Nov 30, 2006

New tank treads on display...

Dave Astolfo has released a few teaser pictures of a shape-shifting tankbot built around the NXT and using the new treads from the new LEGO Technic Snowmobile. Take a look here:

Shape-shifting tank on NXTasy

It sounds like he'll release some more information on it soon, which would be great. I've used these treads some already, and I'm lookin g forward to a couple other neat uses I've thought of recently.

--
Brian Davis

Timeframe for Firmware release

MAKE magazine has a small writeup on the Open Source Firmware release, including a response from Soren Lund. Read it here.

Nov 29, 2006

ROBOLAB v2.9.3 upgrade patch available Feb 2007?

LEGO have made it clear for some time that the final version of ROBOLAB would be v2.9, but ROBOLAB junkies such as myself can take heart that there has been at least some work on it since the last release.

I have recently heard that Tufts will have a v2.9.3 upgrade patch available for free download from LEGO Engineering (http://www.legoengineering.com/) in early February. Apparently the patch will not only fix some bugs but also add new features.

I have no idea what those new features will be. Here's hoping for more of something that rhymes with 'new booth'... (-:

Rob

Wanna Deal on an NXT Retail Kit? Act Fast!

Well, it is the time of the year for gift giving... Why not give the gift of an NXT kit? Upon reading my email almost too late I found this deal that might make some of us a little happy! Act fast because this deal expires 2:59 am Eastern Time (USA) on November 29th, 2006. . That's tonight! Call this one a gift from me to you. That is...If you would like an NXT Retail Kit for $187.46 USD w/ FREE Shipping (+ sales tax if applicable) here's how...

First, create a B&N customer account (if you do not already have one) when you go to Barnes&Noble.com. Then, search for "MindStorms" find the NXT set and add it to your cart.
When you get to the "Payment" screen during the checkout enter this coupon code for a 25% discount: X9Y3G8Y

That's it! Enjoy!

Christopher

Nov 28, 2006

Some new NXT videos

During a brief Internet search, I found some new videos that are entertaining... I apologize if these have been written about before, but they're new to me. The biped/walkers still continue to interest me.

These have some nice up-close shots, and you can really make out the details. With some screenshots, I think one could even duplicate the ND2 Walker.

http://web.mac.com/joenagata/iWeb/mindstorms/Movie/8BB9573B-1E84-48BF-A8CA-8EF92A1AD23D.html

http://web.mac.com/joenagata/iWeb/mindstorms/Movie/F5E25C38-8D18-48FD-AAA4-46CEF3C41184.html

LEGO Mindstorms NXT Orange Book


A few weeks ago I posted about Yoshihito Isogawa-san's new book, the LEGO Mindstorms NXT Orange Book. I managed to find a reliable source to order a copy (more on this later) and my copy just arrived. It's a Japanese book, so much of the writing is incomprehensible to me, but the pictures and diagrams are outstanding!

First, some details. The book is almost 130 pages, all in full-color. Building instructions are color photos, but the photos are easy to follow and duplicate. As for the programming instructions, although I cannot read Hirigana/Kanji, the screenshots of the configuration panels for each block are sufficient to determine proper settings. (Plus it's just so cool to see the Japanese version of the software being used...)

The book is broken into sections, with the first 30-40 pages dedicated to the sensors and the software and the Brick... but after that, the book has some incredible construction ideas. Like many of you, I'm one of those who say "I can't believe I didn't think of that!" - well, this book is FULL of ingenious little assemblies that do some amazing things. All I can tell you is that if you're looking to expand your building skills using the NXT, get your hands on a copy of this book... some of the concepts are so simple that you'll shake your head wishing you had thought of some of this stuff.

As for the robots you'll build - there are so many in here, I'm not sure where to start. You get a robot with eyebrows, lips, eyes, and an arm... plenty of room to expand this one and play with the programming side of it. I would have to say that GEARS are heavily covered, with plenty of examples using all the included gears (worm, too). There's an interesting section on how the author simulates shock absorbers using rubber bands that was great. You'll see an interesting idea on how to enclose the Light sensor as well as numerous examples on making the Touch sensor more flexible and useful (there are about 5 or so different small assemblies the author provides that give you some nice jumping off points for using the Touch sensor with your robots).

Now, as for getting a copy... I ordered my copy via www.yesasia.com - it took two weeks from my order placement to receiving the book, but your time may vary because of the way yesasia.com ships (it's sort of bundled approach to save shipping costs). I spent a total of $29.75 (that includes shipping) to get a copy shipped to Atlanta, GA USA... again, your cost might vary.

