Feb 29, 2008

c/net review of LDD

The popular technology review site CNET.com has just posted a review of LEGO Digital Designer.

Click here to go to the CNET page.

Feb 28, 2008

2007 Engadget Awards - Robot of the Year

While the NXT is not list (it is neither Robot, or from 2007), there are some great robots.

The Robot of the Year is about 2/3 down the page (might be easiest just to search for the word Robot).

So... go vote for the 2007 Engadget Awards - Robot of the Year!

New Web Site for the "NXT Zoo" Book

The companion web site to the book, "LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT ZOO!" features the following:

* Illustrations of all nine models in the book

* A tutorial on parts substitutions for the models in the book

* Downloadable instructions for producing animal sounds for your NXT (for both Windows and Mac)

* Little-known facts about the real animals that the models represent

* A complete parts list for every model in the book

* Links to where you can buy every part used in the book (via Bricklink)

* Lists of other LEGO models that use the same parts as those in the book (via Peeron)

The site is here.

NXT Zoo Book Now In Stock at Amazon.com

The direct link is here. The book is also in stock online at Barnes and Noble and No Starch Press.

Feb 27, 2008

Laser Object Detection

Recently, I got a green laser from EBay for only $20.00 (usually these lasers cost $50-$80), to use with my robots. As you can see in the above picture, it's REALLY bright - the range is something like two miles.

The main advantage to a laser is that it puts a very bright light in one precise place. This can be used for things like making two robots align themselves to point towards each other (which I'm thinking of doing for my next project).

Anyway, I found that if I put the laser right on top of a light sensor and pointed it towards the ground (while the light sensor was level), the light sensor would only detect the beam if it reflected off an object a short distance away into the sensor. So I made an attachment for this and put it on Trax, my first successful rover that uses the new treads (using spring-loaded sprockets works great - thanks Brian!):

Below is a video of the robot detecting a wall... notice how the beam moves along the ground until coming across an object. Then it moves up the object as the robot gets closer to the object, until the beam reflects into the light sensor.


Although it was a fun idea, I have to say it's very impractical. The one theoretical advantage it has over the US sensor is that it can detect curved/slanted objects no problem - the reflection of the beam is just as bright no matter how curved or slanted the object is (except of course when the object is a mirror or another highly reflective material). However, usually when the robot comes at a wall from an angle it can't get close enough to the wall for the laser beam to get high enough. It's disadvantages include having a very small range of detection, and being susceptible to ambient light conditions and object textures. It might, however, be useful when combined with the US sensor to provide additional information about potential obstacles.


NOTE: Since lasers (especially green lasers) can harm your eyes if pointed directly at them, you should exercise caution when using them.

The NXT Resource Collection

Calling all NXT Fans...

Okay, the contributors here at The NXT Step need your help. The number of blogs, websites, forums, and more dedicated to the NXT are growing and growing and we're just not able to keep up with everything new that's appearing out there.

We've decided to create an HTML webpage to organize all the NXT resources out there. (We may also make this a downloadable document as well.)

How can you help? Easy. Go to our Forum and look under the General Category (the first section of our forum). Inside there you will see a new category called "NXT Resource Collection". Open the Collection thread and help us build the new webpage.

The rules are simple -

1. Provide us with the URL of an NXT resource that you'd like to add to the collection. Please do not provide URLs that already exist on our blog's homepage; we're already aware of them :)

2. Provide us with a short (3 sentences or less) description of the site if you can.

3. To help us categorize the resources, choose from the following categories that best fits the URL: website, blog, building instructions, programming instructions, forum

4. Please read through the previous posts to avoid submitting a site that's already been added. (Use the Search feature to search for the URL.

5. One URL per post. REPEAT - ONE URL PER POST - if you post 2 or more URLs in a post, the post will be deleted and no credit given.

6. Duplicate posts will be deleted.

7. We will check all URLs for content - as with our blog, content and any URLs provided must be child-friendly and contain no adult-content, adult advertising, etc. We'll use our best judgement when selecting/omitting URLs for the list.

