Aug 31, 2007

NXT-G 1.1 free for purchase after May 7, 2007

Those of you who purchased an NXT retail kit after May 7, 2007 will be able to get the upgrade to NXT-G (version 1.1) free. The official announcement will be made soon, so keep an eye on the official MINDSTORMS webpage.

Aug 30, 2007

NXT Gray Book review

I received the NXT "Gray Book" back in early August but somehow forgot to get around to posting a review.

The Gray Book (GB) is written by Shinichiro Oba and Takuya Matsubara and is 208 pages. Since it is written in Japanese, most of the book is out of my reach in terms of readability. What I have been able to figure out is that this book focuses 50% or more of its pagecount on software - and not just NXT-G.

There does appear to be code samples from C++ and the Wav2Rso, MLCad, LDView, and nxtRICedit applications also have coverage... but again, incomprehensible to me. It's unfortunate, because I also see chapters written on using multiple Light sensors, multiple Touch sensors, Bluetooth, and a chapter that has some trigonometric coverage.

Unlike the Orange Book (OB), the GB just doesn't have much in the way or robots or mechanisms to play with. What few robots are in the pages are simplistic versions of the Tribot. But...

There is one really nice robot at the end of the book called - Betarex. Obviously a play on AlphaRex, this robot uses 2 NXT bricks, 5 motors, and a handful of multiple sensor-types. Reverse-engineering this robot would probably take an entire weekend, but it does look good (see my photo of a page from the book). The program for Betarex is written in NBC and included in the book's last chapter. From what I can tell, this robot does appear to walk, probably faster than AlphaRex and maybe with less of a shuffle.

After going over the OB, GB, and the Black Book, I still believe the OB is the best of the 3. It has some of the best (full color) images and samples of mechanisms and robots and most, if not all, would be easy to reproduce from the photographs. Not so with the GB and BB.

Idea Book supplemental information

In anticipation of the Idea Book's release, I would like to point you to a couple of resources I've created for the robot I designed for the book.

My robot is called 3DPhotoBot and it will allow you to create 3D images using a single digital camera (a standard film camera will work, but requires the extra steps of developing the images, including one in reverse).

I'm making available a tutorial on how to use the robot in both Flash and QuickTime formats. Just download the one you want and double-click it to run. Both are zipped files and are less than 2.5MB in size.

When the book is released, I would like to ask a favor from those who choose to build the robot - if you've got a 3D image that you're extremely proud of, please send me either the Left and Right images OR the red/blue anaglyph image (see the tutorial for an explanation). I'm going to have a webpage created where we can share and display these 3D images.

(The tutorials are identical, so just pick the one that works best for you.)


Aug 28, 2007

NXT-G 1.1 Reports are Coming In

Jim German over at reports that user info is coming in re: NXT-G 1.1. In a word, 1.1 appears to be "a lot faster and a lot less buggy".

Can any FLLers out there give us their own feedback?

Aug 27, 2007

Self-balancing robot...

A video of Ramin's version of a self-balancing bot using the Gyro sensor has been posted... Ramin has also offered to share the code used to create it.

Aug 26, 2007

Spike attacks NXT-T

At the Club day in Harderberg, Eric brought several nice NXT models, and an impressive fully remote tank (it even fires and auto load the soccer balls).

We had great fun when Spike attacked NXT-T, a Dino like in the new IR remote Creator set but now build form NXT parts.

More photos will follow.


Atlanta Get-Together?

I've been thinking about trying to get my Atlanta-area friends together for a half-day or full-day of robot tinkering, show-and-tell, and Q&A. Nothing official, but Martijn's post below reminded me that I had been wanting to see if there is interest.

If you are in or around the Atlanta area and would be interested, drop a comment here. I'll talk to my friendly, neighborhood LEGO Ed rep and see what we can come up with - teachers, parents, and students - everyone would be welcome.


