets, first "testing" the target with a pair of shots, and if the target doesn't run away (like my kids or cats do), it then advances on the position firing a stream of spheres. Also, if the object is outside the "safe" range, it is ignored (that's actually the reason DAZLR doesn't do an aggressive attack on the first big box; that's what it uses to establish its maximum range). Here's a sample (warning, it's around 7 Mb... yeah, I should have compressed 'em).

DAZLR in action

--
Brian Davis
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