Apr 28, 2007
Some information about myself: I work as a research engineer in the Mechanical Engineering Dept. at University of Saskatchewan in Canada. I have been a fan of LEGO and robotics most of my life (got my first LEGO set at 4 yrs old), and am currently looking at using Mindstorms and Technic to enhance our university's curriculum. In my spare time, I enjoy building robots and mechanisms out of LEGO. I am interested in design, not just engineering.
I hope to bring contributions to this blog that will stir interest. I encourage you to see Jim Kelly's posting below titled: "Pursuing the Camera subject..." for my initial contribution, and I invite your comments there. We are all making the NXT into more than it was ever imagined to be.
The LEGO Co. had an interesting response to the LEGO camera question Jim Kelly asked them at the FLL World Festival:
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’?
Reading between the lines, it seems the LEGO Co. is looking for a convincing argument(s) to create a new camera.
We could help the LEGO Co. by providing them some useful information for the development of a new LEGO camera. (Once all the comments are received, they will be forwarded to the LEGO Co.).
Please comment what improvements you would make to the original LEGO camera and its software, and how much you would be willing to pay for the new LEGO camera. Also, “what would you really want to do with a ‘camera sensor’?”
I agree with Kirk wanting to pursue this, so if you've got something to add regarding the camera, please do so here... Kirk and I will try to forward this information back to LEGO in 2-3 weeks and see what they say.
NXTOffRoad at Workhttp://www.mindstormsforum.de/bilder/details.php?image_id=138&sid=2ae1c901bfebaff175e1d[url]9a73e9e5d0b
Developerversion with MCUhttp://www.mindstormsforum.de/bilder/details.php?image_id=141&sid=2ae1c901bfebaff175e1d9a73e9e5d0b
Cableconverter for extensions (MCU-Board for SD-Card, Camera, Motors andadditional IO-Ports)http://www.mindstormsforum.de/bilder/details.php?image_id=142&sid=2ae1c901bfebaff175e1d9a73e9e5d0b
If your Light Sensor isn’t working properly, try recalibrating it, or setting the calibration back to the defaults. I recently mis-calibrated my light sensor, and spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out why it wasn’t working. It only registered a range of about 10. So everything was coming out wrong on the readings.I figured it out finally. I had messed up the calibration.
Once I reset the light sensor calibration, everything started working as expected again.
I was recently playing with the T-56 Robotic Arm (from the Mindstorms Kit). My son (he's 5) built about 65% of the robot.
We created the default program… it grabs a ball, and if it is red, it turns and drops it on the ground. If it is blue, it puts the ball back on the stand.
My son wanted to try some other colors with it. So we started with the Red and Blue ball, and added a Green ball, a Yellow ball and an
On to the Adventure!
TIP: Check your light source first, since different amounts of light will give you a different reading.
If possible, try and use colors that are farther apart on the color spectrum. Close colors often have a close light value, and even that can vary slightly if your object is moving or the reading is not taken in the same light every time.
We used the colored balls and came up with the following readings:
- Blue = 21
- Red = 57
- Green = 47
- Yellow = 60
- Orange = 53
As you can see, many of the colors are close in their readings on the NXT Light Sensor. This makes determining the colors a bit tricky. Furthermore, the NXT Light Sensor uses a red LED to illuminate the object when it takes a reading. This frequently made the yellow ball register as red. And the red ball was sometimes identified as orange.
When we finished, we used the blue, green, yellow and orange balls. The program would pick up a ball and say the color. If it was yellow, it would turn to the 2nd stand, say “Watch Out!” and drop the ball. Any other color and the arm would just say “Whoops!” and drop the ball on the original stand.
Nothing super fancy, but my son liked it. He kept running it over and over and just changing the balls.
I plan on trying a different programming environment soon. The LEGO stuff works good for the simple projects, but after 4 color choices, a couple of sound effects and moving the motors… I ran out of space on the NXT brick. :(
You can read a little writeup from LEGO on Chris Anderson from WIRED magazine and his RC Plane that he's converting into a drone using Mindstorms NXT. As you can see, he's getting a lot of attention and a lot of people are waiting and watching to see what happens next...
Do you know someone who's got an interesting project that deserves some attention? Let us know... these kinds of projects are great and we want to encourage more.
Apr 27, 2007
Brandeis University recently published the results of an independent study in which they investigated the impact participation in FIRST Robotics Competitions has on later education and career choices. They found that, compared to non-FIRST students with similar backgrounds, that FIRST students are:
1) More than 3 times as likely to major specifically in engineering.
2) Roughly 10 times as likely to have had an apprenticeship, internship, or co-op job in their freshman year.
3) Significantly more likely to expect to achieve a post graduate degree.
4) More than twice as likely to expect to pursue a career in science and technology.
Nearly 4 times as likely to expect to pursue a career specifically in engineering.
Additional details on the study can be found here.
Apr 26, 2007
A Swedish site named "Smidigt" has a list of the "best ever" Mindstorm designs.