Finally, once the HTML webpage is created, if you'd like your name added to the "Resource Contributor" list, let us know how you'd like your name spelled.

All The NXT Step blog contributors would like to thank you for helping us build this resource.

NXT Gramophone

Be sure to check out the video at the bottom showing assembly.

Don't know what a gramophone is? Read about it here.

Feb 26, 2008

NXT Standalone: another self-balancing NXT robot

Still remembering NXTWay, the self-balancing NXT robot by Philo?
At the Fachhochschule of North West Switzerland Lukas Widmer and Reto Brumann have created a similar NXT robot, the NXT Standalone, and programmed it with LABView.

There are videos, images, programs and neat animated building instructions ("Eigenbau") available on the professionally designed (German-speaking) web site.

Feb 24, 2008

NXTLOG and the 5000th submission

You've got one week left to submit your project(s) to NXTLOG for consideration as the 5000th accepted submission.

Read more here.

Feb 23, 2008

Dave Parker's "Dog on a Leash"

The following is Dave's description of his latest creation, complete with building instructions and two programming files:

"This puppy is all ready to go for a walk, either with his leash, or on the loose by himself. He can go straight or turn on smooth floors, and he can turn his head to look left and right.

Two programs are provided. With the leash program, you can control when the puppy stops and turns left or right by pushing the button on the leash. Without the leash, the alternate program makes the puppy explore around the room by himself, trying to avoid walls with his ultrasonic "eyes", and you can also get him to turn in one direction or the other by calling him, and he will hear you with his sound sensor and come to you!"

Thanks, Dave (again).

Sending the NXT to the moon (and winning $30 Million)

Today, The X PRIZE Foundation and Google, Inc. announced the first ten teams to register for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a robotic race to the Moon to win $30 million in prizes.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded and must be registered to compete by December 31, 2010.

There's no NXT team so far amongst the contenders ... ;)
How about some funding by The LEGO Group®?

Feb 22, 2008

Dean Kamen's 'Luke Skywalker' bionic arm

Anyone remember the theNXTStep's blog posting back in Sept' 07 about Dean Kamen's Robotic Arm project?

IEEE Spectrum has recently posted an new video which shows the latest progress in this effort.

Feb 21, 2008

Fun with Sumo

Many of you are aware of the MINDSTORMS NXT Sumo Competition .
Well, some of my FLL team members finally had a chance to try it out while exhibiting their FLL missions on Discover Engineering Family Day at the National Building Museum in Washington DC on February 16th.

Because the kids arrived without any pre-programmed Sumo missions the spectators got a chance to see the programming aspect of the NXT as well as the robots in action.

Click here for additional pics.


Feb 20, 2008

LDRAW parts for RFID and Color Sensors

Philo, The Mighty And Relentless Wizard of LDRAW parts, has created such for HiTechnic's Color Sensor and Codatex's new RFID Sensor (including the RFID tag). You can find them on his Unofficial LDraw Parts page, contained in the most recent NXT parts archive.

Merci, Philo!

Chapter Excerpts from the "NXT Zoo Book"

Shown here is the stegosaurus. The link to three chapter excerpts is here.

There are numerous parts substitutions listed throughout the book. (For example, the book shows how the "scales" of the stegosaurus can be made in different ways). There are also parts packs that make building easier. (The education resource set is a helpful adjunct for seven of the nine models).

More details regarding parts will be in a forthcoming post.

Feb 19, 2008

Classroom Activites for the Busy Teacher: NXT


A few people had issues with the sample pages opening in Adobe. These have now been fixed.

Sample Pages - www.domabotics.com/resources.php

I also received some questions about the Table of Contents, as they are a little cryptic as to what they contain. Here is a brief run down of each chapter.

