Dec 31, 2007

FLL 2008 Missions - stop-motion video

Micah E. emailed over a link to a great little video - it's a stop-motion demonstration of the various 2008 FLL missions. Check it out here.

Dec 27, 2007

LEGO PF elements now avaliable

LEGO Shop-at-Home has updated their products recently. Perhaps most interesting there are some new PF elements among them, as well as the existing PF motors but you can now buy them on a "piece by piece" basis. It seems there is also a "hybrid" PF cable, that appear to function as both a PF extenssion cable as well as a cross-over cable to the older 9V system. The grand Technic Bulldozer may not be available... but at least now all the PF parts are (they've also been added to LEGO Digital Designer for that matter. It appears I need to browse S@H more often... and after I already put in my last order, too. Oh well, perhaps I need another order... For folks wanting new sensors, there's a lot of offerings at S@H as well: the standard four (US, light, sound, & touch), but also the Acceleration, IRSeeker, IRLink, Gyro, Color, & Compass sensor.

Brian Davis

Dec 26, 2007

NXTilicious Xmas

I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas yesterday and you found lots of MINDSTORMS and LEGO stuff under the Christmas tree.

We had a fabulous Christmas day yesterday - We started the day with the kids opening their presents... and watching the kids playing with the roller skates they got for Christmas and other cool toys while we stuffed ourselves with food and wine.

The highlight of the day was giving all the kids their own NXT for Christmas: I have had enough of having a single MINDSTORMS NXT in the house shared between four people - and decided it would increase the peace and harmony in the house if every child had their own NXT.

So for Xmas each of our children got one NXT, four NXT sensors each, and a selection of motors - including TECHNIC & PF XL motors, PF standard motors, remotes and power supplies.

To top it all, we decided to have a building competition , where everyone get an hour to dream up and build a machine (with or without the NXT) and fight each other.

To make it interesting, we piled up a room full of TECHNIC pieces they can use in addition to the box full of LEGO MINDSTORMS goodies and TECHNIC pieces they got for Christmas:

The building went really well. We had one hour of peace when the three kids were busy concentrating on buildng their best creations, whilst our 11 month old baby watched them from the rocking horse she got for Christmas.

At the end of the construction, we had the contest - we used the old Sumo ring we built two weeks ago for fighting. It was really etertaining to watch the contest. Our 12 year old boy won the first price after knocking the other two off the ring. Our 7 year girl won the fastest and cutest robot price for the four motor vehicle .. and our 14 year old boy got the most amusing and ingenious robot design price with his NXT based robotic caterpult with multiple motors and a pneumatic projectile launcher..

Why not share what you did for Christmas?

In the mean time, I like to wish you all a happy new year and a prosperous 2008.

Dec 24, 2007

Alpha Santa NXT

Ho, ho, ho , merry Christmas to you all,
like Daniel said, on his site, he always knew that Santa should have been a robot…
Who else can bring gifts to all the kids, all over the world in just one night?

Happy holidays,
and a LEGO build full new year.


Dec 22, 2007

NXT version of the Bristelbot

Here is a lame attempt at a NXT version of the Bristelbot ( featured here) . It is not really a bristle chassis at all. I just wanted to see how I can achieve forward motion in the same manner.

Bye Bye 2007

To all our readers, I want to wish each of you a safe and enjoyable holiday season - Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year and more. I hope all of you had a great 2007 and I also hope 2008 will be a good year for all of you.

Thank you for your readership, your participation in discussions, comments, and the forum, and for encouragement. This blog has been an enjoyable way to meet more people who enjoy this hobby and continues to make my life more interesting. I've met some great people over the past 2 years and I'm looking forward to meeting some more.

Posts may be slow or non-existent over the next week or so - I do hope all the blog contributors take some time off and enjoy it with friends and family - I sure am!

See you in 2008!

Jim Kelly
Atlanta, GA

Austin, TX FLL coverage

Reader Joel S. wrote in about television coverage of the FLL event in Austin, TX. Below are the links he included. If your FLL event was recently covered or has pictures/video on a team website, let me know.

Coverage the evening after the event
Coverage a few weeks before the event

Dec 21, 2007

Holiday Fun: The Bristlebot

No more money to spend on NXTs? Build a Bristlebot.

FLL pictures from Cumming, GA

Pictures of the Forsythe County competition held last Saturday can be found here. (Warning: over 600 pictures!)

Scores for each of 6 rounds can be viewed for the teams here along with those teams going to state at Georgia Tech in February.

