Feb 28, 2007

Brick Journal #6

Well, it's been almost two weeks by now, but for those of you who may not have noticed it: Issue 6 of Brick Journal, the free online magazine related to LEGO is out and can be downloaded from LUGNET.
Amongst other things it features an article on teaching robotics to girls, an interview with LEGO's CEO Mr. Knudstorp and an interview with Steven Canvin (leader of the MINDSTORMS Development Program) talking about the MDP.

Read it! Very worthwhile!

Feb 26, 2007

Bill Gates: A Robot in Every Home

In the new issue of Scientific American, there's an article by Bill Gates on his vision on the future of Robotics. He forecasts that robotics will be the next hot field.

Tell us what you think about the thoughts expressed there.

Feb 24, 2007

Managing the elements

Calling all teachers and FLL coaches: How do you manage all the elements that come in an NXT set? Do you try to keep sets separate, or do you let all the pieces get mixed up? What kinds of bins or organizers do you like to use?

The folks at LEGO Engineering would like to know, and they've created a survey that you can take.

I'd like to see if we can get a conversation going here in the comments section.

Shown is my my current bin system, the Stanley Professional Deep Organizer, model 14410. These bins are twice as deep as the bins in the 14325 organizer that Jim wrote about earlier. The problem with the deep model is that the small elements are dumped into large bins. I'm inclined to use a 14325 organizer for all the small elements.

Looking around, I see that Motocube has posted photos of an NXT organizing system.

You can see photos and read my review of the Plano 5231 Stow-N-Go Organizer here. I think it might work well for an individual, but in a class or club setting, it has drawbacks.

Feb 23, 2007

Datalogging + Robotics

Tufts University’s Center for Educational Engineering Outreach held their first LEGO Engineering Symposium in January. For three days, 70 people from 8 countries gathered to explore and develop new ideas and activities that bring datalogging into the classroom or other educational settings.

The CEEO students and staff have published all of the materials generated here. Included are:

- A list of 71 Things to do with LEGO Mindstorms and Data
The presentations from the Symposium
- Documented activities generated by the Symposium participants

Feb 22, 2007


Langellier asks, "How many other educators are reading this blog?
What level do you teach at?"

That's a good question! Let us know.

Sets that Compliment

Hi Folks!

Some very nice sets are flying from the LEGO production pipes. The interesting parts of the sets are the parts, of course! Choosing sets that add functionality to your existing NXT part inventory is the key here. I have a few examples I would like to present to the crowd…

First, Everyone likes mobility…I asked my 4 yr. old son what he likes about his LEGO Collection (or mine)…He said, “I Like Wheels!” No kidding. I asked, “What else?” He replied, “I like things with wheels!” Its not surprising. Mobile platforms are fun! If you have seen my HoopRover you would know exactly why my son likes wheels!

Whatever your tastes might be, I encourage you to find some interesting elements within LEGO sets that make you want to build better MindStorms Robots!

Here are a few examples that interest me.

Set #7706 Exo-Force Mobile Defense Tank – A new kind of rubber belt-type tread (4 included and 8 NXT-type wheels). And to mention…with all of the NXT Orange elements included with this set, color coordination is easy.

Sets #8274 Snowmobile and #8275 RC Bulldozer – Both sets include the new hard link systems. The RC Bulldozer includes some very nice RC equipment. (4 Channel Infrared, possible control of up to 4 new type motors). All of which can make your head spin with Robotic thoughts of NXT ideas. For a few tasty snaps of the #8275 RC Bulldozer…

Set #8108 Exo-Force Mobile Devastator (Green Wheels, oh man!) Not available yet! But, I did see that it is listed at approx. $90 USD.

The Elemental

Thursday is "Introduce a Girl to Engineering" Day

Ten ways that you can participate are found here.

To this list, add an eleventh: Buy a girl an NXT!

