Jul 31, 2007
Geeks.com has been out of stock on the wireless camera I purchased last year and it appears that model has been discontinued. But the good news is it appears they have a replacement for about $5.00US more than I paid for mine.
Take a look here for details. It looks a little different than mine but you can almost see how easy it will be to superglue that camera mount to a Technic piece for easy connection to your robots. Still requires a 9V battery.
You can view some of my robots with the earlier version of this camera by clicking the links below:
Camera and housing: http://thenxtstep.blogspot.com/2006/10/wireless-cam-sensor-not-available.html
Wireless Control via Laptop: http://thenxtstep.blogspot.com/2006/11/running-sneeker.html
Next week, I'll be at NIWeek with various other MCP members, and we'll have the chance to sit down with LEGO and talk. Do you have questions? Well, let's hear them. Keep them short, please - but I'll collect them and share them with LEGO and see if I can't get some answers for you - similar to the last Q&A with LEGO that had some great questions, even if some of the answers were a little vague ;)
I've collected some of your (edited) questions already (see below), but feel free to post your questions as comments to this post and I'll do a follow-up when I return from NIWeek.
* Are there any new instructions coming out for Robocenter like the clock and DJ machine?
* Will Mars Expansion Pack be updated for NXT?
* When will we be able to load video on NXTLOG?
Jul 28, 2007
This video provides more detail about Chris Anderson's NXT Autopilot. (More details are in the post immediately below this one).
A web site named "DIY Drones" lists the parts, software and instructions for building Chris Anderson's "NXT Drone", the one with the pan-tilt camera mount. Details
Let us know if anyone builds one of these, and how it performs.
Jul 27, 2007
You can read the original writeup and Rob's comments here.
Jul 26, 2007
People who are doing their first steps with the NXT kit sometimes find it hard to move from traditional LEGO "studded" building to the "studless" way of building you are performing with the NXT kit (or more generally speaking, with TECHNICS parts).
Admittedly, it has some learning curve, but in my opinion, it's worth the effort: the models are much more robust and stable (which certainly is a requirement for robots and, as far as I know, was one of the major reasons why LEGO decided to switch to studless design), it allows for more different angles of the parts, you can bridge larger spaces with less parts (putting one brick on another just to span some room was sometimes pretty tedious, wasn't it?), and once you are used to it, according to my experience studless building is much more effective than the ole' school way.
Brian Davis now hinted me to a great idea: if you are in search of samples for studless building techniques, why not use the immense treasure at peeron.com where LEGO has kindly put complete instruction scans of thousands of official models - in particular the scans for the TECHNICS ones might serve as great tutorials.
Thanks, Brian, for bringing that to mind (in the NXT STEP forum - another proof that it's very worthwhile to visit it)!
One of our own contributors, Jonathan Daudelin, and his team, Built on the Rock, are mentioned in the article along with their 3 perfect scores and the awards they won. The article highlights the FLL challenge but also goes on to show what students have to look forward to as they move up in age.
It's also nice to note that ROBOT magazine is giving a subscription discount to students and educators - you can read about that here.
"In this article, Brian Peek will demonstrate how to use Microsoft Robotics Studio to control the Lego Mindstorms NXT kit. A simple remote-controlled robot will be built and controlled using C# and the MSRS Visual Programming Language (VPL)."
There is also a Wii-type NXT remote tutorial one Coding4Fun.
Good luck with the Microsoft Robotics Studio!
Jul 25, 2007
Nevin Katz is a high school teacher who has taught Mindstorms robotics using his own "cartoon" curriculum. (The graphic shown is one of Katz' creations, "Dr. Birdley").
Nevin has a series of "cartoon" books teaching cell biology, atomic structure, chemical reactions and other subjects. His books can be ordered
Nevin is preparing a more extensive "cartoon curriculum" on Mindstorms robotics. If any teachers out there have thoughts on the educational goals that Nevin should pursue in teaching Mindstorms, then feel free to make comments here. Nevin will be listening!
Jul 24, 2007
You can also create your own sounds. You can convert a WAV file to an RSO file (RSO is the format the NXT needs). To do this conversion, you can use the WAV2RSO program from BrickxCC to convert between WAV and RSO formats (and back again).
You can also listen to RSO files on your computer, using rsoplay from Brickley Roscowicz Engineering.
For tips on converting WAV files to RSO (file size and sound quality are important), check out The NXT STEP forum. Here is the link to the General Forums. There are a couple of topics already about playing sounds and MP3's on your NXT.
Scott Wardlaw has created a sticker generator program for LEGO models. The program takes bitmap images and converts them into files that can be used in LDRAW and MLCAD.
The top photo is a screen shot of the program showing the bitmap image to be converted. The bottom photo is the converted file, used as a sticker on a CAD-generated model train. (Click on both images above to see more detail).
