Mar 31, 2008

Update to New LEGO 3D Renderer

Sergio Reano has a new update for his 3D Rendering Software.

I haven't used the software; however, it claims to provide support for .dat files, .ldr files and .mpd files, including non-certified parts files.

Please give us your feedback on the software, if you've used it.

Building Instructions for Yoshihito Isogawa's NXT Walker

The instructions are not step-by-step; hence, they are challenging to follow. But they are the most detailed instructions yet for what is arguably one of the best NXT walkers ever built.

An interview with Yoshito is on the MINDSTORMS web site.

Mar 30, 2008

Drum Machine Robot

While this robot lacks maneuverability, it is creative in its musicality. (The best action starts 45 seconds into the video).

Someone should build an NXT version of this robot.

Mar 29, 2008

Unofficial Guide to FIRST LEGO League

Jonathan Daudelin and I would like to share some good news - No Starch has been wanting to do an FLL book for some time, and Jonathan and I have recently completed assembling a Table of Contents that covers a substantial amount of material. I'll ask Jonathan to Update this post with his own comments, but I'm very happy to be associated with this project. We don't have a lot of information to share with you at this moment, but here's what I can tell you:

1. Release date is tentatively Aug/Sept 2008, hopefully in time to be of use for the upcoming FLL season
2. Page count is unknown but right now the best guess is 300 pages or so.
3. The book is being written for both rookie and experienced teams - coach, parent, student, mentor - plenty of information/advice for all involved
4. In addition to building and programming sections, we're also devoting chapters to the other portions of FLL - technical, project, and teamwork judging. These don't seem to get as much coverage as the Robot Table part of FLL, so we're aiming to fix that.
5. Brief histories of FIRST and its various competitions, with obvious focus on FLL.
6. 18+ chapters (broken into 5 parts) plus Appendices.

Now, here's where we can use YOUR help...

We're creating a special section in the BOOK area of our forum. We are calling on all coaches, parents, kids, and anyone else involved with FLL (past and present) to help us with a few features of the book.

First... we're including a Q&A chapter of our own that will point readers to the specific chapter(s) where potential answers can be found. We want to collect questions from REAL teams... REAL coaches... REAL students... REAL parents. We can't guarantee that your question(s) will end up in the book, but if it does we'll credit you (or your team - name, city, state, country) with the question. Our goal is to take all the questions and make certain we cover as much as possible in a book like this.

Second... we're looking for "real life" stories that might be inserted here-and-yonder in the book - these would be no longer than 3-4 paragraphs and would include some sort of lesson-learned or advice for rookie teams or any team, really. Again, if we use the story, we'll share your name (or team) in the book, plus City/State/Country. We're hoping these will inspire other teams to read about one another's experiences with FLL - as of now, we have no real limits on what you can write about (but it should be about FLL) but if that changes, we'll let you know.

If we choose to use your question or story, we'll contact you in the forum and also let you know if we need any editing or clarification. Do keep in mind that this book is going to move FAST, so if you've got a question or story, get it in soon!

Click here to go to the Forum area - PLEASE read the README post before submitting any questions or stories. THANK YOU!

Mar 28, 2008

Another's Version of the "NXT Peacock"

This French Canadian attributes his build to the "NXT Zoo Book" by blogger Fay Rhodes. For those new to the book, the table of contents is found here.

March 27 Update from FIRST

The news is good... read it here.

Mar 27, 2008

Volunteers needed for 2008 HTK FLL International Open

Volunteers are needed for the 2008 HIGHTECH Kids FLL International Open being held in Minneapolis Minnesota, May 1-3. We need referees, judges and just all around helpful and resourceful people. The only requirements are that you like kids and like having fun.

See for more information. May in Minneapolis is truly lovely.

Dean Hystad

Mar 26, 2008

FIRST/FTC/FLL still happening in April

I spoke this morning with someone at the World Congress Center who told me that FIRST is still scheduled and will happen. The issue right now is logistics and holding everything (competition, pits, display areas, etc.) and where... I'm expecting a call today or tomorrow from someone who hopefully will provide more information on locations of the events. The good news, of course, is that FLL is still on and I'm sure they'll get all this figured out before April 17... see you then!