Aug 25, 2007

LEGO(R) Club day "de Bouwsteen"

For those of you who can’t wait until Bricking Bavaria or LEGOWORLD.
Please join me in visiting the Dutch LEGO club day organized by the Bouwsteen.
It's on 25th and 26th of August (this weekend). This time the club day will be held in Harderberg (close to the German border).

There will be a large train layout and lots of other nice models on display. You can buy old and new LEGO. I will show various NXT models, even some form our upcoming book.
You are welcome and the entrance is free.


Aug 24, 2007

Bricking Bavaria 07

In autumn to come, there will be one of the most important South German LEGO(R)-related events taking place again: the Bricking Bavaria. It's on 3rd and 4th of October, and the location this time is a very Arcadian one: Unterwössen near the Chiemsee in Upper Bavaria.

Good opportunity to combine it with a short vacation trip into the Alps...

NXT-G 1.1

Reader Lee M. emailed me to let me know that NXT-G 1.1 is now listed on the LEGO Ed website.

It's listed at US$19.99 and states "available the week of August 27th" with product ID W900093.

Aug 23, 2007

Autodesk Maya: a 3D CAD tool for LEGO(R) (?)

when looking at some of the pictures from LEGO(R)'s production line, some people in the NXT STEP forum pointed out that the Billund designers obviously use Autodesk Maya as a 3D design tool for LEGO(R) models.

The discussion ensuing there revealed that that product is known as something rather professional but experience with it amongst the forum members is quite limited.

How about you? Can somebody from the community provide information here (best in the according forum topic thread, of course)?

Aug 21, 2007

LEGO(R) brick production line

Some of you might have seen that already, but it's likely that many of our readers have not found that on the official MINDSTORMS pages yet: a tour through the production line of LEGO(R) parts and models.


NI Week – the Jedi Challenge

Last year at NI Week we had an on-the-spot challenge between several teams, which was a lot of fun. This year they did this again, with some fun twists and turns. First, the table was a huge colorful structure that a group from Ohio brought (driving it overland!). With room to run four robots head-to-head (each in their own separate area), I think this greatly improved the entertainment value for the spectators (it also provided a semi-controlled “robot arena” the rest of the time, which was great fun for all), as well as making it tough to guess in advance just what the challenge would be. The robots were also more complex, with a Hitechnic color sensor facing forward and a downward facing light sensor, they were clearly able to not just line follow (but which line?!?) but identify what color object was in front of them. And perhaps most interesting, they had an elegantly designed “tweezers” on the front using the third motor, one that would close two long axles together, and then tilt back to lift whatever might be caught between them. I’m not sure who designed this mechanism, but it would have made a great example to show a lot of other folks. It not only illustrated studless construction very well, but also how to get two motions out of one motor – when the two long axles can no longer close, the now blocked gear train would then crank up at an angle, lifting whatever was in the “tweezers” (I wish I would have gotten better pictures of this… anyone?).

The actual challenge was to try to grab as many “Jedi starfighters” (barbell-shaped structures of red or blue bricks... kind of a squarish TIE fighter resting on one side) as possible within a short period of time, collecting them from a common area (the red "barbell" in the rear of this picture) and placing the red ones in one area (where the closer red “barbell” is in this photo), and the blue ones (not shown) in a nearby area, thus sorting them into two colors. We even had Leia and Yoda hosting (with a very entertaining running commentary). Teams were pairs of folks, in some cases one of the MCP paired up with a random person pulled from the audience (including kids). We had a short time to try to program our robots to drive down the entrance ramp, pick up a “fighter”, and deposit it in the “rebel base”. The picture shows what's more or less a starting set-up, but with one red "barbell" in the drop-off zone so it shows up clearly.

The results were interesting. Almost no one got line following to work well in the time allotted (my team did use line following, with some success, to find the pick-up point, but never quite got a perfect drop). Most teams ended up using dead-reckoning, which lived up to it’s name – in the short bit of time we had, it was extremely tough to get it reliably right and fast at the same time. Steve Hassenplug had the novel approach of coming down the ramp backwards, which helped some… but in the end even he didn’t quite get the reliability licked in the time allotted (although shortly after the official event, he had very good luck with his programming).