Feb 21, 2007

Advanced NXT: The Da Vinci Inventions Book


I'm proud to announce that my NXT book that is to appear in June is listed now on Amazon.com!
As you might deduce from the abstract there, it's about re-building some of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous inventions with LEGO and powering them with the NXT.
All these robots get programmed with the five programming environments that are available presently to execute NXT programs directly on the brick (NXT-G, NXC, RobotC, pbLua and leJOS NXJ).


ps Will have to talk to the arts dept. on the cover, though. ;-)

Massive NXT Walker

Click on the thumbnail photo above to see more detail of this robot. More pictures of this robot are here.

Feb 20, 2007

Massachusett Robotic Events in March

The University of Massachusetts at Lowell is holding its Botfest exhibition on
Saturday, March 24. For more information: http://www.cs.uml.edu/botfest/

Dr. Franklyn Turbak, a computer science professor at Wellesley College in
Wellesley, MA let me know about an event at Wellesley College:
The Wellesley CS Dept is holding its Cirque du CS activity on Saturday, March 31
(http://cs.wellesley.edu/cirque/). Several of the robots from this past January
will be on display there, as well as creative projects
from many of our other courses.

Educators, here are some other links of interest offered by Professor Turbak.
From what I can see, they are not currently using NXT, but I'm sure it would work
even better with NXT. (They've been teaching this course at a liberal arts college
for ten years!)

The course: http://cs.wellesley.edu/~rds/

In particular, look at the following;

(1) Their syllabus from this past January:

(2) The museum of past projects:

(3) Their journal paper about the course:

Prof. Turbak also suggests:
"You should also check out PicoCrickets (http://www.picocricket.com),
a robotics system that my colleague Robbie Berg helped to develop.
It is targeted at both girls and boys and encourages projects that tend
to be more artistic/creative than traditional robotics systems".

Update to Official Mindstorms NXT website

They've added a link to books... very near and dear to my heart, obviously :)

Hopefully as the years go by, the number of books dedicated to the NXT will grow and grow...

Here's a shortcut to it.

Robot versus Cat

Erik emailed me a link to a funny video - apparently, he's trying to get his cat Cyrus to play with his NXT creation...

View it here.

Feb 18, 2007

NXT with Split Chassis (Two Versions)

More information here.

Marketing Science to Girls

Sometimes girls and boys look at things differently. Girls often care about how something appeals to the senses as well as how it works. Does everything in the NXT have to be grayscale? Perhaps we can appeal to LEGO to offer a creative resource kit which might increase the NXT's appeal to girls.

The most obvious things I would include in such a kit would be

(1) pieces offered in different colors---not "girly" colors, just LEGO colors. Believe it or not, even some boys prefer color.

(2) pieces which allow for building curves---not just hard angles.

What do you think? Can you think of something that would make NXT more appealing to girls?

Feb 17, 2007

Spider Walker Building and Programming Instructions

There are many NXT walkers around but few, if any, have complete building instructions like this one.

Download the building and programming instructions here.

Thank you to sorosy.com!

Feb 16, 2007

Solderable Proto-Board

I'm no whiz with electronics, but I'm getting better. My soldering skills are rusty, too. But since getting a look at HiTechnic's upcoming solderable proto-board, I've been considering some options for what I might want to do with it.
A recent trip to my local electronics shop (ACK, Atlanta, GA) let me find some small pressure switches (similar to the Touch sensor) that are either on or off. Whereas the Touch sensor must be mounted in a static position, pointing in one direction, I'm considering purchasing a handful of these smaller switches and giving them a longer length of wire so I can place them all over a robot. If I purchase 8 of them, I can place them around the robot in the N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, and NW positions and only need one sensor port to monitor them.

How would you use the proto-board? I think this proto-board is really going to open up the number of hand-made/homebrew sensors, much more than we saw for the RCX. I'm curious to hear from readers about what they would like to create using the proto-board OR what they'd like other more experienced designers to work on...


Busy week

It's been a slow week for NXT news but not for the contributors here at The NXT Step. Our deadline for getting our chapters in for our upcoming book is this week, so all of us have been focusing on getting our material in... the book is scheduled for an April 20 release, so we're having to work hard and fast to get it done.