NXT Temperature Sensor

Also while at the LEGO Engineering Conference, they spoke about the upcoming NXT Temperature Sensor. They had a basic CAD picture of it, and they are sending me a more detailed picture in a few weeks. It has a range of -20 to +110 degrees Celsius, and quite a long sensing area. Those of you familiar with the original RCX temperature probe will remember that the sensing head, the part you were 'allowed' to immerse in liquids was only a few millimeters long. This new sensor has a probe that looks around 80mm long, perfect measuring hot cups of chocolate and icy cool drinks.

It is only being released by LEGO Education, not LEGO Retail so unfortunately it won't be available at "Shop@Home".

I'll be posting a pic of it as soon as I get a copy.

Damien Kee

NXT-G 2.0 : Datalogging

I was very lucky to attend one of the recent LEGO engineering conferences in Brisbane, organised by LEGO Education and presented by Melissa Pickering from Tufts University (home of RoboLab)

One of the highlights was a quick demonstration of NXT-G 2.0, which will include a specific datalogging section. No screenshots are available as the graphical interface is still under development, but they are looking at a January 2009 release date.

It looks great and has two levels to it that I could make out. The first level requires no blocks whatsoever, rather it opens a dialog box asking what sensors you have connected to each port and for how long you wish to sample. This suits a handheld logging experiment as you cannot move motors or perform other actions while logging. The second level introduces a 'datalogging' block which does the same thing, and include it with all your regular blocks in your program so you could drive a robot around, collect some data, move to another spot and collect some more data etc.

If you are connected to your computer when taking data (bluetooth or USB)
NXT-G 2.0 will show a realtime graph of the data being collected. One of the nifty features they showed was the 'predict' mode, whereby teachers could pose a question about what shape a data set would look like, students could then 'predict' what the data would look like by using a pencil tool to draw it out, and then run the experiment over the predicted data to see how closely they matched. All data will be exportable in text file format for analysis with other programs (excel etc)

The other big change that was presented was 'exportable' myblocks. This means that if you are using myblocks, you just save your file as normal, email it to whoever you want, and the program will run without needing to send the individual myblocks as well.

NXT-G 2.0 is being released by LEGO Education, not LEGO Retail, so it may be a little more difficult to find. They will be including 4 projects with the software, the most impressive being a probe dipper that can raise/lower a probe into a beaker and also rotate between beakers.

Overall it looks great and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Damien Kee

Mar 23, 2008

The Easter Bunny Strikes Back - Happy Easter to everyone!

I've received LEGO's new motorized AT-AT walker and somehow it disguised itself as an Easter Bunny and went down to Hoth:

Happy Easter everyone!

Mar 22, 2008

Hand Generator Car

For anyone who hasn't seen this trick yet, this Hand Generator Car project shows how to use an NXT motor as a hand-cranked electric generator to power a simple car. No NXT or batteries required!

This trick can be used for other things as well, since you have a kind of analog motor controller (continuous control of speed and direction), although it is not very strong or precise. It makes a good control for rack-and-pinion steering, for example. RCX-style motors and wires work better because the motors are smaller and the wires are longer and more flexible.

Mar 21, 2008

More details on NXT and FTC

Some more information was made available over at regarding how the NXT will be used in the FTC challenge - looks like HiTechnic is developing something specifically geared towards bridging the NXT and more advanced servos (and sensors).

Right now, the big discussion seems to be centering on teams having to purchase new equipment (and more expensive, apparently). There doesn't seem to be a firm answer on whether VEX will still be supported (allowed) in FTC competition.

Mar 20, 2008

Phobot: A NXT robot simulating emotions

Martyn already has posted about the International Conference about Human-Robot interaction, and one of the robots on display there was Phobot, a NXT robot designed by students of the Univeryity of Amsterdam to mimic emotions. The target of Phobot (that won the Human-Robot Interaction 2008 Student Design Competition) is
"meant as a concept exploring possible support tools for kids with object or location-related phobias,"
as the associated web site states.

Have a look there - you will find a lot of interesting stuff, including a video.