What is a Robot?
- Assignment on what constitutes a robot, the history of robots and their place in society

- As the name implies, a section on flowcharting and why it is important when developing programs

Domabot Basics
- Learning about the 'Move' block through a series of classroom activities

How Fast?
- Testing and recording data about the performance of the robot. Graphing the relationship between speed and power

How many sides?
- Using the Loop block to draw polygons

Help! I'm Stuck
- Using the Touch sensor to get out of trouble

Help! I'm (still) Stuck
- Using the Ultrasonic sensor to get out of trouble

Stay Away from the edge
- Using the light sensor to detect the edge of the table

Did you hear that?
- Using the Sound sensor to react to noises

Mini golf / Dancing Robots / Mexican Wave / Robot Butler
- Projects that the students can design and build

As seen on TV
- Multimedia presentation assignment to 'sell' the robot the the general public

Student Worksheets
- All chapters have an associated student worksheet that presents the scenario and leads them through the activities required.

Build Notes
- Building instructions for the main robot as well as the the Touch / Sound / Light / Ultrasonic sensors and marker pen attachment.

Don't hesitate to ask questions in the comments

Damien Kee

New NXT Book

Syngress has a book listed for release in June 2008 called "Programming Lego Mindstorms NXT" written by Owen Bishop. From Amazon.com:

Key Features:
* a how-to guide for programming your robot, using NXT-G and Microsoft VPL
* ten robot-specific projects show how to extend your robot's capabilities beyond the manufacturer's provided software. Examples of projects include:Maze solver,Robot House Builder,Search (obstacle avoidance),Song and Dance Act
* flowcharts and data flow diagrams are used to illustrate how to develop programs
* introduces basic programming structures
* includes a DVD w/ e-text, programming code, and link to accompanying website

If you have any more information on the book, please let us know.


ps. And a note to Syngress: It's LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT - all caps - just a friendly reminder from those of us who have heard from the LEGO legal department in the past ;)

Feb 18, 2008


A group of students at the Institute of Imaging and Computer Vision of the Technical University of Aachen, Germany, has developed a toolbox that allows for controlling MINDSTORMS NXT robots over MATLAB®, a numerical computing environment and programming language widely used in industry and academia. The toolbox, a result of a Project in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology called MATLAB meets LEGO Mindstorms,

"enables you to combine robot applications with complex mathematical operations and visualizations within MATLAB. This toolbox opens unlimited possibilities to provide the robots artifical intelligence and other improvements using the manifold MATLAB features and calculations for digital signal processing",

as the project's web site states.

The toolbox is licensed as OpenSource Software as part of the GNU GPL (GNU General Public License) and can be downloaded for free.

Building Instructions For NXT Beam Weapon

As promised, here are the building instructions and program for the NXT Beam Weapon. BTW, the pieces are not limited to one retail kit - there are several more - so you may have to substitute pieces or modify the design. Anyway, for this robot, I decided to try using LDD. It worked quite well. I really like the auto-snap feature, although at times it makes it hard to get a piece where you want it. It would be nice if you had the option to move pieces manually (like MLCAD) in case the auto-snap wasn't working.

I also noticed a couple things with the gears. One of our forum members was having trouble with putting a gear on an axle, because the auto-snap feature kept putting the axle through the wrong hole in the gear. I worked around this by putting an axle in a gear separately, and then putting the combination into the correct spot. I also found a way to get gears to mesh - just use the hinge tool to rotate one or both gears in small increments until they fit. I don't know if this would work for all gear-connections, though.

Anyway, about the building instructions... the zip file I linked to above contains the LDD file for the robot. You can generate building instructions in the file, plus you can mess around with the model to help you see the exact placement of pieces.

Since LDD didn't have a gear track part which I used on the robot, I just made a photo instruction, which you can see below... you can do this step last. Note that the two 1x3 beams on the bottom, keeping the gear track-beam from sliding out, should actually be one peg further up.