I haven't used this program; however, if it works as advertised, it'll make a nifty addition to LEGO designs.
The program download page is
Scott would appreciate any feedback you have for his program.
Jul 23, 2007
I'm not sure what LNE will end up doing next... keeping him in may end up taking a moat :-).
Jul 22, 2007
Reston Robotics Academy
July 16 – 20 , 2007
Well it was a tough week both for the campers and the instructor. There were 17 students split into 6 teams each sharing a single NXT Education Base kit. After the first day they all had unpacked, inventoried and built the Tribot. By the 4th day, they were all able to demonstrate a few missions on the Nano-Tech field for visiting parents.
Day 5 was dedicated to shooting robot videos, preparing team websites, and of course - cleanup!!!! The kids managed to break down their creations and re-inventory all parts of the NXT Edu kit.
Click here to see videos and check out their CAD designs and programs
Jul 21, 2007
Kevin's explanation summarizes recent developments at Brickshelf and the new policies in effect. Read it
Jul 20, 2007
Some days ago, I received notice by a research team of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel that is concerned with the development of a robot pet for hospitalized children. From the project's web site:
"The Anty project is an interdisciplinary research project aiming to develop a robotic friend for hospitalized children called Probo. The ANTY project will be used to accomplish three important goals concerning different areas of interest. The first and main goal is to develop and build the robot to enlighten the children’s stay in the hospital. A second goal is to use the robot as a multidisciplinary research platform for technical, medical, social and psychological studies. The third goal is to use the project to motivate students and to stimulate new technological innovation."
Not directly a NXT topic, but a nice sample for the different areas of society where robots will play their role in the future.
And another motivation that proves that - besides the fun it provides - dealing with robotics is not a vain task...
MINDSTORM Community Partners Taking Applications
MINDSTORM Community Partners (MCP) is a group of volunteers working with LEGO to develop and test "new ideas, concepts, prototypes and products". If you would be interested in volunteering as an MCP, LEGO is accepting applications. More information is here. The deadline is July 10th.
We will be offering "featured" accounts for $5/month shortly.
Jul 18, 2007
This artist uses a Mindstorms robot to create paintings on canvas. (The article isn't clear on what version of Mindstorms he uses).
The top photo is a picture of himself with his rig. The middle photo is a painting of his wife created by the robot. The bottom photo is the actual painting apparatus: a wheel of colored, wax sticks that "paint" on a heated canvas. The artist programs the robot to paint the dots in particular locations, as the apparatus moves in rows up and down the painting. The article about his work is
Could this be done with an NXT???
Code by Charles Petzold is easy to read and very entertaining, and contains a very well-plotted development of how computer programming developed over time, starting with codes and combinations, moving into binary then onto logic and switches... flip-flops, bytes, hex, assembly language all develop into microprocessors and on... the book was published in 2000 so it's not that dated. I'm re-reading it now and am glad I didn't let go of this one. Kids and adults will enjoy the simple way the book progresses and believe me - you'll learn something. This book has some very unusual ways to teach some of these topics, but you'll understand them!
The other book, which I'm certain many of you have probably read, is Hackers by Steven Levy. It's not about that element of society that likes to create viruses and malware and other mischief, but about how the computer age sort of started - back at MIT and the railroad club. Trust me, if you've never read this book, hunt a copy down and do so. It's got just a little bit of colorful language, but the history this book provides is amazing - I read this book about once every 5 or 6 years for no reason other than it's just a great book..
I know these aren't NXT-related, but I know a lot of readers are always looking to learn more... these are a good start.
The LEGO Company is teaming up with Cartoon Network and Space Camp to send 10 very lucky kids to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama! Each winner can bring a friend, and both can bring a parent, to celebrate Space Camp's 25th Anniversary of making galactic-sized dreams come true.
Winners will take part in space training, simulated team missions, rocket building, and even robotics with their friends and parents. They'll learn all about space stations and the Space Shuttle, try out astronaut food, find out how to sleep in zero-G, and much, much more!
There are 2 ways to win...
Watch Cartoon Network during the week of August 6 to find out how you could win the ultimate Space Camp experience! On Monday August 6th the Cartoon Network's "Mars Mission" homepage will also have information on how to win!
A Mars Mission teaser page at LEGO.com
Good Luck everyone! I kinda want to go myself...But me'kiddies are far too young. =(
NOTE: If someone mentioned MS Robotics Studio and C#, then this counted in both the Robotics Studio and C# counts. Some people listed multiple languages, so these got counted each time too.
The winner (by far) is NXT-G. I think this comes from the fact that the NXT-G software ships with the retail kit, and is the first programming language most people see when the use the NXT.