All in all, a really good time, with a lot of the crowd enjoying the event as well as watching the frantic programming.

I just wish I had gotten better documentation of the really nifty little rovers Laura was building for this challenge. I never seem to get enough pictures…

Brian Davis

New NXT blog from New Zealand

There's a new blog located at the underside of the globe ;-) : BlueToothKiwi, run by Tim from Auckland.
Check it out!

Aug 20, 2007

More FLL challenge ideas...

Tom was kind enough to send me the link showing his team talking about their FLL challenges... you can view it below.

Dominican Republic robot class

Eduardo Ventura is a professor of math and computers for children at San Juda Tadeo. He has been using my Mayan book in his class and are in the process of creating a robotics club at the school. He sent along some pictures of the group that I'm including here.

As always, we love hearing from teams - not just in the USA but from all over the world. Thanks, Eduardo, for the information and pictures and please tell your team "HELLO" from us.


Aug 18, 2007

NXTLog 3000 Winners are in

NXTLog highlighted three robots for reaching 3000 projects, and has a news release about them here.

Aug 17, 2007

Meet Eugene Tsai: LEGO "Renaissance Man"

Few, if any, people in the world have three businesses which all revolve around LEGO products. Eugene Tsai, a project management professional with an electrical engineering background from Taiwan, is one such person.

Fellow contributor Fay Rhodes and I had a chance to meet with Eugene this week and to learn about his work.

First, Eugene owns an after-school workshop for kids who want to learn more about the NXT. Eugene's students have entered robots in the World Robot Olympiad.

Second, Eugene uses LEGO bricks to teach project management to engineers and other groups:

Third, Eugene is a certified, LEGO Serious Play (LSP) facilitator, who helps companies build stronger teams and develop better business strategies by using LEGO bricks. Eugene's work with LSP has been featured in The Economist magazine:

Eugene's web site is here. Most of the site is in Chinese, but some of it is in English. We hope to be working with Eugene in the future in a variety of areas. He's an inspiring example of how one can "build a life" using LEGO.

Extra Large LEGO Storage Bins

The "Wizard of Math" Store, via, is selling these LEGO storage bins.

I contacted a company rep, who gave me more information than is listed on their Amazon web site:

1) The bins are 16.5" x 12" x 10", making them deeper than the Education Resource Set bins sold by LEGO Education.

2) Buyers must buy a minimum of six bins.

3) The bins contain no storage trays.

Obviously, this deal won't appeal to most individual LEGO users. But there may be educators or FLL teams who might benefit from these bins.

I don't have personal experience with the company that is selling these bins. Buyer feedback ratings for the company, as listed on Amazon's web site, are positive.

Aug 16, 2007

Detailed Look at FLL Challenge '08 Mat and Models

Update: pictures of two other models added (Power Plant and Trees). Also, someone commented that the yellow, future-looking, car might have to replace the red truck as one of the challenges. I also changed the picture of the Power Line model to show one possible position for it.

Some of the members of the FLL team I was on, Built On The Rock, have recently constsructed the models for this year's FLL challenge. It's fun to try to figure out what has to be done with each model. Below are pictures of the mat and models and some speculation on what the challenges are. The base. This year it's located at the center of the map on the south side (bottom). This is an interesting twist, since it puts the robot closer to a lot of the models when it starts. Also, as you can see in the picture, there are little colored dashes on the sides of the base. It seems they're for helping teams align their robots accurately - definitely a nice addition.This house and truck were nicely designed. The truck is not dual-locked down, so it seems like the robots will have to move it somewhere. I can't see any markings that show where, though. The house , is dual-locked down, but a "solar panel" on top is not attached to it (see picture below), so it seems like the robots will have to put the solar panel on the house. We'll probably see some interesting and unique solutions to this challenge, since there are many different ways to tackle it. This is the solar panel when it's off the house.This model pretty much has us stumped. It appears to be a future car, but we can't figure out where it's supposed to go or what the robots are supposed to do with it. It's pictured here in a parking lot... perhaps the robot has to deliver the car to it.One of the challenges with this model is clear - a lever has to be pulled to release three barrels. The other part has something to do with 8 other barrels. There's no markings on the map that show where they go, but I'm guessing they're probably the bonus objects.