Dec 19, 2007

FLL region final Rijnmond (the Netherlands)

At the FLL region final Rijnmond in Rotterdam (the Netherlands), I was asked to demonstrate the NXT and help out as a Mindstorms Doctor. (EHBMO) (the Dutch first aid) with an extra M for Mindstorms. During the competition I noticed a few things that I think are good for all to know:

1) Use an USB cable since Bluetooth does not always work. (two teams were glad I brought some spares)
2) Use the same configuration as you practice with at school. (one team had a different laptop)
3) Bring a spare IR tower and all the software. (firmware can cause headache)
4) Prepare if possible a second RCX, incase you lose the Firmware, just before the run.
5) Make sure your model is stable and does not fall apart just before the game.
6) Ask other teams, judges and referees for help, with technical problems, like lost firmware.
At our demonstration table we (Lotte and I) showed a large Wind turbine like the small vestas models in the Power Puzzle. the Kids loved the remote controlled models, like the Cranebot, the Bulldozer and a special 3G sensor from Mindsensors to control Marty (also form our book).

The overall winners were: team 29 GLRBOTS, form Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam(dutch).

More Pictures are here


Dec 18, 2007

Some thoughts on FLL competition... Part II

Some of the comments/discussions going on in the previous post got me thinking a little more and, of course, I realized after posting it that there were some things missing. So, apologies in advance for another long post, here goes:

1. Table construction

The table I was a referee for (2 tables, actually) were not matched properly. One table was about 1/8 to 1/4" lower than the other and this caused the satellite to be angled lower on one side and higher on the other. There were quite a few teams that "missed" the trigger because there robot was designed for a perfectly horizontal surface and the trigger at a very specific height from the table's bottom. Obviously, this mismatch in table heights caused some headache, so I gave many teams the benefit of the doubt and awarded the points (and the satellite pointer) if I was able to determine they would have triggered it if the satellite had been at the correct angle (equal on both sides). The point here - inspect your table before you begin and let the referee know if you have any concerns.

2. Trays on table

We (all refs) did not allow trays to be set in the parking lot. This caused some controversy as any team that wished to use some sort of tray or box to have to hold it or sit it on the floor. Most teams just placed the correct pieces in the parking lot, but for some reason this ruling caused some irritation. If this is a key point to your team's success, discuss it with the refs before competition starts and find out the ruling. (As I understand it, trays are allowed but non-LEGO parts are NOT allowed to be set on the table - before everyone rushes in on this one, let's keep the comment to 1 or 2 AND only if you have an official answer and can provide a reference)

3. Sleep Timer

I had one or two robots turn themselves off during the waiting period before a match - this obviously caused the team problem when the match started because they thought the robot was turned on and ready to go. REMEMBER: either set your sleep timer to 30 minutes or 1 hour or off completely - you don't want to risk your robot turning off while you wait and then having to go through the power up while the clock is ticking.

4. Rescue

Find out what your referee's position is on robot rescue. If the referee or a team member touches the robot outside of base, you lose a barrel as a penalty. Find out if the referee will allow the team member to reach for the robot or if the ref prefers to do it. Most refs will allow the team member to reach for their own robot if they say they are doing so - otherwise a request to the ref for a rescue might be required. Again, ask and know the procedure.

5. Sensors... again

Yes, I forgot that every NXT team is using the rotation sensor built into a motor. But when I was talking sensors, I was specifically referring to either the Ultrasonic or Light or Touch. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Touch sensor makes a great "start" button and can replace the Orange Enter button on the front of the Brick. I saw MANY MANY teams reaching around to press the Orange button and not get their hands pulled away fast enough causing the robot to bump off course and forcing the team to grab and restart. If you've got a spare Touch sensor, mount it on top or to the side of your robot. In your program, you simply place a WAIT-TOUCH block (Orange block with the Hourglass and Touch Sensor symbols on it) and program it to wait until the Touch sensor is bumped (pressed and released)... then any remaining programming blocks in the program will begin to execute. This gives you time to pull your hand away without interfering with your robot's movement AND keeps you from having to reach around in an awkward position to push the Orange button.

6. Gears

Many teams asked about gears - they knew that gearing could give a robot more speed using certain gearing (and more power using other gearing options). This isn't the place to provide that information, but rest assured that there are plenty of places on the Internet that can show you how to use gearing with your NXT robot to give you either more speed or more pushing power.

