May 31, 2008

NXT Modular Test Vehicle (MTV)

This Modular Test Vehicle (MTV) project shows you how to build a set of five modules (with a single NXT retail or Edu + Resource Kit) that can be quickly and easily assembled into a complete vehicle in many different ways, using different wheel types, chassis layouts, and gear ratios. The example vehicles below were all built in under one minute using the MTV modules.

Building instructions for the five modules are included, but not the final assembly, that part is left to the users. A couple of very simple test programs are also included. You can use this project to easily and quickly experiment with how different configurations affect the driving, turning, load carrying ability, accuracy, and consistency of the vehicle. One minute you might have a robot that can barely turn, and the next minute after a quick change you might have a much better one.

FLL coaches/mentors/parents, and teachers that use the NXT might want to take a look through this. This project might make a good training project for the start of the FLL season (or the off-season), for example. It is split into five separate modules that can be built separately by different people, and it contains several suggestions for mechanical design issues to experiment with, including my favorite issue: weight balance (I can’t tell you how many robots I have seen struggle due to this issue). It could also be used to jump start a new team that needs some help getting any basic chassis that they can start to work with. The project doesn’t tell you how to configure your chassis (your team will have to experiment with that), but it effectively reduces the number of parts from hundreds to five, so that you can get something together much easier. The resulting robots from this training project won’t be great by any measure, nor suitable for any particular mission, so hopefully teams will be able to take what they learn from it and go on to design their own robots that perform they way they want them to.

May 30, 2008

Should we avoid port splitters?

When I was on this morning, this popped up. Could someone refresh our collective memory about why using these is not a great idea (even if the idea of more ports is very appealing)?

Global RoadTrip - new destination

AlphaRex has moved from Tokyo to Osaka, Japan. - Some new photos have been posted, so check them out here.

Brian Bagnall's New Book

Coming out in September.

May 28, 2008

Concise Intro to RobotC

A professor at Hendrix College has created a brief introduction to RobotC. It's available here.

The introduction doesn't cover the more advanced features of RobotC: motor synchronization, variables and the like. But it's a valuable overview that will help you determine if the language is for you.

A demo version of RobotC is available here.

May 26, 2008

Mars Base Command Module Summary PDF ready

The first module summary PDF for "Mission Base Alpha: Plan B" is now available. Just visit Click on the Join button if you're unfamiliar with this project or click on the Alpha tab to grab the file. (It's zipped and almost 8Mb.)

I've already received emails from around the US (and maybe one or two overseas) about this project being used in some summer/robot camps. I don't know if the second module will be done by July/August but I'll certainly try - no promises. If you are a teacher or camp leader and need more help or have specific questions, please don't hesitate to email me.

May 25, 2008

How Do You Use Your NXT Books?

There are now 22 books on the market that cover some aspect of the NXT.

What innovative uses have you found for your NXT books?

How have you gone beyond a book's actual instructions and plans to create something new and different, something that goes beyond what a particular book intends to teach?

Let us know how NXT books have served as a "springboard" for new ideas and projects for your NXT.

May 23, 2008

Global RoadTrip Update

Some of my pictures have now been posted over at for the Global RoadTrip. Alpha got to visit the Coca-Cola Museum, the Georgia Aquarium (largest in the world), and CNN News Center, where he got to sit in the actual news anchor chair (okay, ON the desk).

I was fortunate that a couple of CNN employees, Victoria and Alice, saw me snapping photos of Alpha underneath the huge CNN letters - they invited us in to visit the actual newsroom gave us a complete tour, including letting me snap some pictures of Alpha sitting in the Big Chair.

Book Review

I've read through Damien Kee's new book, "Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: NXT" and I'd like to offer some comments:

1. Damien's done a nice job of breaking his topics down into 10 weekly sessions, one topic per week. Some of the chapters I really liked included one on Flow Charts and another one on getting a stuck robot out of a tight spot.