I'll just have to remember to give credit to Yoshihito Isogawa-san if I use any of his assemblies with my own bots. This is definitely one of the best non-LEGO-component investments I've made for my NXT kit and it's given me some new ideas for future bots.

Nov 26, 2006

Education NXT In Stock

For those of you waiting for it, the Education NXT base set has recently been taken off back order, and is in stock! You can see it here.

One request - don't buy 'em out before I can get mine! ;-)

-Jonathan

Nov 24, 2006

Acceleration in the community…

So what happens when you let a physicist loose with an acceleration sensor? They find something to measure of course! I’ve been fortunate enough to test several sensors, including the HiTechnic acceleration sensor. This is a 3-axis accelerometer that can register up to 2.5 G’s along each axis with a fairly high resolution. I used it for a couple of “standard” robotics-type applications, like vehicles that try to roll up hill, etc., but what originally drew my attention to the RCX, years ago, was its ability to function as a cheap datalogger. So I wrote up a simple NXT-G program that allows me to log data from the sensor to the NXT file system on command: the result is a compact and very rugged datalogger, suitable for measuring accelerations almost anywhere. As an example, I duct taped the sensor to my tailbone, and went out back to play on the swings. The graph shows the results. The red line is the side-to-side acceleration (minimal, as I was trying to swing in a straight line), while the blue and yellow traces represent accelerations in the other two directions. The vector sum of all these is the green trace, showing my peak acceleration is slightly more than 2.5 G’s at the bottom of my arc. Notice I exited the swing by jumping off (hey, if you can’t have fun…), resulting in a very low-acceleration section of the graph.

Why bother? Two reasons: first, this is something I’ve wanted to do, and points out another really fun use for the NXT – teaching science. Imagine taking this to “physics day” at a theme park, and recording the accelerations on a roller coaster or some other thrill ride. “Mission Space” at Disney? “Demon Drop” at Cedar Point? Or just playing on the local playground? There are some wonderful possibilities here (I know, for instance, what the acceleration profile looks like for my car now).

Secondly, this is another good example of the community making all this possible. To get that graph, I had to use a sensor (to get the data) and extra-long cable (to allow for movement) from HiTechnic, a custom NXT-G block (to get the data out of the sensor) built by Steve Hassenplug, using the beta-version of the LabVIEW toolkit (to allow building and integrating such custom solutions), and of course the NXT brick from LEGO. I had the idea (and have for a while), but implementing that idea took contributions from at least four different directions.

OK, teachers, researchers, and amateur scientists… what will you datalog? Anybody want to email me some interesting data?

--
Brian Davis

Nov 23, 2006

Binaural Spike


I’ve had a lot of fun with Spike throughout the year and thought it would be neat to give Spike the ability to not only respond to loud noises, but also move (and if necessary, turn) towards the loudest noise.

I’m pretty fond of using pairs of sensors to give robots more sophisticated behaviour. For example, a soccer robot with two light sensors can keep track of where a ball is (and to which side it has been lost) much more effectively than a soccer robot with one light sensor.

The Roman philosopher Epictetus is usually credited for the saying, 'we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.' Maybe in the case of a Spike with two sound sensors this should be, 'we have two sound sensors and one stinger so that we can listen twice as much as we strike!'

I started writing a program for Binaural Spike using a subsumption architecture idea in NXT-G, but found working with nested loops and switches (and global variables to pass data between MyBlocks!) much too frustrating. I gave up and switched to RobotC – and found it much easier…

Admittedly, the program is far more complicated than it needs to be, and doesn’t quite work 100% of the time. (By comparison, with a just a little help, my 5-year old son made a pretty decent program for Binaural Spike using NXT-G in about 10 minutes that works fine.)

One of the biggest problems I had was with the sensitivity of the sound sensors. If the threshold is set too low, then Spike ends up responding to the sound of his own motors. If the threshold is too high, then both sound sensors respond to the noise and Spike goes forward rather than turning. One part of the solution must be to shield the sound sensors more effectively, so I’d love to hear from anyone who has a clever way of doing this.

Rob

PS: If you’re expecting to program Spike using the USB cable, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to get to the USB port if you reverse the direction of the NXT compared to the direction indicated in LEGO’s building plans.

Happy Thanksgiving

To those of us celebrating Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to wish you a safe and happy one... some of The NXT Step contributors will most likely be sharing time with our families over the next few days and posts might be limited.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jim

NXT trike


John Brost, one of the members of the MDP, recently posted to LUGNET a nice looking (and even nicer working) trike based around the NXT, and using the largest wheels ever produced by LEGO. It drives by remote control, and he has a video of it up on YouTube as well. Take a look:

NXT trike on NXTlog

I'm wondering if with putting the NXT back that far, and with the torque it can obviously put out, if it could do a wheelie. Perhaps with two small outrigger wheels to allow a rearward balance point. But it looks really good to my eye.