Here are their top five:
1) The "Etch-a-Sketch" NXT
2) Brian Davis' "Packbot" NXT
3) The "Segway" NXT
4) Eugene Tsai's "Gymnast" NXT
5) The RCX Auto Factory
See videos of their top five
Can anyone else point us to other NXT/Mindstorm creations that, in your opinion, should be on that list?
Apr 25, 2007
Port A Power Tap
He has the schematics up, shows you how to build it all into a cable (a bulky one, to fit the capacitor), and even shows you how to mount the LED floodlights or build a more advanced regulated version. This is a great hack! If you want to discuss it, he's posted about it to both LUGNET and NXTasy, and he's great at following both.
Being their mentor, I encouraged a more 'scientific' way of deciding by creating a chart, and this is what they came up with:
4 Wheel Drive
- Slippage occurs during turning
- Navigates more terrains smoothly
- Uses more battery power
- Capable of in place turning
- Goes straighter
- The robot has more support
- Must use gears / pulleys to transmit power but has unnecessary gear lash
- The chassis usually becomes a boxy shape
2 Wheel Drive
- Free-er turns
- It is more difficult to navigate all terrains
- Uses less battery power
- No in place turning
- More likely to drift
- Have to use a caster wheel or other means of support
- Could be directly connected to motor and not risk slop
- The chassis usually becomes a rectangular kind of shape
Both drive systems have been used successfully in the past. A good example are the two 1st Place Robot Peoformance Winners: 1221 Built on the Rock had a stable and versatile 4wd robot while 4 Mindstorms Troopers had a simple and speedy 2wd drive robot.
We would also like to ask you to contribute to our comparison. So comment away!
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…
"I am coach for team #6340 "NXT Generation" from Denmark. Our team came in 3rd in the robot performance. Our team was able to run 2 x 400 point. During the last run our robot had a small hick-up at the stain resistant fabric challange where it unfortunately lost 31 points. Anyway our team returned from a great FLL World Festival with a 3rd place robot performance award. I linked to the Mindstorm Troopers home page and saw their robot performance video and thought your readers might want to also watch our team's robot performance.
You can read more about our team on http://www.nxtgeneration.dk/. The site is in Danish as well as in English (Press the English flag). Here you can also find videos of our robot performance, including Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen who is watching our team at the World Festival. You can also read more about our robot on the http://mindstorms.lego.com/NXTLOG/default.aspx (see under NEWS and FLL tag) "
Thank you, Ejner, for the update. And please tell YOUR team that OUR team says "Good job!"
This sensor detects objects at an oblique angle to your robot, instead of just objects located straight ahead.
How many times has your NXT run into the wall because it was approaching it from an indirect angle? (Too many times, I know). This sensor aims to correct that.
The sensor is reasonably priced, too. From
Apr 24, 2007
"The other thing we did this weekend is start integrating the Bluetooth GPS receiever. We're using a Holux GPSSlim236, which a lovely (and tiny) piece of gear, but it's going to take a bit more software work to get the Mindstorms NXT brick to read data from it properly."
There has been much talk of integrating GPS with NXT on various forum/user group sites, so those of you interested in this topic might want to keep an eye on this site for more information. And if you think you may have something that could help Chris, shoot him a comment (near the bottom of his post) - it appears it is getting the software working that is the next hurdle.
Above is a close-up of Chris Anderson's Lego camera gimbal, to be used on his R/C plane with an NXT autopilot. (Scroll down to yesterday's post for more information).
Click on the above photo to see more detail of the gimbal.
Thanks, Chris, for sending this along.
Our NXT robot, the RT1200, is designed for reliability and durability. Its streamlined differential-drive steering system avoids unnecessary friction points and gear interactions. There are only two drive wheels, each independently controlled by a motor. There is one drive wheel on each side of the frame, located about ¾ of the way towards the rear of the robot to achieve the right balance. The front of the robot is supported by two non-powered skid wheels. The motors of the RT1200 are directly connected to the drive wheels with no gear interactions. This not only minimizes friction and eliminates gear slack, but it also gives us the speed to be able to accomplish all of the missions in time. The RT1200 is based off of our winning RCX base from last year. It was hard to transfer our proven design into NXT, and we went through dozens of alternatives before arriving at the RT1200 base design. The base incorporates a unique frame system designed not only to add structural strength but also to allow the attachment of a variety of mission-specific implements such as bumpers and wedges to the robot base itself. To fit all of the necessary NXT components into our compact frame, we secured the drive motors under the NXT brick at a 45 degree angle to the chassis. We spent a lot of time making the base as durable and ruggedized as possible to be able to achieve the kind of reliability necessary for FLL.
You can also see videos of their robot on their Photos and Videos page.
Later on I'll post something about our team as well, so "stay tuned". :)
Chris Anderson is at it again, making a pan-tilt camera gimbal out of technic pieces and Lego servos. The gimbal is attached to his RC plane that includes an NXT autopilot.
More details about the camera gimbal are
I've asked Chris to email me some close-ups of the gimbal mechanism, which I'll post here later.
Apr 22, 2007
Back in February, Peter Hoh had an excellent blog post on Lego storage solutions.
Our own solution:
The Container Store has conventional storage boxes like the blue one pictured above, plus it has more open containers like the following:
It also sells inexpensive dividers for customizing your compartments within, like the following (sans clothing):
As always, we invite your own ideas for the best LEGO storage solutions on the planet.