This gear track allows the trigger motor to push the bolt into the magazine to fire a beam. Ten 1x5 beams are used for ammo, and are loaded into the magazine horizontally, each stacked on top of the previous one. Feel free to mess around with other ammo, such as 1x3 beams or even little bushes and pegs. I tried loading a bunch of little bushes (not the vegetation kind, the technical "bushes") into the magazine, and the result was pretty funny (spreadshot!).

If you build this robot, let me know how it works!


P.S. And no, I am not responsible for any deaths, broken bones, or any other injuries sustained from the use of this potentially lethal weapon. :P

Feb 17, 2008

The LEGO Rotunda

This LEGO NXT Robot takes balls from the mixer drum and by using a series of cunning devices puts them back into the mixer.

It uses a Light sensor to count the balls as they go into the skip. When five balls have been counted, sometimes more if the lighting conditions change, the skip is rotated and the balls are dumped onto the conveyor belt. This takes them to the lift which takes them up to a drop off area. The balls then fall back into the drum.

The conveyor belt is driven with a PF motor controlled by an IR Link. The lift starts as a timed event triggered by the rotating skip. So fresh batteries are a must for the conveyor belt. Both the rotating skip and lift use the motors rotation sensor to set their positions. The drop off area at the top of the lift is controlled mechanically.

NXT "Can-Grabbing" Competition

Proof that the race doesn't always go to the swift. (And that the word, "bingo" has the same meaning in German and English). :)

Feb 16, 2008

Dave Parker's Latest NXT Creation

Now, if we can just get Dave to build one new NXT creation PER DAY. :)
See Dave's building instructions and program for his new "Mystery Machine" here.

Robotics Academy Redesigns Site for Educators

Find it here.

NXT Beam Weapon

Last week I decided to try making an NXT gun using the spinning wheels concept, since the NXT motors are more powerful than the RCX ones and can therefore spin the wheels faster. It came out pretty good... it can shoot 1*5 beams (hence the name, "Beam" Weapon :P ) over 23 feet. The magazine has a capacity of 10 beams, and can shoot single or rapid fire.

Below is a video of the gun in action... a touch sensor is used for the trigger, and a motor pushes a beam into the wheels to launch it.



Feb 14, 2008

NXT "Printer"

Gives new meaning to the term, "dot matrix".

Coin Sorter (how to save enough money for your next NXT)

Here's a nice YouTube video of an NXT-based coin sorter. While it certainly doesn't compete with CoinStar yet as far as speed goes, it shows not only an interesting problem and solution... but a whole lot of wonderful mechanisms, as well as a pretty well done video explanation:

I can't quite see how it only grabs one coin, but the two-stage grab-&-dump mechanism driven by a single motor is one of my favorite techniques. Very often, you do not need more motors, just a clever mechanical solution to get multiple motions out of a single motor, as kevquest does here. The actual sorting mechanism is also very well done, and adaptable - by adjusting those limiting elements, a lot of different sized objects could be sorted. Yet another important point is the sorting tray - I've seen a lot of folks get hung up on linear motion, and go through a lot of exertion to try to get it, when many times it's simply not needed - like here, where a carrousel style system is perfectly sufficient. About the only thing I don't quite understand is the reseting pattern (I think there might be quicker ways to do it) and the speed (could it be speeded up? If not this mechanism, I'll bet there are faster mechanisms that might work). Again, a nifty creation, and a nice YouTube documentation. Take a look!

Brian Davis

Feb 13, 2008

Great Ball Contraption (GBC) and treads

Koldo emailed me a link to a GBC design that he's integrated the treads into... check it out here. The site is in Spanish but the pictures and video need no translation.

LEGO book listing

Looks like someone at LEGO is getting anxious for Fay's new book - they've added it at the top of the list of the books available for the NXT. Check it out here.