- NXT-G - 15
- NXC - 5
- C# - 3
- leJOS - 3
- RobotC - 3
- Labview - 2
- MS Robotics Studio - 2
- Mindsqualls - 1
- NXT Python - 1
- pbLua - 1
- Robolab - 1
- Roborealm - 1
- CindyScript - 1
UPDATE: Ulli posted a link in the comments to the CindyScript language and and example of how it's used with the NXT. Thanx Ulli!
Jul 17, 2007
Well, it looks like there is both good and bad news on Brickshelf. I still don't know why it is closing, but it seems more certain: the site has opened with a somewhat more informative message stating
Please save your files to your computer."
So it looks like one of my favorite LEGO sources, a place where more than a decade of wonderful building has been cataloged, and the only source of some of these images on the net (from folks who have left the hobby for one reason or another) is soon to be no more. The slightly good news is you have a final chance to grab at least the stuff you already know where it is... before it is sadly gone forever. Gallery contains 1,907,738 files in 197,568 folders as of 16 Jul 2007, 3:28 PM... a really terrible loss.
I'm not sure where I'll move for my on-line image hosting. some have suggested Maj.com, but given this rather sudden departure of Brickshelf, I'm not sure I'm confortable with that route at this time. Flickr? Others?
Update, 4:07 PM: there is a bulk backup utility, developed by Bob Kojima, that you can use to download and save Brickshelf galleries. BZPower is hosting it currently, and you can download it here:
Note that it can be configured to pause between downloads, and also I believe can be scheduled to download at certain times. Please, if you use this, put a couple of seconds in the "seconds between" field so that the server is not swamped by a thousand simultaneous requests. Thanks to Bob for writing this, BZPower for hosting it, and Brickshelf for giving the community this window... as well as many many years of wonderful service!
(who now has to figure out how to patch hundreds of links in this blog, other forums, etc. But I'm certainly not alone on that count).
Jul 16, 2007
The book is a primer on programming in general, not just the NXT-G language. The first three chapters explain what programming is and how to construct a basic program.
The rest of the book is a detailed explanation of NXT-G. Each of the basic NXT-G blocks is covered, as well as data hubs, variables and "My Blocks". Lesser-known blocks are covered as well, like the "Keep Alive" block, the "Reset Motor" block and the "Send Message" block.
The configuration panels of NXT-G are covered in detail, with special attention given to sensors. The book also covers math basics, x/y coordinates and sounds in NXT-G.
There is no book on the market like this one. No other source provides the depth of understanding of NXT-G that this book does. Beginners will learn much, and advanced users will learn something new.
Those new to programming and/or NXT-G can do no better than to start with this book.
Indefatigable John Hansen has released a new beta version of NXC, his free C-like language for the NXT. It's 1.0.1b31, and according to the release news, it contains not only a lot of fixes, but also an enhanced parser and enhancements for safe threading.
One of the particularities of NXC is the fact that though it runs on the brick itself, you do not need a separate firmware - it uses the original LEGO NXT firmware.
There's also a new relase available of the associated IDE BrickCC that supports also NXC.
Check it out and provide feedback.
The guys from leJOS NXJ, the Open Source Java platform for the NXT, have published the new 0.3 release. From the release news:
"This new version has many new features including storing programs and data to flash memory, a menu system, a file system, and an explorer that runs on your computer."Sounds promising! Give it a try (I'll decidedly do!) and post your feedback here.
Jul 15, 2007
If Brickshelf comes back, I'll be very, very happy... and if it is gone for good, I'll be very sad for the loss of a cornerstone of the on-line LEGO community. But I'll still be thankful for what we had, for a little while.
On a more proactive note, I'd like to request two things. First, if anybody actually stored all the screenshots that were in my "code snippets" folder, I'd love to hear from you to try to get copies (sadly these screenshots were things I did not have completely backed up). Second, I'm curious where you host your own LEGO images. Brickshelf was unique, to my knowledge, in that you could store text, video, still images, and LDraw files (again, many of which may simply be lost forever). Better yet, it was moderated (a tough job!), so we could link kids to it fairly confidently. Does anyone know of a similar service that offers all of those things? Or if not, what do you suggest?
Update: it seems Brickshelf may be still up, but migrating to a secure site. At least some people have been able to access it via https://www.brickshelf.com/ (note the "s" in https there).
Jul 13, 2007
The instructions can be found here:
- In Adobe Reader (.pdf format) (2.3 MB)
- In Microsoft Word (.doc format) (4 MB)
Maybe you want to give Google SketchUp a try now you have seen this.
The following models were created using Google's Sketchup software:
Check out some NXT parts at:
LEGO NXT Mindstorms Components
If anyone gives the Sketchup app a go, let us know what you think!
Not sure how many of our readers will have received this newsletter, so I'm including a link for those interested in Dean Kamen's comments about FLL 2007 and other topics.
(You can also subsribe to the newsletter from the link below.)
Click here to read.