The two-team challenge appears to be a model of a satellite. It looks like it might combine a race between two teams and cooperation as well. The first team to push their lever knocks down one of the solar panels, and makes a radar dish on top of the satelllite lean towards their side. When the other team presses their side, the other solar panel falls down. Mabey both teams get points if both solar panels are down, and the team whose side the radar dish points to gets a certain number of bonus points. See pictures below for demonstrations of the model being activated.

This model is titled "dam flood". The "flood" can be removed from the dam, but we aren't sure what needs to be done with it.
This is a model of some power lines. There are no marks for daul-locking or placing it, although as you can see in the picture, a section of a sidewalk lines up with the power line base perfectly, so it might go there. Since it isn't dual-locked, it seems like the robot has to move it somewhere. Judging from the theme of the challenge, the robot might have to take it away from somewhere and bring it back to base. Two models of wind-powered generators. There's no markings for their placement either, so we don't know what to do with them at this point.
This model is called a Power Plant. There doesn't seem to be anything on it that robots would manipulate (although one of the team members suggested that perhaps the robots had to knock the smokestack down :-)), so I'm guessing the robots might have to move something in the square formed by the roads around the Plant.

This model is straightforward... a train car is held at the top of a ramped track. When a lever is pushed, the car is released and runs down to the bottom of the track. There are some loose bricks in the car which can fall out when it reaches the bottom, so maybe there will be something about that in the challenge as well.

These two sets of models seem to have the same challenge, but it's hard to tell what that challenge is. Right now I'm thinking the red tower has to be removed from the "field" on the mat, or maybe just moved anywhere. Although the challenge could just as well be to remove the two non-red towers.

The pieces also included these four trees... any ideas for a challenge with these? Bonus objects?

Anyway, that's all of them - makes for a long post, doesn't it? :P


Details on Chapters in Idea Book

Okay, so here's the latest cover image for the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Idea Book from No Starch Press. The book is almost here and we, the contributors, are very proud of it. I'm also attaching a link that will allow you to download the Table of Contents which contains a detailed breakdown of what each chapter covers. Take this and add it to the short chapter summaries below, and I hope you'll see why we're so proud of this book.

My own personal opinion - the chapter on Bluetooth, the appendix on CAD installation, and the Design chapter are worth the price of the book alone. And wait until you see the CAD building instructions - IMO they are some of the best CAD renderings around and many of us think they will set a new standard for the publishing industry :)

We hope you like the book - the sheer amount of work that went into creating it is unbelievable and the team is to be congratulated. We feel very honored to be able to add yet another piece to the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT community and hope to do more in the near future.


link to download the Table of Contents PDF file

Book Chapter/Appendix Summaries:

Foreward - Chris Anderson, Chief Editor of WIRED magazine. We've posted information on this blog about his special project, the LEGO-controlled UAV.

Introduction - standard stuff, really.

Part I - Beyond the Basics
Chapter 1 - LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT system - written by Jonathan Daudelin and covers the 2 MINDSTORMS systems (RIS and NXT), parts, electronics, etc. If you're a kid, this is a great chapter to let your parents read... if you're a parent, this is a great chapter to help you get your kids excited about what they can do with the kits.

Chapter 2 - Grammar of NXT - Brian Davis wrote this chapter, and if you really want to gain a better understanding of the software, NXT-G, works, this is your chapter. He covers MyBlocks, loops, switches, wires, and more. Even if you're experienced with NXT-G,
it's a great chapter to read because of the commentary included.

Chapter 3 - NXT-G Problems and Solutions - and the follow-up chapter, also written by Brian, is a great little summary of some of the more common problems beginners (and advanced users) find with NXT-G. Pay special attention to his discussion on variables - a great little discussion.