2. He has complete CAD building instructions for a robot he calls Domabot that is used throughout the workbook. He also provides CAD BIs for 3 different attachments that are used in various experiments. The CAD BIs are very easy to follow and are easy to read. Damien mixes CAD with photos to show you how what a final setup will look like.

3. One very nice feature that he's apparently put a lot of time into are his worksheets. They are nicely done and he provides them for all the book's activities.

4. Teachers are given a "Lesson Plan" overview at the beginning of the book and he points them to extra resources that are available for download.

Each chapter describes any additional items you need (straws, pens, etc - all easy to find) and has Teacher Notes that give a brief explanation of what the chapter will teach.

All in all, a very nice workbook - he's got some nice layout and graphic features that I wish I'd thought of... and may "borrow" ;)

Is the book useful outside of the classroom? I think so - especially for youngsters new to NXT. I think the book could just as easily be used by a parent who wants to spend some creative time with their child(ren) and an NXT kit.

May 22, 2008

NXT Book Summary

David Perdue has created a nice summary of available NXT books - there's a few missing (I've emailed him about the Gray and Black books from Japan), but it's a good start.

Check it out here.

May 20, 2008

New NXT book project

Don Wilcher, the author of the two MINDSTORMS-related books LEGO Mindstorms Interfacing (2003) and LEGO Mindstorms Mechatronics (2004), has announced that he is presently working on a new book project entitled LEGO NXT MECHTRONICS: Intelligent Machines Concepts. From the author:

"The focus of this book is to explore how table top machines and gadgets can be created using the LEGO NXT. Now you may ask, sounds like a previous LEGO Mindstorm books written on the subject. The difference between this book and the ones already published is New Product Development design techniques and modeling tool that will be explained through hands-on projects and experiments."

May 17, 2008

Java for the NXT: leJOS NXJ 0.6 is out (finally for Mac OSX)

The guys from leJOS, the Open Source Java platform for the NXT, have released a new version:
"NXJ Version 0.6 is available for download. Along with numerous bug fixes, this version includes: Full Mac OSX support, output using System.out and System.err, switch statements, Bluetooth GPS, Bluetooth keyboard (SPP not HID), preliminary javax.bluetooth API, auto-run a program and many more (see notes). Please report any bugs to the forums."
Try it!

May 16, 2008

NXT Mini Sumo Bot

I have received some questions about building and programming Sumo robots. I am not an expert on robot Sumo and have not entered any official competitions (perhaps others can comment and include relevant links for beginners), but I have led several simple Sumo-like activities in the Robotics Club that I teach at our school, and they are always popular and easy to build upon with further ideas (right now we are doing a sort of robotic Karate/Mixed Martial Arts challenge, perhaps I will blog on that later). Anyway, I have posted this simple NXT Mini Sumo Bot project to show how easy it can be to get started with something like this.

For off-season FLL teams, it is easy to do a Sumo-like challenge by turning the FLL mat over and using black electrical tape to mark out an octagon-shaped ring. Give it a try and see what your kids come up with!

Camel Foot Contest

As you may know, LEGO no longer includes the wheel I received in my Educational Resource Set and used for the camel's foot in the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Zoo book. I can design another foot, but thought it would be fun to hold a contest to find the best alternate foot, instead.

The contest will take place in the NXTStep Forum HERE.

The prize will be a free autographed copy of the Zoo book.

May 15, 2008

May 12, 2008

NXT whac-a-mole - Part 2

Continueing on from the post yesterday.... about the double NXT Whac-a-mole construction.

Today we been working on another module of the robot - the score tower - which uses the caterpiller tracks to move the pointer up and down:

The tracks (that came with last year's TECHNIC Bulldozer) is extremely useful. Most people use the tracks for moving a vehicle. e.g. Like the TECHNIC Bulldozer.

You can also use the tracks to move an object attached to the tracks from part of the robot to another - like we have done for the second module of the Whac-a-mole today

The tracks moves a LEGO mole up and down on a long tower. The idea of the game is that the player whacks the moles that pop their head. As you whack more and more moles, you get higher points. And as you get more and more points the mole gets higher until it touches the top touch sensor - then the pointer returns to the base and starts the next level - just like the ones you see in carnivals.