Update on FLL in April

A local news story had an interview with a Georgia World Congress Center administrator. It looks like the damage is being repaired and that the WCC isn't cancelling any events at this point. FLL is in late April, so I'm hoping that the damage will be taken care of well before then. I'm trying to get an official answer about FLL, but right now none of the websites (FLL or GCC) are saying that for 100% fact. I know a lot of people are concerned about air travel they've already arranged - I wish I could give you a firm answer, but right now all I can tell you is the news reports seems to indicate that the WCC is in operating order.

One thing you MIGHT want to do is double-check with your hotels - a lot of other buildings in downtown Atlanta were damaged by the tornadoes and I have no information on whether any are closed or have reduced room availability - do check that for yourselves.

RSS Feed for

There is now an RSS feed for notifications on new and updated NXT projects at See the link on the home page or direct link to the feed here.

Mar 19, 2008

Java on the NXT: Eclipse plugin for leJOS NXJ 0.5

The Eclipse plugin for the most recent version 0.5 of leJOS NXJ, the Java platform for the NXT, is available now.
Integrated into the popular Eclipse platform, it allows for uploading the firmware and developing, compiling and uploading leJOS NXJ programs to the brick. With a lot of bug fixes and enhancements, it supports the most recent Eclipse version 3.3 (Europa) on Java 6, thus runs on Windows and Linux.

For installation and usage, consult the according entry in the News section of the leJOS homepage.

Please direct feedback and questions either to the author (me) or to the leJOS forum.

Work Units and Lesson Plans for the NXT

I have put together a series of Units of Work, Lesson Sequences and accompanying Lesson plans for use by Teachers (and Students). There are Junior, Middle and Senior School units, all lasting approximately 6-8 weeks. Some lessons overlap across the 3 levels of schooling – but there are a number of new lessons at each level. The lessons are all based on NXT-G and are designed to follow on from specific activities in Robot Educator.
Of particular note is:

- “Four Poles Challenge” - one of the most successful resources I have used for introducing Robotics to students and teachers alike.
- A learning based approach to Line Following using one and two light sensors (as opposed to the more prescriptive approach in Robot Educator).
-A very simple, yet effective “Remote Control” for the EduBot that you can use in the classroom.
-Reference to other robotics resources such as PowerPoint ideas, Robot films, excursions and NXT Books.
- Whilst the program objectives, understanding goals, essential outcomes etc. are specific to the Tasmanian Curriculum in Australia, they can be easily adapted and tweaked for other systems.
-Most (if not all) lessons have been trialed and tested at Teacher workshops and in class with teachers and students.

They can be found on my website and are freely available for use in class by teachers and students. I do however value any feedback or suggestions related to them (and naturally ask that Intellectual Property and Copyright be respected).

Wind-up Ballerina

I got a request recently to design a project for girls. After a head-scratching session between my two sons and me wondering what exactly that means, here is one attempt. But I think maybe this one turned out kind of like a project designed by a girl where her little brother snuck in afterwards and made some unauthorized modifications...

new pbLua version released

A note from Ralph Hempel that pbLua beta version 14 is available. From Ralph:

New features include:
1. USB console works reliably now

2. Bluetooth console works reliably now

3. Flash file system has autoload capability - using filename "pbLuaStartup"

4. Added DisplayFlip() and DisplayInvert() so you can read the display upside down.

5. Added timer to PowerDown() so the NXT can shut off after n minutes of inactivity - you can disable it too

6. Added Reboot() function

Mar 18, 2008

NXT in FLL... now also in FTC!

The news is out - the NXT will be part of a new robot platform/product to be used in the FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC). Previously using the VEX platform, recent changes have been made that will allow teams to use the NXT Brick plus some very special hardware being developed just for the kit - read about it here.

FLL World Competition Status...

I've gotten phone calls and emails wondering whether the recent tornado in downtown Atlanta and the damage reported will affect the gathering. This morning I placed a call to the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) and was told that as of today, they are only canceling events for this week and that a new update will be released on Friday, March 21st.

You may visit to read their March 16 update, but there really isn't much more information.

I'll place another call on Friday - stay tuned.

UPDATE: Reader Linda Z. pointed out that FIRST also has a notification page here.

Mar 16, 2008

HRI2008 show, Amsterdam

At the International Conference about Human-Robot interaction, National Instruments and LEGO teamed up to show their products.