Apr 21, 2007
On top of the announcement of John Hansen's book comes an announcement from Brian Bagnall of "Maximum LEGO NXT: Building Robots with Java Brains". The table of contents looks very interesting - I'll be curious to see how he got a GPS to interface, and how well NXJ functions (I've not talked to anybody who's given it a whirl... anybody use it yet?). The best thing is this is more of an announcement of the launch data - 25 Apr is right around the corner!
A little about me: I, like many of you, own both the RCX and the NXT. I got interested in Robotics when I was invited to be on my school's FLL team. I soon recieved my RCX. Since then, I have been an avid RCX user. When the NXT was announced, my intrest was renewed.
My current project is designning a robot for next year's FLL season. I am also working on a robotic arm that plays ping-pong...
When I have free time, I practice the clarinet and play ping-pong (table tennis)
I hope to provide useful posts and comments to this blog,
Apr 20, 2007
1) How did having two very different robot platforms in the event change things?
2) What special tips or tricks could you pass on for working with the NXT, NXT-G, and the newer version of Robolab?
3) Words of wisdom (or howls of complaint) to pass on to folks for nxt year, dealing with the hardware, software, or the way the contest was organized/run?
Please take a moment to pass on what you've learned (if that isn't a good goal for FLL, what is?) Just add any FLL team or coach comments into the comments section of this post - I'd love to read them! And maybe others will as well. Thanks!
Apr 19, 2007
FLL World Festival, Day 1
FLL World Festival, Day 2
PS- Can anybody find Joe Meno in one of these? And if you've not seen or browsed BrickJournal, feel free to look over some of the amazing back issues you can find at the link above.
Apr 18, 2007
LEGO - http://mindstorms.lego.com/news/default.aspx
FIRST - http://www.usfirst.org/who/content.aspx?id=5364
And those of us here at The NXT Step are keeping the victims' families and friends in our thoughts and prayers.
Apr 17, 2007
From his site:
"NXTiiMote is a remote control device based on a MindSensors acceleration sensor. You may control a vehicle through Bluetooth by tilting the remote, forward/backward and left/right. Additionally, a wheel and push button can control supplementary actions."
Block 1 tells it to move forward indefinitely. Block 2 waits for the motor to rotate a certain amount. Block 3 stops the movement. Block 4 waits .03 seconds. Block 5 gets it moving indefinitely in the opposite direction. Block 6 waits for a certain rotation amount. Block 7 stops the motor.
I replaced that code with these two blocks, each configured to rotate the motor a certain amount in one direction and stop. It worked just fine:
Why do programmers choose such convoluted ways to do something so simple? Am I missing something? Is there a reason such simplification is not desirable?
Apr 16, 2007
To my surprised, it was easy to get the NXT attached securely to payload bay. The holes in standard LEGO beams match up almost perfectly with the mounting holes on the Create. The screws pass through a hole in the LEGO beam, and into the base of the payload bay. I modified the Robo-Arm's base to fit onto the beams. Mounting a heavier and larger LEGO NXT design such as a Crane is possible. ( Stay tuned ) No drilling or cutting required, just 4 or 6 screws from the hardware store.
The NXT and the Create make a great 'out of the box' combo for remotely operated robots, however there would need to be a simple link up via Bluetooth or serial to achieve functional autonomous behaviors as a team. The Create runs C code on an Atmel microcontroller, and can send/receive serial data but not using Bluetooth. ( There is a Bluetooth Adapter Module available for the Create. )
The new sample dashboards for both the LEGO NXT and iRobot Create are available for download at http://robodna.com
Apr 15, 2007
LEGO had a booth area set up again for showing off the NXT. They had plenty of giveaways and a drawing - pins, stickers, red balls (everyone needs more of those, right?), and posters.
This year, instead of setting up their own FLL challenge table, they simply used the table as an area for kids and adults to play with some of the robots that LEGO and a few others brought to display. Steve Hassenplug brought his usual assortment, including the OmniBot and another with those great LARGE wheels (seen in the 3rd photo).
Just outside the main entry area for the practice/booth section was Scholarship Row. Although most of the FLL participants were probably too young to benefit from this, it is nice to know that colleges and universities are showing an interest in helping students with scholarships and awards for study.
I'd estimate about 20-30 colleges/universities were represented this year. It will be interesting to see if more schools show up next year.
(For some reason, Maureen brought her own escorts to FLL and required them to wear pointy red hats. They went everywhere with her...
... just kidding, Maureen.)
Soren Lund, Steven Canvin, and many others from LEGO were in attendance. Also present was Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, Chairman of LEGO. In this photo, he and Soren are controlling a couple of robots (Remote Control) and battling it out.
The folks from LEGO know how to have some fun. They were in the pits with the kids, playing and asking questions. In one of the photos, you can see Bryan Bonahoom talking with Soren and Kjeld. Steve Hassenplug was working as a technical judge, but he'd pop in here and there and talk with the kids and show off some of his designs.
Apr 14, 2007
More on FLL when I can ge to a more reliable Internet connection.