--
Brian Davis

Nov 22, 2006

NXTruck more Pictures

The NXT is completely embedded in the model. I took off the right side plate and opened the door for internal view.


The left motor is geared down 3 times (8:24) to steer the front wheels
The drive motor is placed on the right side and is not geared down.
The (black) steer boom is moved to the front to make more space for the gears. I added extra side beams for more stability.
Unfortunately I had to remove the engine, so I could place the lightsensor.
See also the Ldraw file for more detail on the gears.

Nov 21, 2006

Fun with Sneeker and the Compass Sensor


I pulled a "Ferris Bueller" today - ate lunch at a nice Cajun restaurant (I did NOT eat pancreas!... movie joke), looked at some beautiful works of art, and then had some fun with my NXT.

Okay, so my goal was to experiment a little more with the Compass Sensor (CS) block that HiTechnic just released. So, I modified Sneeker by adding the CS on the rear and up above the robot as shown here.

Now, I needed a job for this little bot to do. Typically I try to have a game plan before I start programming, so take a look at this figure to get a look inside how my mind works. I first write down a list of the steps I want the bot to perform... and then I try to draw a sketch (if it helps, and it did here) of the scenario. Notice the numbers on the drawing correspond to the numbers in the task list.

I want the bot to perform a grid search (of sorts). The solid line is the path it will follow and you'll notice that it repeats itself, but in smaller size. When it reaches point 9 on the drawing, it'll simply start over by turning North and beginning a smaller version of the larger path... I hope this is making sense.

You might also notice that steps 1 and 2 talk about calibrating the sensor and beeping when it's done... because of the sheer number of tests I was running, I got tired of it doing this portion of the program so I deleted it out... but I were really wanting to do this correctly, I'd put back in the calibration option. But not today...

Here's a screenshot of part of the program. One thing I always do is "over program" - this means that I tend to put too much code in initially and later I'll start to see ways to reduce the size of the program and make it run more efficiently. Not with this program... it's big and ugly and it's only job is to get through the search.

I use the Compass Sensor block to try and hit an "Absolute Reading" - here I've set it to send a "True" logic result to a LOOP block that will break when the Sensor reads a value between 0 and 5 (for North). For East, I checked between 85 and 90, for West between 265 and 270 and South with 175 and 180. If the sensor didn't read between a range I configured, it would spin the bot in small .05 rotations using a MOVE block. (You'll see this if you watch the video).

This writeup doesn't give you the entire picture of the project - there were plenty of problems I encountered. Here are some summaries:

1. I had to change the small movements from .1 rotation to .05 rotation because there were instances where the the robot might rotate just 1 or 2 degrees too far and miss its mark. (You'll see this in the video where it has to make a 2nd pass around to detect East - I've added narration to the video, so you won't miss it.)

2. I learned something new today about the VARIABLE block. I forgot that to set an initial value, you have to leave the block set to WRITE. I had been setting the value (to 1080 degrees or 3 rotations) and then clicking on the READ option which greyed out my set value... I won't make that mistake again.

3. Although the video doesn't show it, I included SOUND blocks after each turn that would say "3" or "4" or other number that corresponded to my earlier task list and drawing. This made it easy to figure out where in the process my bot was... with all the turning, you can quickly forget where your bot is in the process... again, watch the video and you'll hear me try to figure out where exactly the bot will be going next.

4. Finally, in the video you'll also notice that sometimes the robot will be facing East or West and needs to turn South... well, I programmed incorrectly a few times and sometimes the bot will go the LONG WAY around... spinning away from South and going 270 degrees away to only return to South eventually... good programming would have given the bot the ability to find the shortest path (90 degree turn) instead of wasting time.

Lastly, here's the link for the video. It is 5MB in size, so consider yourself warned. My apologies for the Southern accent... part Texan - part Floridian. The sound volume is a bit loud, too, and I'm trying to figure out how to lower it...

If you want to view the program, click here to download it.

Compass Sensor Block released


HiTechnic has now released its custom block for the Compass Sensor. Download it and check it out here.

Spare parts - new treads

Not directly related to the NXT, but potentially very useful for it: LEGO has released a new type of tank-like treads. In the educational NXT kit are a set of rubber fixed-length treads, but a new snowmobile set from LEGO...