Together with Daniel Wittenaar, I attended to help out Steven Canvin (LEGO) and Andy Bell (NI). We had some real great new models on display (picture 2 and 3).

There was a Competition for university students to build a model demonstrating the Human-Robot interaction. They were given just one retail box and a RFID sensor with tags (picture 4, is the complete group and their robots).
Look forward for highlights on this event the next weeks.


Mar 15, 2008

NXT-G Online: A Virtual Programming Teaching Environment

When I was in a LEGO Education Center in Shanghai, I met a true LEGO MINDSTORMS enthusiast, Johnson - it instant friendship. He showed some of the projects he developed and one really caught my attention: NXT-G Online. This software helps teach people how to program in NXT-G through a virtual programming teaching environment. In other words, you have a mission to solve, then you write your NXT-G code then download it to a virtual NXT robot (that is what really caught my attention), which runs the program and accomplishes the mission. It is also VERY easy to use. This software is also a great solution for schools/groups who cannot afford NXT's for everyone, but want them to all have an equal opportunity to program an NXT to really do some tasks.

Here is a video showing NXT-G Online:


To help better understand what is going on in the video, here is the sequence of chronologically events:

- A challenge was selected - a video that came up introduced the challenge.
- The simulated NXT-G programming environment was opened
- Wrote some code (4 motor blocks were dragged onto the palette, and each was set at a different power level).
- Downloaded the NXT-G program to the virtual NXT robot, which automatically opened the virtual environment.
- The robot was moved to where we wanted it to start.
- The virtual NXT brick was opened and we ran the program that was just created. The robot moved accordingly.

Note that the release version of NXT-G Online also has the ability select different sensors and motors for the virtual robot after which you can go back and change your code to make use of your modifications.

Thank you Johnson and your colleagues at Semia for creating this very useful tool.

Mar 13, 2008

Share your website/resources

Back on Feb 26, we invited our readers to start submitting website/forum/blog URLs to our online resource collection - this is just a "bump" of that message to keep it visible. You can read the original post here or jump straight to the forum to share a site (or more). Be sure to read the instructions, and THANK YOU for helping us build this resource collection.

Interview with NXT "Zoo Book" Author, Fay Rhodes, on the LEGO Web Site

Read it here.

This picture of Fay was taken right after she was served an ice cream sundae in Camden, Maine. (Her widest smiles are reserved for ice cream sundaes).

Mar 12, 2008

Mayan Adventure Camp Week

Forsyth County (GA) will be offering a class this summer called "Robotics Camp" that I'll be teaching; it will be using my Mayan Adventure book - can't wait. I'll be having one morning session and one afternoon session (10 kids per session). Should be fun...

It starts July 28 and runs through August 1, 2008. I'll be taking pictures and writing about the camp each day on the blog. There's talk that the classes will fill up quickly, so register early! and the PDF catalog can be downloaded here (my class is on page 11).

Mar 11, 2008

LEGO Education Centre in Shanghai

I recently had an opportunity to go to China and spent some time in Shanghai, where I thought I'd check out one of the LEGO Education Centres there.

The Centres are run by a company called Semia, who exclusively distribute LEGO educational products in China. They have programs for children of all ages, including FLL and WRO.

The video is a quick walk around of the Centre.


Power Functions Remote Control Sensor for NXT

If you have some of the Power Functions remote control stuff, here is a way to get the remote control receiver to serve as a sensor for the NXT, so that you can wirelessly control your NXT robots, using only LEGO parts and NXT-G. The example shows the NXT responding to the up/down/center position of both the red and blue controls on the remote control by drawing graphic arrows on the screen to indicate which way the controls on the remote are being pushed.

This solution is a kludge. It requires several expensive and heavy LEGO electrical parts, and also requires the Education version of the NXT-G software or the Legacy Block Library add-on, but it's all snap-together with LEGOs with no external hardware or software, so if you happen to have the parts already, then it's easy to get it to work.

I am showing this mainly to call attention to a question: There are apparently 3rd party IR Link sensors available for the NXT now (and a couple of nice home-brew ones have been demonstrated), but does anyone want to offer an opinion about whether there is a solution out there that is friendly enough for kids to use with only NXT-G? Note that I am not talking about controlling PF motors from the NXT, or just powering the NXT motors directly from the PF stuff(which can be done with LEGO's adapter wires), but rather giving wireless PF remote control input to your NXT-G program in an easy and reliable way.