It is way easier to implement than using linear gears, pulleys or anything else.

Can you think of any other uses for the tracks?

May 11, 2008

Alert! NXT Sets on Sale

If anyone is in the market for a new NXT set, I just came across NXT kits on sale at The price, not including shipping, is $227.99. The company has a 97% positive rating on Amazon, and has retail outlets (Creative Toys and Hobbies) located in North Carolina and Virginia. It looks like they have eight kits in stock, as of right now. (On the other hand, you can buy one online from the Discovery Store for $275.00—only $25 for shipping!)

NXT Chess

The actual game starts at one minute and fifty seconds into the video.

NXT whac-a-mole - Part 1

The NXTLog has a new competition as Richard blogged last week. We have not entered a robot since our Wall-e won a NXTLog challenge last year.

However, the new competition is really challenging - the brief is to use two NXT kits - and this weekend we started working on the creation that is the biggest robot that we ever built and uses 2 NXT, 6 motors and 7 sensors.

This is as far as I got so far:

Anyone want to guess what I am building?

Edit: Well done to Jonathan and Joshua for guessing it right. It is going to be a Whac-a-mole.

May 10, 2008

Podcast interview with Jim and Fay

LAMLradio: Talk LEGO recently interviewed Fay and me for a podcast... we talked about MINDSTORMS and the blog and some of our special projects... the interview can be found here.

Release date for Mars Base Command

If everything goes as planned, the tentative start date for Mars Base Command will be May 26, 2008. I've posted some sneak peek info over at and I'll probably be "adding" some more details over the weekend and into next week... (you'll have to hunt for it).

I'm having as much fun developing this stuff as I hope you'll have participating...

More later.


May 9, 2008

Expanding your Parts Stash

If you wish to expand your stash of TECHNIC parts (for use with the NXT kit), then you may be interested to know that LEGO Shop-At-Home is offering the LEGO Fire Truck (#8289) for a reduced price of $49.98. This kit has 1039 pieces---many of which are most-desired basic parts.A list of the parts contained in the Fire Truck set are at

May 8, 2008

Fun Video

Reader Tom emailed me about a very special "skill" - I give him bonus points for some great music as well as excellent video editing skills. I would love to see a video with an NXT robot built this way, but unfortunately the NXT kit comes in multiple bags and boxes.

May 6, 2008

Controlling RC motors

Reader JAB sent over a link to a video showing his use of the Lattebox with leJOS. From his website:

"In 2008, Lattebox a hi-tech company located in Taiwan, launch a new kind of NXT device, NXTe. NXTe allows controlling RC servos easily. NXT brick has 4 sensor port inputs to control NXT sensors as Ultrasonic Sensors, Compass Sensors, NXTCam Sensors, etc.

If you connect Lattebox NXTe in any free input sensor port, you could manage until 10 RC Servos with your NXT brick with an unique NXTe kit."

- Read more here.

LEGO Ed. Part Switch

When I received my Education Resource Set, it included this wheel--which also appears on the cover of the box. I used four of these as feet for my camel in the ZOO book. Now, I've discovered that LEGO Ed is not including this wheel, but is, instead, including the wheel that is already in the base kits. Message to LEGO: If you must choose one wheel hub for all things, let it be this one. It offers many more creative building options.

May 5, 2008

Wichita State University "Robot Zoo"

Tonya Witherspoon of Wichita State University taught a graduate-level course on "Robotics in the Classroom". (The course was completed on May 3rd).

The students in the course were teachers in various Kansas schools. The teachers were given an NXT educational kit, an NXT curriculum from Carnegie-Mellon and a stipend, in order to come up with a robot based on an animal from Fay Rhodes' NXT Zoo Book.

Some teachers built animals directly from the book (with modifications). Others used concepts from the book to create their own animals. All of the robots were enormously creative!