Technic snowmobile

has a multi-component tread formed from many individual links. While LEGO has made tread links before, these are much wider, have small cleats on them (should work much better on the carpet), and perhaps hold together better than the old style. More to the point the length of this tread system is very adjustable, leading to variable length treads. Bravo LEGO! I don't have these (yet...), but someone has put up some more detailed pictures up on Brickshelf:

Brickshelf gallery of Technic snowmobile

--
Brian Davis

Nov 20, 2006

Call for Beta Testers

I received an email from Lou with RoboDNA:

"I've been working on a free PC based Dashboard for the new Lego NXT robots, and was wondering if you could test it. We got a couple dozen Lego NXT robots for the kids, and we'll be using it for the classroom in a couple of weeks (Ottawa Carleton Catholic Schoolboard). We just want to have as many bugs out of the way before they start the curriculum. It's free, and you would just let us know if you find a bug, or want something improved."

If you thinky you can try the app out and give Lou some feedback, I'm sure he would appreciate it. I'm going to install and play around with it over this next week and see what it can do... if any readers find an interesting use for it (personal, education, or otherwise), let me know and I'll share it with the other readers...

Jim

Reader looking for feedback - FLL issue

I got an email from Linda... she's got an interesting problem and I'm hoping readers can offer some advice. Here is her situation:

I am a FLL coach, and I have a problem with the NXT program files
that I can't figure out. The team wants the programs to be in a
certain order, so they deleted all their programs and re-downloaded
them in the desired order, and even renamed them "1-Dirt Trap, 2-
Bone, etc. to make it easy to see that they are using the correct
program on the FLL missions. Here's the problem. After selecting and
running 1-Dirt Trap, you push the back button one time (and still see
1-Dirt Trap in the window), press the right arrow to go to 2-Bone,
select 2-Bone, run 2-Bone, and press the back button. Instead of
seeing 2-Bone in the window, which would mean that one press of the
right arrow gets you right to 3-Magnet, the window hops back to 1-
Dirt Trap, so you have to press the right arrow 2 times to get to 3-
Magnet. Since there are 9 missions, you can see that by the time you
are running 7-Elevator, it's really frustrating and time consuming to
be back at the 1-Dirt Trap screen, and have to press the right arrow
seven times to get to program 8. Why does the back button take you
back to the very first program you ran? Is there anyway to make it
stay on the most recently run program? We know that we could use some
programming techniques to run the missions sequentially, but
occasionally a mission fails and needs to be rerun rather than
automatically progress to the next mission. Also, if a mission has to
be rerun, that consumes time, so the team might choose to skip a less
valuable mission. So we would prefer to have the greater control of
actually selecting the programs on the screen.

Nov 19, 2006

Extend your NXT cables - homebrew

Karl has posted some instructions on how he was able to extend his NXT cables using Cat-5 (Ethernet) cable... you can view the details here.

Nov 18, 2006

NXT support for RCX motors and sensors also released

I followed the link Brian gave earlier, to the new Lego Dynamic Blocks and Mini-Blocks. When I scrolled down the page I saw something else that was not there yesterday ...

"The Legacy Block library adds support for RCX actions and sensors to the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Software. There is a new block for the RCX motor, lamp, touch sensor, light sensor, rotation sensor and temperature sensor.

NOTE: In order to connect the RCX sensors to the NXT, a converter cable is required. "

This has been eagerly anticipated by everyone with both the retail NXT kit, and an old Mindstorms RCX .

The Legacy Library is available as English, French, German, Japanese or Dutch downloads.

- Tony N

PS As previously mentioned on The NXT Step, the converter cables are sold by Lego's online shop: http://shop.lego.com/

Dynamic Block Updated released!!

LEGO and NI have added something to the support pages - a patch that allows you to add in new NXT-G blocks seamlessly into the environment. Take a look here:

Mindstorms support


Note that with the ability to add blocks in, you really need new blocks to add... so they have provided those as well: miniblocks (more streamlined versions of the "stock" blocks... more on that in another post) as well as the legacy blocks that work with the older RCX system sensors and motors (these were already released in the educational version of NXT-G, but now you can add them to the retail version, free of charge).

Addendum: Ah, I misunderstood - check out a just-now-appearing post under 13 Nov on this blog, for more details on the memory-saving abilities of the miniblocks, etc. I wrote it then, but didn't want to post it until the release was availible... and now it shows up there. Here's a link back:

Introducing the Miniblocks


--
Brian Davis

Books, Books... everywhere

A new book has shown up on Amazon.com for the NXT, written by Michael Gasperi, Philippe E. Hurbain (our friend, Philo), and Isabelle L. Hurbain. Check it out here. There's not much detail given, but I'll check with Philo and see what I can find out...

Extreme NXT: Extending the LEGO Mindstorms NXT to the Next Level
April 2007 release date
400 pages



Nov 17, 2006

Announcement for another NXT book

Hi all,

now that the contract has been signed and the first drafts have been accepted, I'm pleased to announce that another book on the NXT will come into being, written by me.