Bot'Oberfest 2008

For the Atlanta and surrounding area, I'm happy to announce that Bot'oberfest 2008 is in the planning stages. Mark your calendar for the date of Sunday, September 28, 2008. Once again, the Atlanta Girls' School will be hosting this event and I'm fairly confident it's going to be bigger and better than last year. With over 300 attendees last year and the positive feedback regarding the classes, I fully expect a larger audience and more options.
More details will be posted here as they become available. Currently there is no information on time, class schedules, or registration so please be patient as this is worked out. If you have any questions, please post them here as comments and they will be passed on to the proper group.
Read information and feedback about Bot'oberfest 2007 with the following links:

New release of NXC with enhanced support for the HiTechnic iRLink device

John Hansen, the relentless author of NBC/NXC, a C-style programming language for the NXT, has published a new release that provides enhanced support for the HiTechnic iRLink device in connection with the newly documented Power Function modes as well as the R/C Train IR protocol - see http://bricxcc.sourceforge.net.

Feb 9, 2008

New NXT Gymnast

The ever-prolific Dave Parker just posted a new NXT creation, complete with building and programming instructions:


NXT as prototype

Reader Joel S. shared this item with me via email:

"Researchers working through Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab have devised a new kind of security system that aims to block observation attacks and could be used to prevent snoopers from catching a glimpse of your PIN when you use an ATM.

They used Mindstorms NXT as the platform to do their prototype."

Read the article here.

Feb 8, 2008

New NXT blog

Andrew contacted me about his new NXT blog... from Andrew:

"I am just getting it up and running and am now in the process of getting the word out. NXTCentral.com is going to contain blog posts with information, news, help topics, tutorials and a section to show off My Projects. I also have a forum that people will be able to talk about different topics including news about NXT, getting help on certain projects, discussion on my projects, and other subjects that relate to the Lego Mindstorms Community."

Check it out here.

Nashorn - the Building Instructions

Remember my Zamor-based NXT shooter called Nashorn that I have published some while ago?
Due to public demand, I've created building instructions for it over the last days that are available (with a lot of other robots) on my personal NXT site now.
Next to the shooting mechanism, the interesting thing on that particular robot is its robust base that can rotate in two dimensions in a very stable and precise way, using two turn tables.

Feb 6, 2008

Fueling robot

In Netherlands (a country that seems particularly amenable to technical innovations - the woman on the image is the Dutch Secretary of Economy), the first fueling robot of the world in practical use has been introduced on some gasoline stations, called TankPitstop.

In Europe, where self-service on gasoline stations is a rule, drivers might not be unwilling to get their car fueled by a machine (though fast-paced ones will prefer to remain at performing it by their own, considering the rather easy-going pace of the fueling robot).

The video is nice - however, I wonder how many cars got scratched before that worked reliably. ;-)

Not a NXT robot, but maybe an inspiration for one that can fuel some of the new LEGO® TECHNIC trucks...

How young is too young for the NXT?

LEGO's recommended age on the box is 10 & up... but we all know some younger builders for which that simply doesn't apply - and they're designing some interesting robots.

Reader Beth posed an interesting question on our forum (edited below), and I'd like to invite our readers to visit the forum and offer their suggestions to Beth as well as to add to the discussion. Click on the question below to join the discussion.

"My son and I received an NXT for Xmas. I am looking for some book recommendations with ideas/plans he can follow. He has a little trouble with the programming (and I am slowly learning) but is great at building the actual robot. I ordered the Zoo book but it is not expected for another month. Are any of the other books geared more for younger kids? I found a website with great building instructions and downloadable programs but I think a book would be easier (then he won't be messing with my laptop unassisted :-) ). Are there any more modules available for the included software with the step by step instructions and help?"

Feb 5, 2008

Trying to Improve Print Images

Since our publishers will only publish in black and white, I'm experimenting with some modification of building images in Photoshop. Normally, this white motor disappears into a white background. I'd appreciate your feedback on my attempts to fix that. (Click on the links for larger images.)

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
Sample 4
Sample 5

TeMo - Telerobotics over Mobile

(Chris Anderson has done something similar with his UAV being sent commands via a cell phone. Anyone know of more examples?)

