Apr 25, 2007

I gave the Wish List to LEGO while at the FLL competition along with a list of questions... below are LEGO's responses to some (not all) of the questions submitted by readers. LEGO will most likely be checking on readers' responses to these answers, so please post your comments if you have them.

You can view the Wish List post here along with readers' questions (as comments). LEGO has informed me that the List "is in on our table when we talk new ideas - and it is, honestly!"

I'll let you know as soon as I hear from LEGO regarding the Wish List.

And now, here are some questions and answers:

1. Does LEGO plan to release a new pneumatics set for use with NXT?

NO. But the pneumatics elements will still be available in other LEGO TECHNIC sets, so if you want to combine it, go ahead.

2. What extension sets are planned for the NXT?

In time of writing there is no extension sets planned for the NXT set (#8527). But the sensor developers have many new ideas for extra sensors coming out.

3. Is there a plan to create a cheap (<100$) camera sensor for autonomous robot operation?

I would turn the question around and ask: what would you really want to do with a ‘camera sensor’?

4. Will there be a next (and upgraded) version of the NXT?

Hm, who can tell? Again, I cannot tell about what we are working on…

5. Could you make another type/kind of motor for the NXT that is smaller and maybe include a tachometer (rotation sensor) too?

These are some of the top wishes we get from users, so it is something we make a note of. I cannot reveal if we are working on such things…

6. Will the firmware be updated so that the USB port can be used with a memory stick to enlarge the amount of memory available for the NXT? (Windows VISTA has this feature).

The USB port within the NXT can only function as a SLAVE meaning it can not control a USB memory stick.

7. We now have that full LabView support, but only if you have a LabView license (I got a free student license). Is this the way things are going to remain, or will some of the LabView functionality start migrating into the retail software?

In time of writing there is no extension in regards to more advanced LabView functionality planned for the retail software. This software is targeted towards children.

8. The NXT-G software is really slow and even small programs compile into huge files. The firmware upgrade may help with the execution speed problem (a little bit), but we would see a bigger benefit from generating smaller, more efficient executables. Is anything being done about that?

This is one of the top wishes we get from users, so it is something we make a note of. I cannot reveal if we are working on such things…

9. MyBlocks cannot be executed in parallel threads. This greatly reduces their usefulness. Are there any plans to modify threads so they are?

In time of writing there are no plans to modify the system to handle MyBlock execution within parallel threads.

10. Will there be a NXT v2 ?

What do you mean by NXT v2? What is it? Is there something in the very long wish list Jim has compiled that you do NOT want in NXT 2?

11. Could you make another type/kind of motor for the NXT that is smaller?

Right now, it is possible to use the ‘old’ Mindstorms motors by using so-called legacy wires that can connect between the NXT outputs and the ‘old’ connector plates, so using those motors is possible. I cannot tell if we are working on new motors.

12. Will LEGO release the bluechip firmware so we can make community firmware supporting HID etc. (e.g. Wii)?

The firmware for the Bluecore chip uses proprietary code from the Bluetooth chip vendor and therefore we can not release the firmware for the Bluetooth chip. It is also quite complicated to update the firmware within the Bluetooth chip and it requires special software tools.

13. When will the NXT-software be available as a Universal Binary for Intel Macs?

MINDSTORMS NXT 1.0 currently runs in emulation mode on Intel-based Macs. A new version of the MINDSTORMS NXT Software that runs natively on an Intel-based Mac will be available in the Summer of 2007.

14. What is in the works for LabView for Mindstorms Phase 3 ?

Two things: First, I would ask you to specify what Phase 3 is – what was the two other phases? Second, I really cannot reveal what we are doing right now – only that we are looking at a lot of interesting things right now… I have some of it right here on my desk…

21 comments:

Maniac of Mayhem said...

Not to speak badly of Lego, but that is pretty much a load of NDA-talk. But I expected as much, and what I did learn from reading that were all things I didn't know before.

Jim German said...

Maniac, I think you need to try and read between the lines a bit. Its fairly obvious from Lego's responses what they are working on and what they aren't working on. For instance, they cleary aren't working on a NXT Pneumatic set (which makes me sad), but they are certinly working on different motors. However since they are still works in progress, they can't (and shouldn't) say anything about them.