Jul 12, 2007
Now that the team has been nominated, they compete with four other nominees for the most votes to become the winner of the award. This is no easy thing to get - the other nominees are big, well known associations. Last year's winner was a World famous soccer team. So RISBotics is asking everyone to vote for them, which you can do by going to the competition website, here. Select "RISBotics", enter your name and e-mail, and click "stem" (which I suppose is the Dutch word for vote). They estimate that they need about 10,000 votes to win, so let's give them some support!
Jul 11, 2007
The question I have... is what is YOUR favorite programming language for the NXT? And why?
- leJOS NXJ
Lego Digital Designer with NXT parts...
From the news: "The latest release of LDD has all the LEGO elements found in the MINDSTORMS NXT set #8527 so you can build robotic inventions in 3-D. Also included are three sample MINDSTORMS models to help get you started. They are exclusive attachments you can add to Tribot, and they can only be found on this version of LDD."
Please be aware that the installer for the Mac version is having some issues and is being worked on...
UPDATE: Here is a link to download a 5MB Word document containing a simple walkthrough/tutorial for using LDD and some of the basic controls. I may add more details to it, so please let me know what you think should be added. Thanks. - Jim
Jul 10, 2007
Ah, for some reasons I'm fascinated by re-doing treasures from mankind's heritage...
I am very impressed with the robots these kids created. Each day they listened to part of the storyline and then went about brainstorming how best to solve that day's challenge. The 3-dimensional aspect of it, complete with "stones" and Mayan glyphs, made it very entertaining, too.
I appreciate Christine keeping us informed on the project and I really hope the kids had a lot of fun. If you are a teacher or coach and are considering something like this, drop over to Christine's site for some ideas. And if you do a project based on The Mayan Adventure, please do email me and let me know.
Jul 9, 2007
Jul 8, 2007
For those of you not familiar with Karl's earlier designs, you can also view them by selecting them from the right side of the screen on the above link.
Jul 7, 2007
Each day the participants have tackled one of the five robots from the book. Pictures are included that show some VERY unique robots that have been created (and not copies of the robots from the book).
I am honored that Christine chose to take the story/setting from my book and turn it into a real-life adventure for some very lucky kids!
This kit includes:
Contains more than 1600 elements, including:
- 3 gear motors
- 1 micro motor
- 4 light bricks
- 3 light sensors
- 4 touch sensors
- 14 wires (including two really long ones)
- 5 full-color building instructions
This also includes the storage kits (as seen in the picture). It's a good way to increase the number of RCX pieces and stock building parts, all in a handy storage unit.
And, since it is Clearance, the sale is "while supplies last".
Jul 6, 2007
now that my book is available finally now, you might be interested to inspect some small excerpts from it to find out if it might be of interest for you:
this book is structured
- Sample for the historical
background of a model
- Sample for programming instructions
- Sample for the introduction of a programming
Note also that the links to the excerpts can be found permanently on the book sidebar on the right hand of this blog.
Looking forward to your feedback,
If you would be interested in volunteering as an MCP, LEGO is accepting applications. More information is
Jul 5, 2007
Ralph Hempel has made available a description how to connect to NXT's ultrasonic sensor with pbLua.
Methinks that pbLua has gradually matured into a state where you reasonably might use it for programming real and complex NXT robots.
Jul 4, 2007
Jul 3, 2007
Readers of this blog know that Ralph Hempel has been developing a very nice language called pbLua for the NXT based on Lua, and he recently put up a very nice page on using Bluetooth within pbLua. Not only that, but as the demonstration he networks the NXT with a Navibe GB735 GPS receiver so that the Lat/Long information can be parsed by the NXT and displayed on the LCD screen:
Using a Bluetooth GPS with pbLua
This is actually something that opens up a variety of outdoor options, such as the SRS Magellan event to LEGO robotics. To my mind this is a major accomplishment (I mean besides the fact that pbLua is small and very fast), and allows some significant flexibility to be incorperated into your "sensors" (in that now some off-the-shelf BT devices can be incorperated with no external wiring or modification required). Thank you Ralph!
PS- the avalible version is now Beta 13c, released today. If you've been using pbLua, upgrade - there are some significant improvements.
Jul 2, 2007
Jul 1, 2007
Despite these wheels being in the education kit, the retail kit and the education resource set, I don't see them used in many models. That could be because I don't get out much, or it could be that their slipperiness makes them less suitable than conventional gears. (I used them in pairs while building Alpha Rex, but the knobs kept disengaging from each other).
Knob wheels provide more surface contact than a regular gear, hence more torque (theoretically). But I haven't seen many around.
Can anyone point us to models on the web or in NXTlog that use these wheels? They look too good to just lie in the box.
The laptop's gravity sensor plus Cinderella software enable it to serve as a remote control for the NXT.
This will sell a lot of MacBook Pros, as a result of people dropping their computers while trying this themselves. ;)
(Thanks to nxtasy.org)