Feb 13, 2007

Fun with HiTechnic

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to participate in a local RoboCup Junior (RCJ) training session at Georgia Tech University. One of the competitions of RCJ is 1-vs-1 soccer and 2-vs-2 soccer. Robots detect a ball giving off an infrared signal and try to score points.

I must thank HiTechnic for sending me a prototype of their new IRSeeker to play with and show off at the session. With it, I was able to build a robot that could participate in the 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 soccer challenge, but it was tricky! In the 1-on-1, the robot has specific limitations - it must fit inside an 18cm diameter cylinder (with all arms and moving parts fully extended) and can be no taller than 22 cm.

I started by printing out a gray circle with a diameter of 18cm and began to build. Try it - try keeping your Brick, wheels, and any sensors or other tools inside that circle... very challenging. Well, you're looking at my solution. In the photo, the IRSeeker is on the left and the Compass sensor is on the right. I'm also including a top-view photo, but the circle is difficult to see. Trust me that it does all fit inside that circle!

To give you an idea of how the IRSeeker works, imagine dividing the IRSeeker's surroundings into 30 degree sections. The rear-most sections are not readable (about 90 degrees worth), so numbering the accessible sections from left to right gives the IRSeeker 9 sections to monitor. (This image is taken from HiTechnic documentation.)

I take the value that the IRSeeker obtains (1-9) and (because I lacked time) using a rather unsophisticated string of COMPARE blocks, I have the robot turn the proper number of degrees so it is facing the correct segment where the IRBall is located. Not very fancy, but it'll work in a pinch...

Also provided to me by HiTechnic were some prototype boards (solderless and solderable) that you can use to create your own sensors and such... all able to be connected to the Brick via the standard NXT cable.

All in all, HiTechnic is developing a nice range of add-ons for your NXT. I highly encourage you to visit their website and they love feedback! If you've got something you'd like to see developed (sensor-ish, that is), drop them an email and see what they have to say...

Thanks you, HiTechnic team, for the loans and help in getting the stuff to work.


Building and Programming Instructions for the NXT Gymnast

The following note is from Eugene Tsai, coach of the team who created the NXT Gymnast:

"I’m located in Taipei and run an after-school classroom teaching kids LEGO Mindstorms.

I coached an elementary school team to build the first gymnastic robot using RCX in September 2005 for the 2005 WRO (World Olympiad Robotics), Open Category competition – Robot in Sport. The robot was shown in Taipei’s competition in September and Bangkok’s competition in November of 2005. The robot was a 3-link design with two active links. At that time, people asked if the robot could swing over the bar.

After the first NXT arrived in my classroom last August, I was able to build a 2-link robot with a simpler structure and make it swing over the bar."

Eugene sent me building and programming instructions for the NXT gymnast in PDF form. For a limited time, you'll be able to download the instructions by going to the following site:

username: public
password: nxtstep
(The login is case-sensitive).

If you have further questions about the robot, please post them on the blog and Eugene will respond.

Feb 10, 2007

Another NXT Book in Japanese

Here's the publisher's info:

Book Title : niyuumon rego maindo suto mu enuetsukusutei niyuumon rego maindosuto mu enuetsukusutei rego burotsuku de tsukuru ugoku rob…
Author Name (s) : ooba shin ichirou
Language : Japanese
Publisher/ISBN : 4797338253
Release Date : December 19, 2006

Maybe a Japanese reader (or someone else) could translate the title and book cover for us. The book is available from yesasia.com.

Nippon did it again: new NXT book

Masashi Ishikawa, editor at Mainichi Communications Inc., sent me the following note on a new NXTbook: The book entitled "LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT GRAY BOOK" will publish on the end of this month.

Following is the announcement of that. But I'm sorry that site was written by Japanese only.


And there is the contents of the book.
Chapter4 NBC
Chapter5 RCX
Chapter6 PC
Chapter7 TWO-LEGGED (Betarex)

Maybe some of our Japanese-speaking readers might be willing to provide some further information that can be found on the site?

Domo arigato!

Feb 8, 2007

New Version of Director: PDA-control of NXT

An update from Razix:

"A new version of NXT Director has just been released today. It now has new and improved button -> motor assignments which allow you to assign each button (forward, reverse, left, right) to any combination of motor A,B,C (forward/stop/reverse). This enables you to now setup NXT Director to work with a wider range of robot designs."