7. Professional behavior

I cannot praise the teams I saw enough regarding their behavior at the competition. Teams were happy to be there and I saw ZERO trash-talking and/or negative comments from any teams. I think this was what made the event so successful - all the adults I spoke with that day were just smiling and laughing at how much fun the kids were having. I know it's a contest, but there was a team there that was high-fiving one another after completing ONLY the two missions they set out to complete. They weren't there to win but to show their parents/coach and everyone else that they were successful in making their robot do something over and over again. They chose to ignore the contest and focus on very specific obstacles that they decided to try and tackle. In the process, they learned some very important building and programming concepts and can apply those to future tasks.

8. Ingenuity

I think my earlier post may have misled people into thinking there was no innovation in terms of robot building. Completely untrue. Whereas sensors were missing from 95% of the robots, there were some true engineering marvels seen that day in terms of construction and execution. I saw some solutions to certain missions that I honestly NEVER would have thought of but now I have some new tricks in my bag after observing them. It never ceases to amaze me how a team can come up with a solution that no one has ever considered. I would estimate that out of the 30 robots I saw that day, about 5-10 of them had an innovative mechanism or method for solving a mission.

9. Combination Missions

Someone emailed and asked about teams performing two or more missions at a time. Yes, this did happen, but not that often. When I saw it, it was mostly the robot starting out by doing the satellite mission and then turning left or right to do one additional mission. I did see 1 team during the entire day that attempted (successfully) 3 missions in one shot (won't tell you which ones to protect that team's strategy). Given the time limit on the missions, I do think that the winning teams at International this year are going to absolutely have to combine missions in order to reduce time at base. Time in base may be only 5 or 10 seconds, but do that 5 or 6 times and you've lost 1 minute of competition time. Think about it.

10. Attachments

I believe that 90% of the teams I saw used some sort of attachment in one or more missions. By attachment, I'm talking about something easily and quickly removed at base in order to prep the robot for the next mission. There were a couple of robots that were completely stand-alone and required no additional work (they were larger in size, obviously). I even saw a few Tribots in the mix! Some teams get their kits late in the game and there is no reason to reinvent the wheel; if the Tribot works for you as a good base, go for it. It certainly is capable of holding and using attachments as the NXT-G software exercises demonstrate. Either way, the variety of attachments I saw was large - I saw cages, pincers, launchers, lances, etc. Keep in mind, though, that an attachment is only as good as it is structurally sound. If it's flimsy and comes apart easy in your hands, imagine what the satellite or house are going to do to it if they collide.


Dec 16, 2007

Some thoughts on FLL competition...

Today I had the chance to be a referee for the Forsythe Alliance competition (Forsythe County school district) held in Cumming, GA. 40 teams showed up and each team competed in 6 runs with their scores being added together for a grand total. Competition started at roughtly 9am and ended around 4pm with a 1 hour lunch in between and small breaks. All in all, it was a blast and I got to meet a lot of great kids, supportive parents, and very committed coaches and teachers. This county has really gotten behind their kids... check out more here.

Anyway, here are my overall observations and opinions, none of which are based on scientific fact or any advanced statistical calculations - mainly just guessing and memory:

1. Mission most often attempted - Satellite

The surprising part about this mission wasn't that so many teams tried for it - it was the number of teams that tried and failed! Most teams lined it up using SET (standard eyeball trajectory) and I would estimate that 1 in 3 failed. Very surprising, isn't it? It takes 10-20 seconds of your time, so you should make sure you nail it every time.

2. Mission least often attempted - Car/Truck switch

Again, not surprising considering the work needed to get the points (two conditions must be met), but what was surprising was that the teams who did attempt it (maybe 1 out of every 10) got it to work.

3. Sensors hardly used at all

I saw a total of 30 teams come through my table, but none (ZERO) used sensors for any portion of the competion. Repeat - ZERO. With all the colors on the table, black lines, and angled lines, I thought for certain that at least 1 or 2 teams would use a Light sensor to help in some navigation... maybe the Ultrasonic to detect some of the Uranium or Corn items, but not a single one. Pre-programmed movement was the name of the game.

4. No jigs/templates

Once again, I saw no teams using any kind of template or jig device to line up their robots. A few teams did use the small colored lines that go around the inner edge of the base, but not in a way that I would consider as extremely accurate. For example, one team would line the wheels of its robot up with the left-most colored lines, but they didn't line the front of the robot up with any particular line - the result was that the movement they programmed kept missing the target (Corn) because the robot wasn't placed at the proper North-South starting position (N-S-E-W is written on the table, FYI). They had to run the same program 3 times and used trial and error to get the proper starting position. This should have been determined during testing.