FLL International - Who's coming?

Just a little over 2 months away, FLL International is looking to be bigger and better than last year. So, who's coming? Did your team make it through the qualifiers? Are you coming just to watch and look around?

LEGO, LEGO Education, and HiTechnic will all have representatives on site (as well as many MUP/MDP/MCP members in attendance) - The NXT Step will be covering the event as well, with pictures, interviews, news, and more.

If you're going to be here, let us know. We'd love to meet you and your team and anyone else you bring along.

Feb 4, 2008

Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: NXT

We have just released our first dedicated resource book for teachers "Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher : NXT"

This book outlines a 10 week set of lesson plans for teacher wishing to implement robotics in their classroom. A set of robotics challenges are presented, centered around the LEGO NXT MINDSTORMS system. The workbook includes 10 robotic based challenges as well as 3 additional modules with assessment activities covering Robots in Society, Flowcharting and Multimedia Presentations.

It is aimed towards Middle Years schooling (ages 9 - 15) although the challenges can be adapeted to suit older age groups.

Each module includes:

  • A real world scenario
  • Basic theory of the concepts presented
  • Teachers notes outlining the most common issues and how to solve them
  • Example Programs in the NXT-G development environment
  • Extension activities
  • Student worksheets
Sample pages can be downloaded from here and the full book can be ordered from the cafepress site http://www.cafepress.com/domabotics

Damien Kee

Blue Knights Take First at Regional

On January 19 (a long time ago!), my FLL team, the Beck Academy Blue Knights, took the first place Champion's Award at the Clemson Regional! They also took the second place Robot Performance Award, with a score of 315, and the first place Techincal Award! Due to unforseen problems with the robot and the mat, our other 2 rounds resulted in a rather depressing 105 and 110. Nonetheless, we qualified for the SC state tournament, which will take place Feburary 16.

You can view some pictures of the event in our school's gallery: http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/beck/news/0708/RoboticsTeamWinsAgain/index.html

I'll be posting some comments and observations from the tournament later.

If anyone will also be going to the SC state tournament also at Clemson, be sure to stop by our pit area, the #784 Blue Knights: We will challenge you to game of LEGO Chess and have many giveaways.


Feb 2, 2008

Final Cover for the "NXT ZOO" Book

Click on the above graphic to see an enlargement of both the front and rear covers of the upcoming "NXT ZOO" book. The rear cover provides more information about the nine robots included, as well as general information about the book.

The book is at the printers and will be published by the end of this month. Fay will provide more information and supporting materials for blog readers by month's end.

New NXTLOG Challenge

The latest NXTLOG Challenge is up. From the description:

"The MINDSTORMS NXT Camera Bot Building Challenge is asking you to create the NXT spy bot, paparazzi bot, photojournalist bot, or even a robotic fashion photographer.

We are looking for robots that can take still photos (not video), and we want you to also share the pictures taken from your robot’s point of view.

There's no limit on amount of LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT sensors, motors, NXT programmable bricks, HiTechnic sensors, or Bluetooth communication you can use on your MINDSTORMS NXT Camera Bot."

Read more here.

Feb 1, 2008

Multi-Sensitivity Acceleration Sensor

Mindsensors released a new version of the acceleration sensor.

"Multi-Sensitivity Acceleration Sensor (ACCL-Nx-v2) is a 3 axis digital acceleration sensor designed for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT. This sensor works at 4 different sensitivity levels of gravitiy.
The sensitivity can be chosen in your program. This sensor can be used to measure static and dynamic acceleration in different axes. You can use this on your robot as tilt sensor or to track the velocity profile."

More information can be found here.

NXT, XBox Controller, and RoboRealm...

Jan emailed the following:

"We have our new video, images and source code online, showing the NXT tracked rover being controlled with an XBox 360 controller through RoboRealm software. The building instructions for this robot will be up in the next couple of days, but the setup works with any differential drive NXT bot."

Check it all out here.
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