The book is targeted to be released by Apress in next spring and deals on app. 300 pages with six advanced robots that are connected by a particular topic. Each of them will be programmed with five or six of the most popular NXT programming platforms that are available on the market presently.

These activities of mine might account for the apparent abstinence on my NXT related web site, on the blogs and on the different forums - writing a book first of all is a lot of work!

Regards,
Matthias Paul

New(?) NXT Demo

Not sure how recent this is, but the NXT Shop At Home product now has a demo to view. It's pretty neat, with information about all the different parts of the NXT.

How'd they get the Alpha Rex to walk so good anyway? :-)

-Jonathan

Nov 16, 2006

Interaction of two bricks on one robot?

A reader of Die NXTe Ebene has asked the following question:

In order to control more than three motors resp. more than four sensors on my robot, I'm using two NXT bricks. How can these two bricks interact?
One answer that I know of is Bluetooth. Are there other ones?

The GAME is ON!!!


The MCP Trans-Atlantic Competition has started... it's the East versus West (North America versus our European friends). The teams have to agree on some details before the competition begins, but as soon as the details are confirmed, I'll give you more information.

(Vegas has the odds heavily stacked on Team North America... )

FLL Mock Tournament

Well, I finally had a chance to see the club members compete as individual teams with their coaches yesterday. There were six teams in all - five of which attend the club plus one visiting neighborhood team. Despite a few glitches ( one team did not have their robot ready , another had a long delay due to dropping the robot), we were able to get all six teams to present their projects to a visiting group of teachers, as well as have most of the teams run several rounds at the table. We didn't keep score but rather concentrated on getting the teams acclimated to the fast paced 2.5 minutes rounds.

Our visiting team arrived with a RCX Robot. It's quite remarkable how quite those older motors run - definitely a smooth ride.

Most teams were able to master the buckyball mission, activating their side of the space elevator, the nanotube strength, and of course the pizza molecules. A few teams delivered the dirt tray but none had bothered to dump the dirt. Overall, a great effort, considering that they are all rookie division 1 teams. There was also a nice variety of robot designs. All 2 wheel with 1 castor... but very unique chassis and attachments on most.

I was a little disappointed to not see the light sensor in use by any other team but my own, despite the constant drilling at our earlier club meetings. Instead they relied heavily on dead reckoning which seemed easy enough to code but lacked consistency due to minor alignment variations from home base - something not as evident with line detection and following.

A word on teaching "line following": There is a line following routine in the Robot Educator that the students can copy verbatim. All you have to do is tell the students to start near any black line and observe the difference in behavior when the robot starts on the left side or the right side of the line. Then you simply challenge them to explain the "line following" code in the Robot Educator example. This is also a great way to teach "switch blocks" and loop controls.

David Levy

Nov 15, 2006

Mindstorms Contest Winners Announced!!


The winners of the Lego Mindstorms Building Challenge, to which I submitted my A27 Bionic Glove, were just announced in the latest Lego Magazine! My submission didn't win, but there were some pretty clever designs. My favorite was the pinball machine (see picture) where you play pinball with the NXT balls.

Anyway, congratulations to the three winners! If any of you readers are the designers of one of these robots, please comment with any extra information you can give (descriptions, more pictures, videos) - I'm itching to know how some of these guys work!

-Jonathan

GCC Toolchain for NXT

Received the following email from Rasmus - be sure to provide feedback if this is useful to you. Thanks, Rasmus, for the submission.

NXT can be programmed with a gcc toolchain (Lego uses IAR). The gcc toolchain setup description I have made is available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/nxtmote. If you have the source code (or not); feel free to try out the toolchain. Please send any corrections to nxtmote@gmail.com.

You can also get the modified source files from me if you also have the source for review now, but you should send me something from the source code so I know I can exchange code with you (sorry I am under NDA until public release of the source). There is also a main.c file for testing the toolchain regardless of the source code. There is one issue described in the PDF at the nxtmote download (last page): I should be happy to collaborate to solve it.

You can download the Source.zip file from
http://sourceforge.net/projects/nxtmote by going to the download section on Sourceforge. Then you unzip this directory in c:\nxt for example. Then you should read the nxtmote.pdf and the README.txt file, and try to configure a toolchain according to the descriptions before trying out the simple main.c example. Remember to modify the Makefile according to the instructions in the README file.

Sincerely, Rasmus

NXTruck (Towtruck second model with NXT)


After Signing up for the MUP, Søren wonders who could combine the NXT with the big crane (8421) , unfortunately I do not (yet) own that box, so when I got the tow truck (8285), I started building the NXT into the second model.