5. Direction sheets

I saw 4 or 5 teams with a small "instruction manual" that they had written that had things on it such as the program name to select for a certain mission, the order they wished to run the missions, etc - one even had a "failover" selection in case one mission failed, they knew which missions NOT to run that might interfere with later missions. Very well thought out. I hadn't seen this before and was surprised. In the heat of the game, these teams were very methodical and didn't panic.

6. Wheel issues

Two teams consistently ran a mission that should have worked (oil rig) but a tire had not been checked before the competition and was either off the rim or not in alignment with the other wheel, causing the robot to rotate. Both times the teams grabbed their bot (penalty oil barrel) and ran it again, same result... grabbed the bot (another penalty) and went on to another mission. Check your tires! This is such an easy fix but can cause HUGE problems.

7. Hastiness

So many teams were stressed and reacting quickly to their robot. This caused many teams to reach and grab their robot (penalty) before it entered the base. One team grabbed the robot as it just entered the base and managed to rip off a large portion of a motor and attachment assembly - they wasted 30-40 seconds fixing it and missed out on 2 missions at least. Slow down - deep breaths... yes, time is ticking away, but hastiness caused too many mistakes for me to remember.

8. Program selection

I can't tell you how many teams wasted precious seconds trying to find the proper program for a mission or combination of missions. Cycling through the program files does take time. The best team I saw that managed this properly by having one teammate finding the program while the other handled adding/removing components. Good teamwork.

9. No RCX

30 teams - all using NXT. I didn't see a single RCX. Of the 10 teams I didn't see, there might have been... not sure.

10. False starts

A few teams were penalized because they pushed the start button before the competition countdown completed. We were very strict with this because so many teams were racing for the satellite and it had to be fair. Don't push your start button until the countdown hits zero.

Biped walker - in action

I finished the biped about which I posted earlier. I added some sensors. The sound sensor was not used in this movie. With the ultrasonic sensor it avoids walls. The LED of the light sensor flashes if it turns, when it sees something. Altough it looks like it tips over, it is actually a pretty stable robot.

Patch for Leopard Now Available

Earlier we reported that NXT-G running under Mac OS 10.5 had some trouble with downloading firmware, resulting in more of the infamous "Clicking Brick Syndrome". Well, LEGO & NI have already released a patch to fix this (that was fast!). I've tested it and it seemed to work fine. If you are running NXT-G under Leopard, you're going to eventually need this patch; you can get it from the LEGO support page:

Brian "putting new spots on the Leopard" Davis

Dec 15, 2007

FLL Mission Overview - Summary

Well, this FLL season is just about at its climax: some teams have already had their tournaments, while others will have them in the following weeks. This was an interesting year, with several new features coming into play in the competition. We hope our Mission Overview posts have been helpful to teams... here are our comments on the season in general, and follwing them is a list of links to all the posts for convenience.

Jonathan's Comments:

I think the major difference in this year's challenge was that there was a larger number of missions that were relatively easier to solve. So while each individual mission was, on average, easier to solve than last year's, it was harder to get many of them done in the time limit. Apparently the challenge was made such that a perfect score would be very rare (the designer, Scott Evans, said he considered that if a team got a perfect score, they "beat" him, because he tried to make it really hard to get one), but it may well have turned out to be easier than last year.

One of the new aspects of the teams this year is the amount of NXT robots vs. RCX robots being used. Out of about 60 teams I saw in NJ, I only noticed a few that used RCX robots. This is interesting since the fairness bonus for using an RCX is quite a bit better than last year's. The NXT is definitely catching on in the FLL community.

Richard's Comments:

Though I haven't been to an official tournament, a scrimmage practice with 10 teams I recently attended had all NXT robots! And since most of these teams were new, I think the NXT is really causing people to start up teams.

I think this is one reason Scott Evans might have made it easier than claimed; he guessed that the release of the NXT would start many new teams, so making slightly simpler missions would make these new teams' first year smoother, while the complexity of other missions would still give (somewhat) a challenge to older teams.

And even though teams are scoring higher, I've noticed that robots are no longer as technical (? correct word?); many rely on dead-reckoning (even though teams like Jonathan's shows that this works just as well) and no longer use many or any sensors at all. In the days of the RCX, teams had to rely on sensors to get any accuracy at all. I think this is one area that the NXT can improve in.

So good luck to everyone, and I hope to see some of you at the World Festival in Atlanta!