This is a heck of a lot more information than you would get from any other company, and I applaud Lego's willingness to involve the community.

Eric D. Burdo said...

I think both Maniac and Jim are accurate here.

There isn't anything clearly revealed (about what I expected though) and a lot can be assumed based on reading between the lines.

Just be careful making the assumptions. I think that LEGO is planning on some new components. But I think we will see a lot coming from third-party vendors.

Eric D. Burdo said...

Here is my question for LEGO (or anyone else who can answer).

There are 7 IO ports on the NXT. 3 designated Output, 4 designated Input. Are these capable of being swapped via the firmware? Meaning I could have 6 Outputs and 1 Input? (or any other combination)?

If so, it would be nice if the official firmware would allow this.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand answer number 3... There are PLENTY of things to do with camera sensor. Why do they ansewr a question with a question?

Brian Davis said...

No. While those ports all may look the same, they are completely different in terms of the circuitry driving them. In fact, there's differences even among the "identical" input and output ports: port 4 (IMS) can cope with high-speed I2C access, while ports 1-3 can't. And Port A is driven by a slightly different motor driver than ports B & C. The three outputs can generate PWM signals with high currents (needed for those beefy motors), while the four outputs have no need of this (no need for high currents), so that was not designed in.

As to LEGO "releasing" information, out of the 14 questions, more than half are answered very directly (no NXT-targeted pneumatics, the USB port is a slave port only, etc... you have no idea how many times I've answered that second question alone...), and several are just begging for the community to respond ("what would you do with a camera?"). Keep in mind LEGO is interested in a *two-way* flow of information, so maybe responding to those points that seem to ask for it would be worthwhile.

--
Brian Davis

Brian Davis said...

(Sorry, anon - we posted at the same time)

I suspect the reason is to see if they can find or make a camera for a cost that's reasonable, but that will actually satisfy a good percentage of what folks want to do with it. If the reason you want a camera is "to broadcast wireless video", well, a bunch of us have done that using $60+ spy-cams off-the-shelf, and LEGO may want to get into that market... or more likely avoid it, because its already well-populated.

If your response is "I want the robot to be able to recognize my face from any angle", then LEGO has to figure if they can get the NXT + camera to do that... AND they have to see if they can do it at aq price that folks might be willing to pay. BOTH those are problems to solve before kust "doing it".

How do you want to use the camera? Edge reconition? Blob recognition? How much processing on-camera vs on the NXT? Store images? At what resolution (and how many - the amount of memory comes into play here)? How rapidly to you need to capture and process images? Real-time navigation at high-speed is going to be demanding and expenssive, while capturing a simple 80x80 pixel image something like once every 10 seconds should be much easier... but is that sufficient? Would that be enough for you to spend $100+ or so, or would you (and the rest of the Mindstorms folks) just ignore such an offering.

We have the easy job here - we get to play and ask for new toys (or design our own). LEGO needs to not only see if what we want is possible, but if it's profitable... and for that, they need to understand *exactly* what you want something to do (so as to make it sufficiently powerful, but not overly expensive).

--
Brian Davis

Jim Kelly said...

Let's be careful here about being too critical of some of LEGO's responses. I have worked for a few large companies in my time that would NEVER respond to a handful of questions from consumers, no matter how nicely you ask!

LEGO has competitors and we need to remember that being secretive isn't a snub at the consumer, but is meant to protect their company so they can STAY in business. And LEGO has agreements with partners that forbid them from talking about new and upcoming products.

I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that, YES, LEGO is working on new stuff. Can those of us in the MDP/MCP talk about it? No... not yet. Will we be able to soon? Maybe. But believe me, LEGO isn't resting. If anything, I can tell you that the LEGO team I met with at FLL are tired... and working constantly. They have got a TON of work going on and just read into that what you will.

I was told that LEGO would give me an update on the Wish List and I have no doubt that they will... and always remember that LEGO visits here and reads your comments. Keep them civil and polite, and remember that LEGO is breaking a lot of rules by listening to its customers rather than telling us what we want. Most companies do NOT work this way.

Eric D. Burdo said...

Brian, thanx for the answer about the IO ports. That makes sense, I was just hoping it was a firmware upgrade. :(

Anonymous said...