NXTLOG Camera Bot Winners

MINDSTORMS NXT Camera Bot Building Challenge Winners announced... congrats to the winners.

Mar 9, 2008

Houston area FLL team champs

Having relocated from Houston, TX to Atlanta, GA, I still like to hear about Houston teams doing well with robotics... the Houston Chronicle has a nice writeup on a local team that took the top prize and is heading to Atlanta in April - the story can be read here.

Congrats, Bearbotics - come find fellow blog contributor and MCP Chris Smith (Houston-area local) and myself at FLL and say hello...

Fight Back against overpriced pieces

Many of you may already be aware of this, but a recent email from reader Linda B. reminded me that LEGO Education is now selling for $12.00 a package of 15 90-degree angle pins (Hassenpins) plus 15 of another popular type. Many people have complained that the only way to obtain the Hassenpin was to purchase them individually at very high prices - well, no more! Click here to see the item and order as many as you need.

Mar 8, 2008

RCX Sensor multiplexer for NXT just released a new sensor for the NXT. With this sensor you can connect up to four RCX style sensors to a single NXT sensor port. It supports the RCX touch, light, rotation and temperature sensor.

Click here for more details.

Interview with Dave Parker

LEGO's website has an interview with our newest contributor, Dave Parker.

Read it here.

Mar 7, 2008

3-Speed Transmission with Clutch

For you gear heads out there, the latest project on is a 3-speed manual shift transmission with a realistic hand-operated clutch, using only parts from the standard NXT set. Build it with the instructions here and try out your driving skills!

Mar 5, 2008

NXTLOG Biped Building Challenge

These robots are made for walkin'

Alpha Rex can't be the only biped you'll ever make, so we're asking you to create the NXT two legged walker!

Bipeds are said to be the most difficult robot to make, but we know NXTLOGgers are up for the challenge!

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 Biped.

Entries must be submitted from Saturday March 1, 2008 - Monday March 31, 2008
(Please note that it is better not to wait for the last minute, since then your robot may get tagged a later date then March 31).

All entries must be tagged "NXT200803"

Read it all here.

Good building!


Mar 4, 2008

PF remote control for LDRAW

Philo did it again!
After a lot of work, he now has published the LDraw file for the Power Functions Infrared Remote Control to the LDraw Parts Tracker.

Merci, Philo!

NXTLOG 5000 Winners - Is it YOUR robot?

We searched through 100's of innovative MINDSTORMS NXT projects to showcase for this tremendous milestone on NXTLOG. And the winner of NXTLOG 5000 is...

First Place
Mars Explorer Mk1 with Lander(PF Inc)
Created by: mezzauk
This is mezzauk's first NXT project, and it's awesome! It is an explorer robot with a PF (Power Function) enabled lander. The explorer begins by ordering the lander to lower both sides then the front so it can exit. A medium PF motor serves as a small radar/communication tower at the back - it rotates while the left, right, and front are deployed. The Mars Explorer Mk1 with Lander(PF Inc) is built with sets 8527, 8273, 9648, 8285, PF motor set and other small parts. We applaud mezzauk's first and winning contribution to NXTLOG. Thanks for your amazing and innovative work!

Second Place
Brick Sorter Crane
Created by: pejensen
Another first project on NXTLOG, this project included everything; great documentation, pictures, a program file, and an LDD file! This 2x2 LEGO bricks sorter can sort bricks in white, gray and black. The Sound Sensor activates the program to sort the LEGO bricks in the holder. All 3 motors are used and only the Ultrasonic sensor is not used. Congratulations pejensen!

Third Place
Stair Climber 2000
Created by: mikeike68
mikeike68's 6th project on NXTLOG, is a stair climber robot that can keep itself up without shifting weight or using a lot of gears. It is a simple design that uses flaps to lift itself up and rear wheels to push. mikeike68 shares a great documentation and LDD file. Thanks for sharing this amazing invention and helping NXTLOG reach new heights!