I wanted to make sure that from the outside you could hardly see that the model was modified, but on the inside I had to fit 2 motors, one NXT and at least 3 sensors.

After a hard days work I had a partial model working however I was not yet content with the final functioning, although I did not use other parts then from the tow truck. (and the NXT electric parts)

Then on LEGO WORLD a friend continued the job, and made it almost perfect.

More pictures will follow.

Nov 14, 2006

Introducing the Minblocks

A lot of folks have commented (to put it nicely) on the size of NXT-G programs relative to the memory on the NXT. Well, LEGO and NI it seems were listening. The new patch allows the user to add more blocks to the NXT-G pallets, including soon to be released blocks for 3rd party sensors, custom blocks individuals create with the LabVIEW Toolkit, and a selection of blocks straight from National Instruments called "miniblocks". The miniblocks are stripped down versions of some of the larger "stock" blocks, like the Display or Motor blocks. By going over those blocks with a fine-toothed comb, a (very!) hardworking team at NI has created specialized, targeted versions that upon being compiled only generate the needed bytecodes.

To put that another way, the miniblocks result in smaller programs on the NXT, as well as in some cases faster execution. For instance, 16 consecutive Display blocks generates a program on the NXT that is about 4k in size; but making the same program using 16 of the new miniDisplay blocks results in a program just 2.2 to 2.5 k in size, close to a 40% savings in memory. The miniMotor blocks are even more impressive, resulting in a savings of almost 70% over the "stock" Motor blocks! The miniblocks are also slightly faster in execution: Display a point, for instance, is about 30% faster than with the original Display block, as well as being smaller.

This doesn't answer all the issues folks have brought up with NXT-G and the memory on the NXT brick, but it shows two important things to me: first, LEGO & NI have been listening, and responding to things filtering out of the community (I strongly doubt this is the last time that occurs). Second, there are multiple solutions to any problem. Nope, they haven't added more memory to the NXT, they just reduced the amount of memory that programs need to run in... and done it less than a year after the product release. Well done!

For those who like numbers, here's the figures I got:
16 Move blocks: 11.8 kb
16 miniMove blocks: 7.7 kb
16 Motor blocks: 12.5 kb
16 miniMotor blocks: 3.9 k (!!)
16 Display blocks: 4 kb (with one Display block of a point taking 1.3 ms)
16 miniDisplay a RIC: 2.5 kb
16 miniDisplay a string: 2.4 kb
16 miniDisplay a point: 2.2 kb (with this miniDisplay block taking 0.93 ms)

Footnote: quite apart from these savings, I've also noticed that some FLL teams have gotten around any memory problems by using MyBlocks to save lots of memory, and even condensing down everything to one program where the kids select which mission to run on-screen (that way, any MyBlock used gets stored just once, instead of once per mission). Kudos to a number of FLL teams for working within the limits, and learning (& teaching!) something new.

The patch to NXT-G itself is rather nice: it adds another option under the "tools" menu, allowing you to import and export custom blocks into any of the subpallets within the Common pallets. I put the miniMove block in the subpallet with its big brother, and the miniDisplay blocks in with the original Display block... but you could put them anywhere you like. Keeping the the import tool in the menu keeps the interface from becoming cluttered as well, and it's fairly easy to use.

--
Brian Davis

IMPORTANT release from LEGO coming SOON

Watch the official site over the next few days for instructions and news for updating your software with the Dynamic Block Update.

Windows and Mac:

The Dynamic Block Update allows the MINDSTORMS NXT Software to import new blocks to the Complete palette. These blocks include the Mini Blocks, the Legacy Blocks, 3rd party sensor blocks or any other blocks developed using the LabVIEW Toolkit for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT.

Running Sneeker

Okay, as promised, some more details about Sneeker and how I plan to use it...

To the left is a simple Capture program that came with the VideoXpress device I purchased to connect my wireless camera to my laptop.

Sneeker is on the floor about 10 feet away and looking at me. His basic program is just a handful of MOVE blocks and a WAIT for Ultrasonic Sensor block (triggered when it detects an obstacle at 12 inches or less). He moves randomly now since I'm not controlling him via RC or OnBrick (but that's coming...) - I"m just letting him roll and get into trouble.

This image shows my setup - laptop on the right, VideoXpress device to the left of the laptop (with USB cable running to back of laptop), and the webcam receiver connected to the VideoXpress device. There are WAY TOO MANY cables, but I've manage to bundle them up to keep them out of the way.