I actually don't see a point of these Q&A. If Lego isn't going to reveal anything than what's the point of writing all this stuff on the blog. Yes, Lego is a big corporation that wouldn't say anything about anything. But actually putting it all here just upsets customers as if they are being treated like 5-year olds and mommy and daddy aren't gonna tell them what they don't need to know. I was definately turned off my opinions of Lego did not imporve at all :(

Steckmann said...

i dont get what competition lego could have it not like there is anoughter biulding block compeny out there that is any were close to being a good as legos(that you megablocks) so what or who is lego scared of.

Ethan

Brian Davis said...

Another anon said:

> I actually don't see a point of these Q&A

I think the point is that LEGO is trying to tap the market in a far more fundamental way - invoking the consumer directly in directing and designing the product. Thus the MUP, MDP, and MCP program, as well as things like letting folks like Philo experiemnt with the new Power system motors (he is tops in LEGO motor analysis), or even things like on-line PaB and LDD-designed models.

> putting it all here just upsets customers
> as if they are being treated like 5-year
> olds and mommy and daddy aren't
> gonna tell them what they don't need
> to know

Well, if you like, you could be treated the same way all the other companies I know do - not tell you anything at all, or ever ask or solicit your opinion. LEGO can't just tell the world everything - that would (a) give away any and all competitive edge, and (b) just really make folks annoyed that some things don't eventually make it into the product ("but you promised...!"). As it is, through blogs like this, and watching newsgroups and threads, and watching and talking to folks at places like FLL, LEGO is getting grass-roots help in figuring out what we (you me, and everybody else submitting an opinion) want to see.

Also, Steckmann said...

> I dont get what competition lego
> could have...

While I certainly agree with you that the quality of the LEGO product is not even apporached by a competitor, they *do* have them... and plenty of them. LEGO once held something like 80% of the market, but that had dropped to 62% by 2004. In the meantime, Mega Bloks climbed from 15% to 30% of the market (estimated). And in the field of personal or hobby robotics, they have a whole lot of competitors as well: VEX, Fischertechnik, and recently even iRobot, to name just a few.

Would these companies like to know what LEGO and the Mindstorms line is brewing up? You bet - because LEGO is their competition as well, and anything they can beat LEGO to market on, that's a portion of the market they can start laying claim to.

The corporate world is not one I'd like to have to live in on a daily basis. But it's not that hard to understand, when you think about it. LEGO has taken some very serious risks by being as open with their product as they were - I hope it pays off handsomely for them. and not just for their sake - I want to have this quality around for a long time to come, and that will only happen if the company continues to thrive.

--
Brian "stepping off the soapbox now" Davis

Dean Hystad said...

I like the camera response. Of what use would an on board camara sensor be? The NXT doesn't have enough memory to do vision processing, and cameras with dedicated image processing built in are usually too restrictive. Give me a wireless camara and I'll do the image processing on my laptop.

I wish I had phrased the LabView question more carefully. I can't imagine adding LabView features to the retail software, but will some features sneak into education version.

Alex said...

Hmm, what is this about MyBlocks not working in parallel? First time I ever heard of it. Would anybody care to comment?

Thanks
Alex

Guy Ziv said...

Regarding camera - I was hoping for something like the CMUCam or AVRCam (google these terms if you're not familiar with..) which do blob recognition. This is typically enough for many navigation purposes.

Dean Hystad said...

Let's say I wrote a MoveRamp MyBlock that breaks up a move into three segments; Ramp Up, Constant Velocity, and Ramp Down. It uses Motor blocks because they have a RampUp and a RampDown. I want it to be generic, so I use a parameter to set the output port.

I write a program to run MoveRamp on ports A and C simultaneously. I put a MoveRamp on the main thread with the port set to A, and I spawn off a thread with a MoveRamp for port C. I make sure to fork off the second thread before MoveRamp for port A is called.

What I expect to happen is for A and C to move at the same time. What actually happens is that A moves to completion and then C begins moving while the main thread continues on.

I can get around this by making a MoveRampA and a MoveRampC. Because they are not the SAME MyBlock they can be run at the same time. But this is an ugly solution. More importantly, the inability to run MyBlocks in parallel can cause some funny robot behaviours. Of course we could also get some funny behaviours running blocks in parallel if it isn't done carefully.