-Jonathan and Richard

Using NXT-G for a Radar Display

Discussion and source code here.

Dec 14, 2007


As usually after the end of the regional finals, the FLL commitee has announced the topic of next season's FLL competition:
Climate Connections

Citing from the German FLL site:
Climate Connections - Building A Global Game Plan
The "winds of change are blowing" and with them comes FIRST LEGO League's 2008 Climate Connections Challenge! Join us as we explore why many experts believe the earth's climate is changing and how these changes impact you and our planet. The causes, contributions, and consequences are all interconnected and the experts are telling us to "think globally - act locally." People, resources, and local actions need to be united to establish a global game plan. Do FIRST LEGO League teams have what it takes to make these global Climate Connections?

Registration will start on 1st of March.

Happy Xmas from Alpha Rex and all of us here at The NXT Step

This is my last post before Xmas - and I hope you all have a safe and happy holidays. I will leave you with this excellent post on YouTube by OrganFairy from Denmark. Take it away Alpha Rex:

Happy Xmas!

Dec 13, 2007

NJ State FLL Tournament

Built On The Rock attended the New Jersey State Championship tournament on Saturday. It was an exciting event, with several teams scoring very well in the robot performance rounds. Built On The Rock achieved 1st Place Robot Performance with a perfect 400, and the Landroids, a first-year team, came close behind with a 395. The Landroids also won the Champion's award, which means they'll be going to the World Festival later this year - an amazing achievement for a new team! Built On The Rock could have gotten all perfect scores, but an unsecured mission model prevented them in the second round, and they didn't have enough time to finish the last mission in the third round because the match was started without much warning, which caused them to start several seconds late.

I noticed that teams scored significantly higher than last year, on average. Last year, the second highest score was a 298. This year, however, eleven teams got a 300 or higher! I've also heard of other states doing significanly better this year. It seems that, although the missions were intended to be harder, they've turned out to be easier. We'll probably be seeing quite a few perfect scores at the World Festival this year.

The other thing I noticed at the tournament is that the increased number of rules and complications seemed to be causing trouble with scoring. In our first round (when they got a perfect score), the referee scored at least half of the missions incorrectly!

You can read more about the tournament and see pictures and videos at


Designing a Sumo robot with LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT

Beginners Guide to NXT Sumo:
Robot sumo is one of the fastest growing sports around. Now if you own a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT, you can join in as well.

If you still don't feel the urge to get down to designing your own Sumo robot that is going to kick butt in the sumo ring against contestants all over the world, then this might help. This beginners Guide also has a video that walks you through getting your model ready for NXTLog in five simple steps.

Beginers Sumo Guide on LEGO web site.

If you checkout the five step video, you would notice a small clip of a Sumo robot in action with another robot. If you want to see the complete battle, check out this YouTube video:

And you still have a few days left if you have not started your Sumo robot. Good luck!

Particle filter with NXT

My old boss, Dr Gordon Wyeth from the University of Queensland has implemented a 100 point particle filter onboard the NXT.

Basically the particle filter realizes that you won't have perfect odometery readings all the time, and so uses 3 ultrasonic sensors to 'correct' errors and stay on track.

"Localisation is the process of working out where you are, so localisation for a robot is having the robot work out where it is using the readings from its own sensors. Sounds easy, but it can be surprisingly challenging. The big problem stems from the fact that the robot's wheels have to slip to make the robot move (a fact of physics), so careful measurement of the motors' rotation sensors is not going to help you. Fitting streams of range readings from ultrasound or infrared sensors has problems with noise and error, too. So, over the last decade or so, roboticists have pretty well agreed that the best way to localise is to combine the all of robot's sensor readings over time using probability theory. Sounds challenging, but it can be surprisingly easy.

I've been using a probabilistic filter called a particle filter to localise a robot built around the NXT. The other name for this style of probabilistic localisation is Monte-Carlo Localisation, so called because it relies on finding the best odds from a series of seemingly random outcomes. All of the code is written in Robot-C and runs on-board the NXT in real time. This surprised me. Particle filters are supposed to be horribly computationally intensive with lots of floating point math, so surely you can't expect it to run on a LEGO brick ... but run it did."

He gives a great explanation of particle filters along with video of it in operation.

Source code in RobotC is provided for those that want to look under the hood.

Damien Kee

"Outside" Review of NXT Idea Book

"Outside" is defined as a review that's not written by one of us. :)

By the way, the Idea Book is on a recent best seller list of programming books.