Chapter 4 - Debugging - written by me, Jim Kelly, I realized early on that the debugging ability of NXT-G was limited, but there are workarounds. I show you how to use some of the programming blocks as troubleshooting tools (WAIT, SOUND, DISPLAY blocks) as well as
discuss the value of proper commenting in a program.

Chapter 5 - Making sense of sensors - Fay Rhodes and Jonathan Daudelin co-authored this chapter, and it's a nice discussion of the included sensors and their configuration panels. Also
discussed are the WAIT and SWITCH block variations of the sensor configuration panels. There's also a nice table showing all the data plug symbols and their data type (number, logic, text) along with an easy-to-follow summary of how they are used.

chapter 6 - Design - Lou Morris has written one very thorough chapter on Design Theory. This is a "must read" chapter and has some great stuff in it on how to start planning, testing, and
developing a robot from beta to final version (design cycle). He includes some worksheets, too.

Chapter 7 - Bluetooth on NXT - Another chapter by Brian Davis,this is THE CHAPTER TO READ if you are confused or having trouble with Bluetooth or just want to understand more about how it works. Bluetooth seems to give people a lot of trouble, but this chapter
will clear all that up.

Chapter 8 - Remote Control - Brian's final chapter will have you creating a remote control for your robots. He gives clear instructions on how it works (be sure to the read Chapter 7 on
Bluetooth) and discusses the sometimes confusing READ MESSAGE and SEND MESSAGE blocks.

Part II - The Robots
Chapter 9 - RaSPy - The robot that sort of started the collaboration idea for our book. RaSPy plays rock-scissors-paper and every robot chapter, including this one, comes with complete
building and programming instructions that are easy to follow, easy on the eyes, and easy to understand with good commentary. This chapter was created by Jim Kelly, Matthias Paul scholz, and Brian Davis.

Chapter 10 - Beach Buggy Chair - based on a real-life product, Fay and Rick Rhodes have provided you with the plans to build a robot that will get moving over some sandy terrain.

Chapter 11 - 3D PhotoBot - I created this robot to show you how easy it is to create some 3D images. This chapter not only shows you the robot's plans, but shows you how to manipulate the photos it takes so you can see things in 3 dimensions. It works - no kidding!

Chapter 12 - CraneBot - seen on the cover of the book, Martijn Boogaarts has provided plans for one of the most interesting and complex robots in the book. If you follow the plans, though, you can build and program this thing with no problems. It's amazing to see when it's completed.

Chapter 13 - Slot Machine - Matthias Paul Scholz has provided very detailed plans for the only robot in the book that requires an additional NXT kit. But if you have access to a friends NXT kit or a second kit at school, this is one project to try. Take your time building it and it will work like a charm.

Chapter 14 - BenderBot - created by Christopher Smith, this little bot will have you making your own music (of sorts). The best part is how easy you'll find to modify this robot to do your own twists on sounds.

Chapter 15 - ScanBot - Jonathan Daudelin has provided plans for building another fairly complex robot that can scan in an image (small drawing or other sketch) and recreate it on the screen. A fun robot to play with, but you'll also learn a LOT about programming from Jonathan's project.

Chapter 16 - Marty: Performance Art Robot - created by Rob Torok, you are not going to believe some of the complex drawings this robot can handle. Rob includes plenty of photos of actual drawings that Marty can do, and you'll find this robot also fun to modify.

Appendix A - Differences between Retail and Education kits - Jonathan has created a nice comparison here for those needing more detail on the differences and why one might favor one kit over another.

Appendix B - This is another one of those "MUST READ" sections of the book. Christopher Smith has created a tutorial/walkthrough for installing the CAD programs that were used to create the building instructions used in this book. If you want to create BIs like the ones you see in the book, this is your starting place. Chris has done an excellent job in clearing up some of the confusion and complications involved in getting CAD installed and working properly.