I think that all MyBlocks work this way, but it is not noticeable if the MyBlocks finish quickly.

Dean Hystad said...

Doesn't a CMUCam cost about $200. With economies of scale and lower resolution maybe LEGO could offer it for $200 (need to maintain that high profit margin). Who would buy that? Probably the same people who would buy a CMUCam and hack it to work with the NXT.

I think it makes more sense for the camera manufacturer to provide an NXT interface. Or maybe MindSensors might want to market an adapter of some sort.

We don't have to depend on LEGO for all our Mindstorms solutions anymore. I like the new market model. LEGO should focus on selling as many NXT's as it can. That will make the aftermarket equipment business more attractive and result in a greater number of choices for us.

Kirk B. said...

>14. What is in the works for LabView for Mindstorms Phase 3 ?
>
>Two things: First, I would ask you to specify what Phase 3 is – what was the two other phases?

The Phase 3 reference is from the LEGO Engineering website:
http://www.legoengineering.com/images/
stories/resources/2010.jpg

From the diagram, Phases 1, 2, & 3 are “Intended Software Product Platform by 2010”, and, more specifically from what I can infer, Phase 1 is the current Educational release of the NXT-G software (for “Design & Technology Engineering”), and Phase 2 is a software release dedicated for science. Phase 3 is the LabVIEW for Mindstorms is software that addresses both design & technology engineering and science. Phase 1 & 2 are for Grades 3-8, and Phase 3 is for Grades 9 to 13.

With knowledge of Phases 1-3, that brings us back to Question 14: What is in the works for LabVIEW for Mindstorms Phase 3? (Is it a go? Will it be more similar to LabVIEW than NXT-G? How will it be different than NXT-G? etc.)

>3. Is there a plan to create a cheap (<100$) camera sensor for autonomous robot operation?
>
>I would turn the question around and ask: what would you really want to do with a ‘camera sensor’?

Uses for a camera sensor: (Forgive me if some of my examples seem cheesy)

1. Spying: E.g., create a robot that can go in another room to spy on one’s family member to find out what LEGO set you will get for Christmas
2. Over the Internet remote controlled robots – teleoperated robots (e.g. for creating a remote operated robot that can be controlled via the internet to check your house for intruders when you are away on holidays from)
3. Machine vision applications: Object recognition (simple shapes/colours at various locations in an x-y coordinate system). E.g., you have a robot that can play ping pong – the robot can detect where the ball is coming from so that the robot can estimate where to swing at the ball. E.g., have robot that can navigate to and collect anything that is blue in colour of a particular size.
4. Machine vision applications: Face expression recognition (smiling, sad, angry) for creating robots that can interact with humans. (e.g., you smile to your robot, it smiles back, comes closer to you, and reaches out for a hug; and if you are angry, it runs away and hides)
5. Machine vision applications: Counting. E.g., have a robot to do inventory on your LEGO pieces, where it would count the number of times it sees a particular shaped piece, and/or colour.

Please add to this list. (I think LEGO is looking for real needs to justify the creation of a LEGO Camera, so we should show them that the creation of a LEGO camera is justified through providing real uses for the camera.)

Jim Kelly said...

Anonymous wrote: "I actually don't see a point of these Q&A. If Lego isn't going to reveal anything than what's the point of writing all this stuff on the blog."

With regards to the Q&A, I see some definite answers- I think they're just answers you might not like (such as NO to pneumatics).

Anonymous wrote: "But actually putting it all here just upsets customers as if they are being treated like 5-year olds and mommy and daddy aren't gonna tell them what they don't need to know."

Sorry you feel like a 5 year old - I don't think the majority of NXT fans feel that way. Again, I think the "upset" comes from just not getting the response you want from LEGO.

Anonymous said...

I hope they make smaller motors

delvach said...

I'm encouraged to hear that they're still planning on releasing a Universal Binary of NXT-G for OS X this summer, hopefully addressing the performance & stability issues and lack of Bluetooth on Intel Macs.

Also, why not re-introduce the air tank in a basic pneumatic starter set? We now have the third-party guys to develop additional sensors and switches, but we still have to pay eBay prices to get that little blue tank.

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