Dec 12, 2007

FLL viewed from inside

Dean Takahashi, author of the Tech talk blog and father of a member of an American FLL all-girls team, the RoboChicks (nice name, almost as good as The Smiling Noodleheads mentioned there!), has published an article that I consider very worthwhile to read, as it shows the perspective from "inside" on the way a team and the associated persons experience a day of competition on an FLL event.

Check it out!

What's new for 2008?

The fan sites have been buzzing about the upcoming Indian Jones and Speed Racer sets. Does LEGO have anything new in store for robot builders?

I'm aware of two new parts, but neither is directly related to the NXT.

Creator set 4995 will include a winch, powered by a pull-back motor. You can see it in this photo. The switch looks a lot like a touch sensor.

This is the sort of thing that one might use in a Great Ball Contraption, but I'm not sure that it will have a lot of robotics applications. Feel free to surprise me.

Brickset is showing a new Power Functions cable. It lists a 2007 release, but I haven't seen it for sale yet.

So, any rumors? Blurry photos smuggled out of the Denmark? Curious minds want to know.

Dec 11, 2007

Pin Joiner Perpendicular Part

On the theme of making use of unique parts, how have you used this part in your NXT projects? Do you find it useful? Do you wish this part become more available?

Interview with Steve Hassenplug

Steve Hassenplug talks about himself, the OMNI, and using the Compass Sensor... this video was taken at NIWeek 2007 in Austin.

Dec 10, 2007

Questions on or help for NXT books?

Recently, I received a negative rating on for my NXT-related book Advanced NXT: The da Vinci Inventions Book where the reader complained about the comprehensibility of some of the building instructions to him and his students.
Although a negative comment is something any author has to get along with, and although I do agree with him that some of those instructions have their weak points (as a result of the trade-off I was forced to make between the depth of detail and the volume of the book), I am nevertheless grieved that he never contacted me for support on that matter - in the book, I state on various occasions that every reader is welcome to contact me via my contact page and ask for help with points that are unclear to him/her, for other questions, suggestions or in general for any feedback to the book.
Like most authors of books, it is my desire that every reader should not get frustrated but make the best from the book, and hence I try to provide help or answers to any questions that I receive via the contact page (or any other channel) as soon as possible.

So I again encourage everyone of you who has bought the book but feels the need for help: please use that way of contacting me at your leisure.

Same goes for The LEGO(R) MINDSTORMS NXT Idea Book: me and my fellow authors are grateful for any hint, suggestion or question you have regarding it - you can use our forum for that (and some readers of the book have already done and received help there).

In general, that appeals to any (NXT) book around: most of the authors have spent a lot of their time, energy and heart on them and want to see their readers taking benefit of their efforts - and after all, you spent your money for a book, so why not use that option?

Thank you,

Dec 9, 2007

NXT Sumo: How to build a Sumo ring to test your robot

If you intend on entering the NXT SUMO contest, you still have more than a week to go. How good is your sumo robot?

One of the best thing you can do to see how well it will do in the ring, is to make a ring your self and see if your robot would last in the ring for five minutes with an inanimate object.

Building a ring is relatively easy: Click here for full instructions:


Dec 8, 2007

How do you use this part?

Because many of us would like to learn how to effectively use more of the parts in the NXT kit, I'm going to start by asking you, our readers and bloggers, to share how and when you would use this part---the TECHNIC Knob Wheel. If you include pictures (which I hope you will), please make them close-up shots.

Dec 7, 2007

FLL Mission Overview Part 14 - Wind Turbines

Objective: Move the wind turbines farther than directly outside of base such that they're touching a white part of the mat and are upright.

Point Worth: 30 points (15 for each scoring wind turbine)

Mission Location: n/a

Estimated Difficulty Rating: 1/10

Time Length Rating: Low

Unique Challenge Aspects: Position of wind turbines can affect the score of another mission (Grid Connection)

This is the last mission post... how many of you teams out there have tournaments coming up? My team will be competing at the NJ Tournament on the 8th, so if anyone else is also going to be there, be sure to stop by and say hello!

This mission is quite easy... just push the wind turbines out of the area directly outside of base. Unfortunately FLL was vague in their definition of "directly outside of base", but in a Q&A they put up a pdf to clarify. It shows the scoring areas on the mat, and you can see it here. Areas 11, 5, and 8 are considered directly outside of base, so you'd need to push the turbines outside of those areas. For example, if you wanted to push the wind turbines directly North of base, you'd need to push them above the second road outside of base, into area 4.