Aug 15, 2007

NXTLogger: a BT Datalogger

Guy Ziv over at NXTasy has written a nifty little utility called NXTLogger that will allow the NXT to dump data from an NXT-G program directly to a nearby PC using the BT link. I've had a lot of fun datalogging with the NXT, but I've done everything on-brick: not having Guy's skills, I'd not tried this approach. But it looks like it works great - I've been corresponding with him on this a little, and I'm anxious to see what others think of this. In addition to several advantages Guy mentions in his post, there's at least one other I think folks will like: In an educational environment, the very rapid upload and analysis will be nice to have, when every moment counts in a classroom setting. This is a beta version, but he tends to write some very stable applications in my experience, so please give it a try... and let us know what you think, what your experiences are, and what improvements or modifications you think would be handy.

Brian Davis

Thoughts on NI Week...

A lot happened at NI Week. A *lot*. But before blogging about all the amazing NXT-G, LabVIEW, and LEGO stuff that went on, I wanted to ramble just a bit on the context. If you want the quick-scoop on pictures, I have them up now on Brickshelf.

NI Week is a professional developers conference: Upstairs are folks discussing detailed high-power presentations on how to very rapidly control complex, high-precision equipment, or stream Gb of data into a hard drive per second, or how to use LabVIEW for real-time control of a complex factory, new tricks with FGPAs, etc. Below on the expo floor are hundreds of booths for vendors, selling extremely high-powered (and high-price-tag!) interfaces, vision system, mechanical solutions, sensors, etc. Linking all this together is an underlying framework of LaVIEW for control and feedback.

So why were we invited in to play with a child’s toy, and even giving presentations? One of the things NI has made very clear over the last two years is that they intend to support MINDSTORMS through NXT-G and LabVIEW, and it’s wonderful watching that continue. Not only was the product still prominent in things like the keynote presentations, but it seem very clear that NI looks at this as a way to introduce young users to graphical languages, and as a step towards LabVIEW… for which I think NXT-G is very well suited. Continuing support from NI is something that isn’t just a pipe dream – it really seems to be happening and even growing, as us being invited to NI Week (and the attendance at our session) shows.

On a more personal note, being primarily a stay-at-home Dad who plays with LEGO, NI Week can be as overwhelming as attending a grand opening of a Hollywood movie. I fear there were times I was just standing around somewhat slack-jawed at the things around us: robots far more powerful & robustly built, and being wined and dined at places like the Oasis outside of Austin, etc. But let me get a few important notes down now, while they are semi-fresh on my mind:

• If you ignore your email for four days in the MCP, you will easily acquire more than 300 messages (that’s not spam – it’s just the MCP is really that active).

• A common LEGO practice is business meetings that start after dinner, and run until 1:30 AM when the restaurant/bar kicks you out by turning off the lights... And after such a late-night meeting, your brain is still far to wound up with new ideas and horizons for you to even try getting to sleep until after 2:30 AM

• There are “sheet metal” robots that can solve Rubik’s cube faster than Dave’s… but only due to computational power (& expense). Dave’s mechanism was actually significantly better in accuracy and applied resources than what I saw at NI Week in this case.

• Booths on the expo floor will give away lots of electronic “swag”… which LEGO folks will gladly snarf up, and start reverse-engineering into their ‘bots.

• Steve Hassenplug will continue to try to win a contest long after it is over and everyone else has left… and he will do it, too.

• There is no one too mature to not enjoy shooting Zamor spheres across a table at 4 balls per second. Nobody. Not one. And getting it on video is even better.

• Four special-purpose LEGO robots playing soccer are no match for three all-terrain rock-crusher style remote controlled LEGO robots. Some disassembled required (or at least enjoyed).

• The number of kids brought into the expo floor by their parents (I assume to specifically see the LEGO booth), and the number of adults that went right back to being kids the moment they encountered the LEGO booth, was inspiring.

• At this level keynotes presentations are better designed than some full theater productions. This does not mean they are immune to simple problems. And personal presentations are even less immune.

• Drink and eat at any opportunity… there may not be another one for a while :-).