Check it out here.

NXT Gymnast

For more information on this robot, go here.

The Robots of Shigeo Hirose

Hirose has designed a bug, a snake, a wall-scaling "Ninja" and a seven-ton robot that navigates mountain slopes, among others.

I got one idea for an NXT robot from looking at Hirose's creations. Maybe you will, too. View his creations here.
Received the following from Dr. Chris Rogers about a patch for RoboLab:

"...supports all sorts of things - like 3rd party sensors, trig functions on the NXT (with onboard floating point), and some nice NXT screen control options. Again, this is really only for people that are already using robolab."

You can read more about it and download here.

Feb 7, 2007

New gyro-equiped NXTway, & JennToo with RADAR

Two new projects recently popped up on NXTasy that I thought I'd flag. First, some time ago a poster made a "RADAR display" program that would map the area around Tribot. Well, that poster is back, with an improved version of the RADAR that is much faster, and wonderfully documented. If you want to see what the robot sees, just take a look at this video:

Krystman also has up the code on his webpage here. Nice application, and wonderful visualization.

Another wonderful robot that popped up just a little bit later is a LEGway (or NXTway) that works by using a gyrosopic sensor, not directly sensing the angle of the robot to the ground. Potentially, it could I suspect climb slopes. Well done! Take a look here:

NXTway-G with gyroscopic feedback

Very nice stuff appearing all over!

Brian Davis

Feb 6, 2007

Revisit: The Biped

Okay, now that I've got some more information on the HiTechnic Motor Multiplexor (Mux), it's got me thinking again about the (I hope) inevitable NXT biped. Robots such as the Robonova-1 from HITEC use anywhere from 12 to 20 motors to achieve a wide range of motions, including walking, cartwheeling, and dancing.

With the HiTechnic Motor Mux, a designer now has the ability to include a total of 19 (yes, 19!!) motors. Now, this would obviously require 4 Mux, each controlling 4 motors and then adding in the standard 3 motors for ports A, B, and C (on the Brick).

Let's do a quick survey of the Robonova-1 and see where all those motors go:

1 motor per ankle
1 motor per shin
1 motor per lower thigh
1 motor per upper thigh
1 motor for each hip
1 motor for each shoulder
1 motor for each arm/bicep
2 motors in chest

16 motors in all that give the Robonova-1 the ability to walk, dance, cartwheel, and more.

Now, the Robonova-1 uses an aluminum framework that has been machined to hold the servo motors in a humanoid form. The processor is hidden in the chest and the wiring is hidden in various places.

Could a LEGO Mindstorms NXT biped be built? I don't know. The creation would have to hold the brick and 4 battery holders to power the 4 Mux devices. The structure would have to be well-designed to ensure a strong body and to prevent the biped from falling apart from various stresses. The size of the NXT biped would also be much larger than the Robonova-1 mainly because of the size of the NXT servo motors.

I'm curious to hear from others on this - are there other weaknesses or limitations that would make creating an NXT biped difficult? Can you think of any reason why an NXT biped could NOT be created?


Feb 5, 2007

Some GREAT new additions from HiTechnic

Take a trip over to HiTechnic's website and click on the "Development Lab" link. You're going to see some great new stuff coming from them.

From their site (excerpts):

iRLink - contains an Infrared (IR) Transmitter and Receiver, connects to an NXT sensor port and communicates with the RCX through its IR port - supports full bidirectional data transfer - message transfers initiated by the NXT or the RCX.

iRSeeker - an infrared detector that can tell your program if an infrared light source is within view, the direction of the source and the relative strength of the signal - ideal for detecting IR devices such as the Robocup Jr soccer ball - returns a numeric value to the NXT program indicating the direction of the target, as well as a value indicating the strength of the signal which will give an indication of the distance to the target.