Another thing to remember is that the location of the wind turbines can affect the score of the Grid Connection mission. You get extra points for each community that is touched by both the power lines and a wind turbine. Note that having two turbines in a single community that is touching the power lines won't give you twice as much points as having one turbine in that community.


Richard's Comments: Note that the Wind Turbines must be upright in order to score. And I can tell you, they are fairly top heavy and easy to knock over. Be careful.

Also, if anyone is coming to the Greenwood Scrimmage in SC, Clemson Regional, or South Carolina State Tournament, be sure to stop by team 784, Blue Knight's pit area and say hello!

Biped - work in progress

A two legged walker has always been a robot on my to-do list. Inspired by Bruno Zarokian’s robot I created an NXT robot with the same functions. However, the mechanisms I used are different.
Right now it can walk and turn. A sensor to avoid walls will be added later. I hope to upload a video of it this week.

New NXT Book

Browsing today, I noticed a new NXT book by MDP/MCP member Daniele Benedettelli titled "Creating Cool MINDSTORMS NXT Robots" - it's got a scheduled release date of March 2008 and the cover shows the famous NXT version of the Johnny 5 robot. It also states that the book is 500 pages!!

Dec 6, 2007

Review on David J. Perdue's NXT Inventor Guide, a blog run by Desis, has published a review of David J. Perdue's The Unofficial LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Inventor's Guide. As a conclusion, they state that
"it's a book that makes you want to get off your chair and start building Lego inventions".
Sounds rather positive, doesn't it?
All of you out there who have purchased that book: what is your attitude towards it?

Dec 5, 2007

Idea Book: BenderBot Video

BenderBot: The Anti-Theory Music Robot

Here's a freshly thrown video providing some idea of BenderBot's functionality and purpose.

BenderBot is a musical instrument which generates sound suitable for sampling and recording just as with any instrument. However, this instrument is like no other. You program and play it however you wish. The slate is clean (aside the sample programs and ideas) for you to create your own music. The bot can be set to run autonomously or can be operated manually. You program it as you wish. Viewers may notice (or knob-up your PC speakers until you do) the wild sound track segments near the start and end of the video. These segments are the results of a home recording studio production of BenderBot, an electric guitar, a sound processor pedal, and a Circuit Bent Texas Instruments Speak & Spell. These instruments were used to create sound samples that were then assembled into a nice track. Breaking it down further concerning BenderBot...with your PC and some freeware you can create a short sound sample, convert it for use in the NXT and NXT-G software, crank out some NXT sounds, record samples with your PC when you are jammin'out, mix'em around and produce your own 'noise'. What you see in the video is only a very tiny example of what can be produced using BenderBot. Different equipment combinations or a lone BenderBot can be used to achieve nice tracks. Grab a copy of the Idea Book and give BenderBot a spin!

Soon, I'll release a tutorial on creating NXT-G sound samples for NXT instruments and details for processing recordings towards song productions. I encourage readers to visit our forum section to discuss BenderBot and the other Idea Book Bots. A sound sample download section will soon be created to provide a few usable sound collections! Please, drop by and let us know how your NXTrument endeavors play out.

What kind of music will you create with your NXT instrument? Let us know!

Christopher Smith

Dec 4, 2007

Central European FLL finals in Triberg (Germany)

The Central European FLL finals, taking place at Triberg, Black Forest (Germany) on last Saturday, has been a great experience! A lot of competent teams took part - the Alleskönner?! from the Ketteler-Realschule at Hopsten (Germany) finally made it to FLL Champion (and thus attendee of the FLL World Finals in April at Atlanta, USA). Congratulations!

This is a movie that I have created from my own photos. Unfortunately, the rechargable battery of my camera gave up rather soon, so the greatest part of the teams and of the event can not be seen there. :-(
Nevertheless: Enjoy!

FLL Mission Overview Part 13 - Uranium

Objective: Move the three "Uranium" items OUT of the Farm. You do not nessecarily need to bring it to Base, but that will help in aspects of other missions.

Point Worth: 15 points.

Mission Location: The North-East (top right) corner of mat.

Estimated Difficulty Rating: 4/10

Time Length Rating: Medium

Unique Challenge Aspects: n/a

Wow, this mission is pretty straightfoward and simple: move the Uranium rings (I didn't know Uranium came in rings!) out of the farm for 15 points, though it might do a team good to bring them back to Base. The one trick to this might be the tricky placement of the Uranium rings in the corner, with the possible trap of getting stuck in the corner.