• And the number one point? Remember, It’s Only A Toy. Really. :-).

Brian Davis

Aug 14, 2007

LEGO Digital Designer 2.1 Now Available

Download here.

Chris Anderson's NXT Autopilot for LEGO Digital Designer

The story and the complete LDD file are here.

"Drum Machine" Program Available for Download

Flemming Sorensen is the author of this program. It is the rhythm track featured on the August 9th blog post entitled, "NXT Concerto".

To learn how to utilize the file, consult the video. According to Flemming, all sounds used in the program come with the NXT brick.

It's an .rbt file, and it's located here .

Thank you, Flemming!

Aug 13, 2007

cball sensor

I've been given one of the new cball infrared ball sensors from QuantumTorque to play with over the last few weeks. With the RoboCup Junior QLD competition last weekend, I had a good chance to play with it and see it being used on a few other robots in the soccer comp.

The sensor itself is comprised of 8 IR photo-detectors arranged in a semi-circle which gives your robot 180 degree field of view. When switched on, the sensor takes a background reading of the infrared light before looking for the Roboball.

It can operate in two modes, direction, or direction and intensity. With just the direction mode, the sensor passes back the ID number (1-8) of the photo detector with the brightest value, or 0 if all sensors have a reading equal to the background. In direction and intensity mode, it sends back the ID of the brightest photo-detector as well as the raw value. This not only allows you to see what direction the ball is, but also how far away it is. A set of LED's on the front make debugging very easy as you can instantly see which IR detector has located the ball.

The cball is also compatible with the RCX and while I programmed it in RoboLab, they have RobotC code and NXT-G code on their website. As well as I2C, it can do serial and analog output, perfect for any robotics project.

Here is one of the schools omni-drive soccer robot with cball sensor on the front.

Damien Kee

Creating Resource Material for teachers and students

As a technical writer, I've written lots of different things for my customers - websites, catalogs, software manuals, brochures, etc. Most of the time, my customers tell me what they want and I make it. That's how the NXT-G Programming Guide came to be - some Georgia teachers asked for more information on programming with NXT-G and how to teach programming in the classroom.

Since late in 2006, I've continued to receive requests from teachers, coaches, parents, and kids for more "stuff." I get requests for a sequel to "The Mayan Adventure" and similar-style books, tutorials, How-Tos, and a few other special requests.

After a recent video-conference with some teachers and coaches in Texas, it became very apparent to me that they are really wanting more content related to NXT and they're very specific in their requests. After doing some basic research and examining some time requirements for certain items, I began discussions with a few LEGO Ed contacts and a couple of my blog contributors to figure out what could be done to help these teachers and coaches.

It's in a beta-stage right now, but I'm happy to report that a storefront is ready to go live with a few items already in there and some more being prepared for an end-of-month release. After that, monthly additions are being planned. I already have a short list of items that have been requested, but I'm certainly open to more. I can only write/create something if I know about it. So, teachers, parents, and coaches - when it comes to robot competitions and school curriculum, what can be created to help you? What is missing in the storefront that you think is critical? I'm definitely listening...

The NXT Step Storefront is an experiment. I'm trying to determine if there is a demand for well-written educational material as well as custom/special-request items. As I said, I write for a living, so right now I'm setting aside a portion of my work-hours each month to focus on this new site. If it succeeds, great - I'll continue to create new content. If it fails... well, I tried.

I'm trying to create content for both classroom and competitions. You'll find stuff being added to support FLL and Robocup Jr. teams. If you liked "The Mayan Adventure", you'll be happy to hear that similar items are being created but with smaller, more-focused activities. I was asked by one FLL coach in April to offer up some journals for team record-keeping and these are ready to go. Some How-Tos are being written right now that will cover some more advanced topics. And we've got one special workbook 95% completed that new FLL coaches and mentors will find very useful - look for it around the end of August.

