Dec 9, 2008

MINDSTORMS' most famous quote

"We will do for robotics what iPod did for music."

If you're not familiar with this quote, it was apparently posted in numerous places at LEGO during the development of the MINDSTORMS NXT. It's a grand statement, so my question to you is this - has LEGO done it?

I'd like to point out that many students have now entered college/university (or will be shortly) who have had access to these kits. Whether they're choosing robotics as a career or not, it could be argued that having access to MINDSTORMS may have sparked an interest in math and science that will follow these students into their chosen careers.

The iPod has definitely shaken up the music world. I own one and have converted every CD I own so I can listen to them on my iPod. I continue to buy music from iTunes at 99-cents each. Yes, there are other products out there that play MP3 and other formats, but... I'll be honest here... the look of the iPod, combined with how easy it is to use, is what sold me. Can the same thing be said for the NXT?

Has the NXT (and RCX) done for robotics what the iPod has done for music? I think we can all agree that MINDSTORMS has definitely sold well and has achieved media attention (magazines, TV, newspapers) and contests such as FLL and FTC continue to introduce robotics to students, parents, and teachers around the world. Other kits exist - VEX comes to mind - but has any other robotics kit done more to increase interest and awareness of the field than MINDSTORMS?

5 comments:

Dave Parker said...

Interesting analogy, but you could say that what the iPod did for music was to put a huge dent in the existing firm standard on how you buy and listen to music (CDs), enough to start a permanent change in direction away from that standard. What was the existing standard for robotics before MINDSTORMS? There was none, just a hodge-podge of totally different hobby kits. Thus, an alternative analogy might be that MINDSTORMS did for robotics what the Apple II and did for computers (standardized it, at a low cost, and brought the same thing to homes and schools).

So if LEGO is Apple in this analogy (maintains total control over both hardware and software on their system), is there going to be a "PC" product in the future to battle with? Something like a robotics software OS standard (DOS) with an initial strong hardware vendor (IBM), that then opens up to multiple hardware vendors? Hmm, who will it be?

Max Vrany said...

I would say that this hasn't happened yet. If you ask most, if not all, people what an iPod is they probably will know what an iPod is. As far as I'm concerned that hasn't happened with NXT yet.

Mr. Parker is right with his Apple II anology. His prediction of a battle with another company or two (MegaBlocks maybe?) probably won't happen. LEGO is just too well known. If someone does try to challenge them, they'll just get mutilated.

The only reason (I think) that NXT isn't that well known is that LEGO doesn't want it to be. If LEGO ran an advertisement during a moderatly to very popular network program, they would be overwhelmed.

Dave D. said...

I guess I'm one of those people who were at the right age when the RIS was released... For me, Mindstorms have definitely had an effect on my course choices, though not in an obvious way. I originally wanted to go into a robotics career, but as I noticed that I liked to build really simple robots and then program more complex programs, I realized that I really liked the software aspect of robotics more. I think the Mindstorms kit (and the Ti-83+ calculator) really steered me into a software emphasis. (Though I still love robotics, and I hope to get an NXT soon...)

Matthias Paul Scholz said...

Dave,

we _still_ are in the phase of "totally different hobby kits", I guess. We like to think of MINDSTORMS as a standard from our point of view, maybe (being NXT builders), but it isn't it - for most people (including users of other robotics sets), it's just another robotics hobby kit on the market.

Jim Kelly said...

To add to Matthias' comment (but not assuming he'll agree with me), it might be interesting to discuss what LEGO could do to DEFINE a standard.

There's already one big problem in that Technic bricks are proprietary, so no 3rd party companies will ever be able to create sensors or parts without a LEGO license. This is the first strike against LEGO MINDSTORMS ever becoming the de facto robot kit.

Same with the software; NXT-G is a bright, colorful, and non-scary programming environment that welcomes kids (and adults) to tinker... but again, I don't think it can ever become a standard (even thought it's built on LabView).

I think the best that LEGO can do is to become the "robotics introductory standard" if such a thing can ever truly exist. Parts are durable, don't require hand tools (drilling, cutting, etc), and, let's face it, everybody has played with LEGO and understand the concept.

Like Apple did (does?) in the USA by placing an Apple computer in every school, maybe LEGO could do the same by providing a robot kit to every school, after-school program, and non-profit that works with kids. Expensive, but definitely a way to introduce the kit to those who are unfamiliar with it.

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