HiTechnic Motor Multiplexer or mMux - provides a way to extend the number of motors that can be attached to the NXT - connects to an NXT sensor port and has four motor connections for four standard NXT motors - each motor may be controlled independently from the NXT and all standard motor operations are supported, including direction, power, duration and rotation. In order to support the extra motors, the mMUX is powered from a standard LEGO Battery box.

HiTechnic Sensor Multiplexer (sMUX) - connects to an NXT sensor ports - has four standard sensor ports expanding the NXT to be able to support four sensors from one NXT port - supports any combination of sensors of any type - includes the Ultrasonic, Compass, Color and other I2C sensors as well as the touch, sound and other analog sensors. Legacy sensors may also be connected using the legacy sensor wire.

Feb 4, 2007

Just having some fun

Takea look at http://roxik.com/pictaps/index.html and have some fun... click the "Paint" button in lower left corner to create your own.


My design:


Feb 3, 2007

User and Beta Tester Feedback

Over the last few weeks, I have received several requests to add some more features to the Lego NXT roboDNA Dashboards. One of the most popular requests was users looking to remotely control a 3rd motor for claws, robot arms, or grippers. Several users were also looking to trigger Lego NXT Direct Commands for the joystick's 2 buttons. I recently had time to work on these and other features, and implemented most of them.

In the current version, I added the Z Axis to the joystick object so a motor on Port A can be controlled with a joystick's Z slider. The X Axis and Y Axis can still be used to control motors on Port B and C using the joystick itself. For example, it should be possible to articulate Alpha Rex's upper body, Spike's stinger, or the Tribot's claws from the joystick. If someone has any of these designs currently built, try out the new dashboard and let me know how it worked. I still have not tested them with built robots. I'm curious to see how well Alpha Rex and Spike walk and turn using a joystick.

Lego NXT Direct Commands can now be triggered from the Joystick's buttons. Just drag-and-drop a command onto the joystick object, and select which button to link. In the default dashboard, I linked the joystick button to the the 'Play Tone' command, so it just beeps when you press it. It would work well to run autonomous behaviors or NXT-G programs from the trigger. For example, the claw could open on button 1, and close on button 2. Another option would be to have Spike's stinger jab when the joystick's button is pressed.

I also modified the default Dashboard so it can be used for many different robot designs, as long as the sensors and the 3 motors are connected to the recommended ports. I noticed a large number of robot designs use the default sensors and ports, so the one dashboard now should work with many. There should now be less of a need for users to work with the low-level Lego NXT Direct Commands, or design their own dashboards.

Download at http://www.roboDNA.com

Feb 2, 2007

NXT Sumo fighting on a Robotic LEGO DivX Channel

Hi out there,

Jerome, a guy from DivX, has called my attention to No Screwdriver Needed, a Robotic LEGO Channel that contains high-resolution DivX videos on LEGO Sumo battles. He told me that they have an Annual LEGO Sumo Championship in their company (for three years now) and have been recording and broadcasting the event this time.

There's a great video on many NXT bots (and a terrific RCX one) fighting against each other.

Do not miss that!
Absolutely hilarious!

Feb 1, 2007

Update to MindSqualls

Received the following from Niels:

I've just updated the MindSqualls API to version 1.1. It now supports the new Color sensor from HiTechnic. Other than that there are many small improvements, as well as minor bugfixes, e.g. it is now possible to read the TachoCount of a motor.

MindSqualls is written entirely in C# but can of cause be used with any .Net programming language.At least two people has successfully ported it to the Compact Framework, enabling them to use it on a PDA (Pocket PC). That one should be hopefully implemented "officially" in the next version of the API.

MindSquals can be downloaded at www.mindsqualls.net

Philo - MDP/MCP member bio

Our friend Philo has recently gotten some attention over at NXTLOG with some of his latest submissions. Take a look at them here. The Remote Control is outstanding, Philo!

The "Missing" NXT Education Resource Set?

Back in fall 2006, I posted a query on this blog about the "missing" Education Resource Set from Lego.

The kit was available in the US for a few weeks last fall, but has been "temporarily" out of stock for five months at legoeducation.com.

The kit is now available in the UK, Spain, Australia and other countries but not in the US. Might anyone shed light on this mystery?
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