Honorable Mention
piano bot
Created by: vincentliu

Created by: ®NXT

Ping-Pong Ball Throwing Maniac
Created by: Antonio947

Don't forget to look at all the other robots


NXT and Space Exploration Studies

A new news article on LEGO .com today about the use of NXT to teach students space exploration concepts (??):

From the news item:

"The International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France uses MINDSTORMS NXT Robots to assist with learning about space exploration concepts. Through a generous donation of MINDSTORMS NXT kits from The LEGO Company, students at ISU developed a robotic rover to pick up a number of small stones on a surface with obstacles."

Mystery Warehouse Module Series

I've received a ton of emails about The Mayan Adventure over the past year or so, and I'm glad to hear that so many people have enjoyed the book. I've heard from students, teachers, and parents about the different ways they've used the book - classroom, camps, and parent/child activities. (I've even been asked to teach a camp class this summer that will use the book.)

Teachers have been the most vocal - asking for more information, more activities, more of everything!

Well, here's what I've got so far...

I've developed a 3-part module series for teachers/coaches called "Mystery Warehouse." Like The Mayan Adventure, it uses a fictional storyline to encourage more activity (building and programming) with the NXT kit. Each module is broken down as follows:

* Instructor Resources
-- Two Pre-Challenge Activities - These give the students experience using and programming each sensor used by the robot in a particular module
-- Module Main Challenge - complete setup instructions for creating the challenge environment
-- CAD building instructions - complete CAD instructions for the module's main challenge robot - builds on to the Education Tribot
-- Programming instructions - complete screenshots (every block and configuration panel) of the entire module's main challenge program
-- Web links for downloading all programs - programs for main challenge and pre-challenge activities can be downloaded
-- "Learn More" and "Know your Techno" sections - provide additional web resources plus Help documentation for the module's special sensor
-- Discussion questions - each module contains 20 discussion questions to encourage further investigation and discussion
-- Web link for downloading program slideshow - PowerPoint slideshow for module main challenge

* Student Resources
-- Fiction story (3 parts - 1 per module) that sets the stage for the Main Challenge
-- Worksheets (x4) - for both Pre-Challenge 1 and 2 and the Main Challenge
-- Web link for downloading slideshow notesheets - these have space for students to take notes on the program discussion

Individual Module Information:

Part 1 - Uses the HiTechnic Compass Sensor - approx 20 hours of activity including building, programming, and challenge
Part 2 - Uses the HiTechnic Color Sensor - approx 21 hours of activities
Part 3 - Uses the HiTechnic Acceleration/Tilt Sensor - approx 20 hours of activities

While the module challenges can be performed using the Education Tribot plus additional construction (provided by CAD instructions), students are encouraged to try and build their own robots (or modify the one in the module) to complete the challenges. Each module challenge can stand "on its own" and does not require the other modules to complete.

Thanks to all of you who have emailed and requested more activities - I'm always working on something, so hopefully these will hold you for a short time while I prepare some more. The next module will be a stand-alone, single story module that requires the Education Base Kit plus one Resource Kit... stay tuned.

Rubik's Cube - Who Needs a Camera?

I've been very impressed with Danny's Rubik's Cube solver, both the mechanics and the programming (both of which I might add are beyond my usual range of experience). I recently came across another version by Hans Andersson of an NXT-based Rubik's solver, but one that is completely standalone - no PC or even image processing is required, and the parts list looks to be well under one NXT kit. It uses the US sensor to detect when a cube is placed in the cradle, and then scans it using nothing more exotic than the stock light sensor (he has used a specially colored cube to make the colors easily distinguished). Take a look at the YouTube video - in particular, watch the multi-jointed motion of the arm, (it seems to be a very nicely designed mechanism), as well as the simple way the scanning is accomplished. Not to mention the fun sounds it uses while calculating a solution. I'd love some more details on this project but I don't have any...yet. I am guessing he's used NXC with Bricx Command Center, as they are listed on his links page. Visit his site - it's brief, but well-written.

Han's Tilted Twister website:

Brian Davis

Mar 1, 2008

NXT and Basketball

A quick post - Kortenkamp emailed about a great little video - check it out.

Snowmobile races at

Dave's posted a new project for his fans - snowmobile racing.

Check it out here.

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