Finally, here's a link to a short and very-poorly edited video showing Sneeker's perspective. The video is .WMV format and 3MB in size and small. I was in a hurry :)

I'm working on getting a small demo setup using RoboRealm and will post that when completed.

Updated cover



I'm learning that a book is NEVER done... there are always things to be tinkering with. Here are two images... one is the FINALIZED cover of my book and the other is the Table of Contents for those of you wondering how the book is broken down.
I'm getting pretty excited about the book being released... there's a LOT of stuff that goes into getting a book on the shelf and I'm glad it's over (at least for THIS book). I've included my email address in the book and I'm hoping to see a LOT of pictures of variations of my bots as well as some unique designs e-mailed to me...

New Video Podcast

Alex is creating video podcasts with walkthroughs for various robots. If you've got something you'd like to see Alex build, visit his website and drop him a line. His email is ntxtv@mindspring.com

Nov 13, 2006

NXT Car v2.0



Josh and Josiah have recently revamped their NXT Car, adding some new cosmetics and higher gearing, to make the "NeXT Ferrari" (my own name). It came out looking awesome!

More pictures below:







See all the pictures here

-Jonathan

Nov 12, 2006

Workshops for NXT Training?

TakingITglobal.org is sponsoring a workshop on the NXT in Manhattan on December 5th. You can bring your own NXT or "rent" one from them. Read about ithere.

This workshop is pricey ($300), but it may be a way for teachers to get a quick introduction to the NXT in a community environment.

Does anyone else know of other workshops like this in the US or elsewhere?

Nov 11, 2006

Sneeker

I wanted a bot that was low to the ground for a robot's perspective. This robot can be remote controlled using a 2nd NXT or using a program like OnBrick.

Now that I've got the bugs worked out, I'm going to use the RoboRealm software to control the NXT (via Bluetooth) based on input from the wireless camera and the Ultrasonic sensor. Also in the robot is one of the smallest cables - it's from HiTechnic and is approximately 4.75 inches (12cm) and I've used it to connect the Ultrasonic sensor to the brick. I didn't want to have to wrap another cable around, so this was a nice solution.

I call it Sneeker, but it is not very sneaky... the motors would give away its location if anyone was paying attention. The wireless camera is also static-mounted, parallel to the floor and does not move. I may try and add some functionality that allows the camera to swivel, but that would require adding a 3rd motor and I wanted to avoid another motor and keep the bot small and compact.

To view the feedback, I purchased a USB device that allows me to connect the wireless camera receiver to my laptop. Now I can control and watch my bot... or just let it roam on its own.

It's getting dark now, and the wireless camera doesn't do that well in low light, so I'll record some of its roaming around tomorrow and post a video.

Nov 10, 2006

Dean Kamen on Colbert Report

While watching Stephen Colbert tonight I was delighted to see Dean Kamen on ( inventor of the Segway Human Transporter and founder of FIRST ).

He talked a little about the FIRST organization and mentioned its popular mantra: "gracious professionalism"

David Levy
VA FLL Coach Team 1936.

NXT Edu Pilot Program School

Here's a link to a fun article about a school that uses NXTs as part of a pilot program sponsored by Lego. Under the program, Lego provides schools with robots and software for a reduced rate. In exchange, the school provides Lego with feedback about the product. Read the articlehere.

David Levy provides other feedback about this pilot program elsewhere on this blog (October 11 and November 3 posts).

Nov 9, 2006

New version of NXT#

Received the following from Bram:

I just released a new version of NXT#. It's the most stable version sofar and also adds some new features (like HiTechnic compass support)and numerous bug fixes. As always, the library can be downloaded fromhttp://nxtsharp.fokke.net/.

As always, thanks goes to Bram for his work in expanding this application... please provide Bram feedback if you find this useful.

Jim

New Cable Lengths

HiTechnic has started shipping four new cable lengths for the NXT, to supplement the ones that come with the NXT kit. For me perhaps the biggest frustration with the new cables (besides how stiff they are) was the lack of short cables: the NXT set only comes with one really short one, so for instance two-motor little rovers usually ended up with long coiled wires stuffed away somewhere. The HiTechnic wiring packages comes with four wires, each of a different length: 12 cm, 16 cm, 70 cm, and 90 cm (almost twice as long as the longest "standard" cable), with two shorter than the shortest "standard" cable (yes!), and two longer. I tried to stretch them out to show the different lengths: the three middle cables are from a standard NXT kit (makred in green), and the others are the availible lengths from HiTechnic. At just $6.49 for a package of four, this makes getting a "double set" (so you have two of each cable) affordable if you really want equal-lengthed cables on both motors, for instance. As an example of how this reduces wire clutter, here's an image of two simple NXT set-ups: the one on the left uses the two shortest HiTechnic cables, while the example on the right uses the shortest availible set from the retail NXT kit. Which do you prefer?