If this site is to succeed, however, I do need your help. Please let teachers and coaches know that this storefront exists AND let them know that I'm interested in feedback from all of them regarding what they want. This storefront was created for educators, coaches, and parents (and, ultimately, to benefit students) so please pass the word along that it's up-and-running and I'm anxious to hear from them.

I've been blessed to have been given a chance to merge part of my job with one of my hobbies. Writing for a living has always been a goal of mine, but now I get to write stuff that focuses on LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robotics. I'm very grateful to those of you who have supported The NXT Step blog and the contributors and I hope you'll keep providing us feedback.

The NXT Step Storefront

Jim Kelly

Aug 12, 2007

Some NXT battle/rescue videos from NIWeek 2007

And another:

And another:

And one more:

All videos were taken using the new wireless camera mentioned in this earlier post. I was able to record the video using ULEAD VideoStudio 9.0 and converted AVI to MPEGs.

In a few videos, you're watching the robot rescue "Tie-Fighters" (I think) in a Star Wars mission. The field was setup to perform various tasks using the Star Wars storyline and the field was designed with that look and feel. In other videos, you're just watching Brian Davis and Brian Bonahoom fight it out, shooter vs. tank.

Aug 11, 2007

NXT Floating Insect Terminator for Swimming Pools

This NXT paddles around in a swimming pool, detects insects floating on the water, then zaps them with insecticide. The project is incredibly well-documented here.

There are eco-friendly and child-friendly insecticides on the market. (I hope this NXT is using such a product).

NI Week '07 - Part 1 of ?

As some of you have noticed, Jim, Chris, myself (and a whole lot of other people) attended NI Week '07, the showcase event for National Instruments... and, a year after the NXT launch, still one of the places to see the MINDSTORMS NXT in action and going well beyond the limits. As Jim said, we're all still trying to catch up on our sleep (and in my case mow the over-long grass... how can I get the NXT to do that...), but it was a wild and wonderful three days.

For those who haven't heard, NI developed NXT-G... and has continued to do so, opening up a lot more power over time (and those times are not over I think). True to form the NI wizards had some amazing technology demonstrations of their own, including two-on-two human-vs-robot robo-soccer based on the NXT and a computer-driven vision system, a robot you could control by playing pan pipes or even singing at it (very cool... I'll have to ask what happens if you sing the five notes from Close Encounters, I didn't try it at the time). Being a high-tech expo, we learned about a lot of nifty stuff from NI and related folks (some LEGO related, some not... but all useful). Want a 3 Tb (no that's not a misprint) drive that can stream data at ridiculous speeds? Watch the NI wizards turn it into the Godzilla version of TiVo :-).

Outside of NI, a group from Ohio State (I think?) brought the challenge table, an amazing display in itself, which we used for our challenge and they demoed on throughout the event (and since they had to truck it personally to the event, my "long-range driving hat" is off to them). We learned about things up-and-coming from NI (LEGO and non-LEGO related), HiTechnic, and of course LEGO. We even got to sit down to lunch with Chris Anderson, and talk about what's up next on the "personal UAV" horizon (he's done some amazing things, and the horizons just keep expanding for this project). Some of the other keynote speakers did things like build autonomous humanoid robots that play soccer (again, amazingly impressive).

On the LEGO front, we talked a lot with Steven Canvin and others from LEGO about the past, present, and future of the product, and gave him lots of suggestions and question (some from this blog), mostly over very long, late meetings, that I wish could have gone longer (after sleeping, anyway). And Steve from HiTechnic also showed us a lot of fun things and toys.

The three of us will post more over time on this - there's a lot to get out, so give us time. And if any of our readers have heard (or attended!) NI Week, we'd love to hear about it - it was a fantastic event for everyone (LEGO or other high-tech). And it's nice to see Alpha Rex on a PPT slide right next to the CERN Supercollider, both being run by essentially the same software (LabVIEW... I don't think CERN uses NXT-G yet ;-). I'll just leave you with a final picture that shows most (not all - I've got photos of Jim too) of the happy group (how many do you know?):

Brian "sleep deprived but happy" Davis
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