Note that these Uranium rings are also used in the Power Plant mission... each green Uranium ring moved to the Power Plant's property counts as an extra 10 points each, but a red Uranium ring will make the Power Plant mission count for nothing.

Also, with all these tournaments starting up, feel free to tell us about your tournament expierences!
Good luck!


FLL NJ Qualifying Tournament in Montclair

Built On The Rock competed in the Montclair NJ qualifying tournament yesterday, and what an exciting event it was! Only 13 teams competed, but four perfect scores (3 of which were official) were achieved there! Built On The Rock got two perfect scores and a 390, and a team called the Robo Invaders got the other two perfect scores (one as a fill-in). Other teams achieved fairly high scores also, which was surprising, since I thought this year's challenge would be harder for teams. I also noticed that none of the teams used the RIS system, which was also slightly surprising since there's a nice fairness bonus for using the RIS. The picture shows the puzzle from the mat, which the Robo Invaders put together and displayed at their pit. Great job!

Built On The Rock won the Robot Performance award, and congratulations to the Robo Invaders (Champion's Award), Landroids (Robot Design), Gears (Teamwork), and Torn (Research Project), who will also be competing at NJ State on December 8th. We heard that the NJ Champion's award winner will be going to the World Festival in April (not all states are going), so it's going to be an exciting tournament!

Here are some pictures of the event:

Built On The Rock with the Robot Performance award. A couple of the old members and I aren't on the team this year, since we're older than 14.

The awards were shaped like puzzle pieces, with the Champion's award being a combination of the four others. The competition tables.

Team Gears had this wooden model of a robot displayed on their table... notice it doesn't have any gears. :-)

The Landroids, a first-year team, doing a practice run... they were getting perfect scores in some of their practice runs, but unfortunately didn't get them on the official rounds.

Built On The Rock in their Teamwork interview.

You can also read about the event on our website:


Dec 3, 2007

Support Gunner

Recently I built one of the robots on the Website with building instructions which I did not design. I built the Support Gunner, designed by Micah, also known as CATpit contractor on this blog.

It is a very unique design, and the mechanisms work very well. Good job Micah!

Some of the instruction steps were not very clear, so I made new instructions in Google SketchUp.

I am finally beginning to understand how it works, and how good the results can be. So if you have not tried any LEGO CAD software yet, you might want to give it a try, the installation is very simple.

So, the instructions can be found Here: (click).

For more information about the robot itself, go here.
If you prefer to download the instructions to your PC directly, download this archived folder.

Dec 2, 2007

"Polecat": the Skunk NXT


From the book, "LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Zoo", to be published in February 2008.

The projectile contraption is the Technic cannon and arrow.

Dec 1, 2007

FLL Mission Overview Part 12 - Corn

Objective: Move the three "corn" items to Base, and make sure an oil barrel has been moved to the farm.

Point Worth: 25 points.

Mission Location: Near the South-East (bottom right) corner of mat.

Estimated Difficulty Rating: 3/10

Time Length Rating: Medium

Unique Challenge Aspects: n/a

Sorry I'm so late with this one... seems like Pre-Calculus, Physics, Visual C++ .NET, and Basketball all conspired together to keep me busy for the last couple weeks. :P Anyway, this mission is mostly straightforward and easy to understand. One potentially confusing aspect, however, is the part about needing to move an oil barrel to the farm to get the points for this mission. This is due to the fact that there is a 40 point deduction if an oil barrel touches a property with a house in it. Since the farm is one such property, the oil barrel can't be touching the mat. As long as it's over the farm, but not actually touching the mat, you should be fine though.

Richard's Comments: Just want to warn everyone, those Corn are tricky to pick up cornered between the wall and the Coal Mining... be careful of the potential trap!!
Edit: The location of this mission is actually Southeast (bottom right).

New Version of LEGO Digital Designer Version 2.3 With PF Elements !!!

A new version of LEGO Digital Designer (Version 2.3) just been released.

I just been playing with it - for me the most coolest addition is the PF Elements !!!

A quick look at the boxes included shows some new additions - the most notable ones are the LEGO Creator 4957 Ferris Wheel and the cool 4958 Monster Dino.

Thanks LEGO for listening. Now we can include PF motors in our NXT robotic models. It is a shame they still dont have the IR-Lnk though - you have to use a light sensor as a place holder until the IR-Link makes it to the pallette!

Why not try it and see if you like it?

Download it from here

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