--
Brian Davis

Nov 8, 2006

Book details


Here's the draft version of my NXT book's cover, along with details on the contents. The book is scheduled to hit the bookshelves on Dec 13, 2006. I'll probably post some more details about the book, as well as some information on the writing process and how I put the book together, at a later time.


If you're having trouble reading the text on the back cover, this is what it says:

LEGO Mindstorms NXT has hit the world by storm, giving you the ability to build your own robots and program them to perform all types of actions. What kinds of robots? How about 5 exploratory robots, used to explore the newly discovered tomb of an ancient Mayan king!


You are along for the ride with Evan and his archaeologist uncle as they explore a Mayan pyramid complete with traps and treasures. Using a variety of NXT robots, the archaeology team is able to move deeper into the tomb towards the secrets of King Ixtua. But beware of the traps! The pyramid has successfully avoided unwanted visitors through the centuries, and your team will need to be careful and alert.


You will learn and use a design methodology that will teach you about the new motors and sensors that your robots can use. Complete building and programming instructions are provided for each robot, allowing you to follow along and learn as you build.


Can you help Evan and the team of explorers navigate through the old pyramid and discover King Ixtua’s tomb? Read the stories, examine the environments, and build and program the robots that will allow the team to move closer to the secrets of The Mayan Adventure.

Suggestion for Holiday Charity...

James over at motocube.com has posted a note about the Child's Play charity. They are collecting money and toys for children who are in hospitals around the world. They have no administrative fees and all donations go straight to the kids.

If you're considering making some donations this holiday season, do check this one out. My wife and participate in a couple of charities every year and I'm anxious to add this one to my list. This isn't about Mindstorms NXT, but it is about kids and their desire to play...

Pick this one or pick one that you feel strongly about, but do consider making a donation this holiday season to a charity that can make our world a little better...

Jim

NNQC: another C-style language for the NXT

A reader has hinted to us the following bachelor thesis by Arne Bernin at the Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaft in Hamburg:
http://users.informatik.haw-hamburg.de/~kvl/bernin/bachelor_bernin.pdf

It's in German only (have a look at the sample programs at the end of the thesis, though) and deals with the creation of a compiler for a C-style language (called NNQC) for the programming of the NXT.
Es handelt sich um den Bau eines Compilers für eine Sprache mit C-ähnlicher Syntax für die Programmierung des NXT, genannt NNQC.

Does anybody know more about it, in particular if the compiler is freely available?

Thanks, Chrimo, for the link.

/Matthias Paul

NXT Display tools



Doing some surfing on the net I found this (although it is already a bit older I still think it is good to post it here)

At www.legoengineering.com a new tool is posted.
With this tool you can easily create your own images to display on the NXT.

I downloaded the tool and did a little test.
Sure, you can draw and put characters in the display image, but the real power is in the import image function.

With the Contrast setting you can convert your full color picture to a pure black and white picture and that is handy!

Then I did add some text and I'm ready to save my picture.


It automatically saves in the Pictures directory of the NXT software, for easy use later.

Now I can use the NXT-G software to upload my custom picture to the NXT.
Have fun Using this nice tool.
Download it at: LEGO engineering.

mynxt.matthiaspaulscholz.eu available on German also


To whom it may concern: my page http://mynxt.matthiaspaulscholz.eu is available now completely on German also.

/Matthias Paul

Nov 7, 2006

NXTLog News Update

The NXTLog News sedction has been updated with three more robots - one of which is the awesome biped that was posted on here earlier. The other robots include an piece-efficient tank and a well-documented moon rover.

Check out the news section here

NXT Mobile App in Action




As blogged by Jim yesterday, the "NXT Mobile" application for Java phone arrived on the Lego Mindstorms web site yesterday.

There are a few odd things about it, for example no screenshots of the program on the web page or in the User Guide. Also the software has a different version for every phone it directly supports, and no guidance if your phone is not on the list to which version to try.





Anyway I have installed the Nokia 3230 version on to a Nokia 3230 phone. This is the phone model on both the Lego web page and on the NXT box.

The software found my NXT and allowed me to connect to it, and operate the NXT brick.

Alongside are some screenshots from my phone of installing the software and starting the program.


- Tony Naggs


Japanese NXT book



I'm trying to find more info... if you know of anything, please let me know.

2415 Yen = approx $20US

Amazon link





http://isogawastudio.co.jp/legostudio/bookintroduction.html

Jim

Here is that last link translated into English, care of Babel Fish at Altavista:

(I hope Jim excuses my barging in.)
- Tony N
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