What follows are pictures taken on the last day of class:

Fay Rhodes signing copies of her book

Spider that captures its prey from a tree,
then takes it to its nest.

Tauntaun from Star Wars: attacks Imperial Storm
Troopers by using its light sensor

Turtle that turns, rolls to the end of the table and
pokes its head out of its shell

Meerkat rolls through its burrow, raising
and lowering its head to look for

Turkey gobbler approaches other turkeys;
If the other turkey is a male, it backs off. If
the other turkey is a hen, it flutters its

Elvis "Hound Dog" Presley. He dances and
twirls to a rock music soundtrack.

ET: moves furtively while talking and
raising/lowering its head

A platypus that, among other things, uses its tail as a
lethal weapon

A skunk that fires a dart from its rear
(seen here after a crash)

A camel in its native habitat, designed by a student

A fox that explores a vineyard

Two student groups with their robots, their teacher
and Fay

(Posted by Rick Rhodes)

May 3, 2008

LEGOWORLD 2008 Norway (Oslo)

LEGOWORLD Norway is today for the third day open, I welcome you all to join us today or tomorrow in Oslo. (see for details)

We have a really large MINDSTORMS stand, showing a lot of NXT and RCX models , but you can also play with many bricks, view models from the past, buy new boxes, and several nice goodies.

Regards Martyn

Homebrew Light Sensor

Very recently I ordered a copy of the Extreme NXT book. The book covers a nice set of interesting projects.

Extreme NXT: Extending the LEGO MIDSTORMS NXT to the Next Level is for intermediate-level users of NXT who would like to advance their capabilities by learning some of the basics of electronics. Plenty of examples are provided, and easy-to-follow instructions are included for building over 15 different sensors.

I had never soldered any electronics before, so I started with a simple project as described on the Extreme NXT website. The solder instructions in the book were very helpful.

Combined with the Mindsensors sensor sockets, it resulted in this:

The sensor works quite well. I’ve used some tape to cover the sides of the LEDs (not in this photograph) so that the photocell would only measure the reflected light from the surface.

Below is a video of a basic line follower with the sensor. First I calibrate the sensor by telling the robot what is white and what is black.


If you like to expand your knowledge of electronics and the NXT kit, I would really consider to buy the book.

May 2, 2008

Fast Turns, Stall Detection

A week ago I posted the NXT Dog Sled Team project, which (appeared to...) have a traction problem due to a severe weight balance issue. Now having some fun with the other extreme, this NXT Spinner Bot project has six wheels, but nearly all of the weight is balanced over the two drive wheels in the center, with the four castor wheels barely touching the ground for balance. This gives it a very quick turning ability for break-dancing-like spin turns.
The program provided with this project demonstrates a way to detect collisions by using the rotation sensors in the drive motors to detect when the motors have stalled, which allows the robot to bounce around your room without using any other sensors.

MINDSTORMS NXT NXT Building Challenge

"NXT NXT...? Are you seeing double? Yes! We are presenting a doubly fun building challenge where you create a robot that uses 2 NXT bricks! We are also giving you double the amount of time to enter this challenge (projects must be entered by June 30, 2008)."

Sounds fun, but this will eliminate some competitors (including me!). Good luck!


FLL Team Registration is Open!

Registration for 2008 FLL teams is open! Go here to start.


AlphaRex Global RoadTrip

It looks like LEGO is gearing up to star the AlphaRex Global Roadtrip. I'm fortunate to have one of the two AlphaRex robots that will begin their travels around the world. More news to come, but you can see they've updated the official website with some pictures here.

May 1, 2008

Assistance to Teachers and Schools


I've received some emails and calls recently, some in response to discussions started at World Festival two weeks ago and some just out of desperation. Let me summarize the issue here and see if our readers can offer some assistance. While I'm speaking from a USA point-of-view, this discussion certainly has equal concern around the globe.

While FLL is growing and the NXT is constantly being integrated into new classrooms, there are probably more schools that do NOT have access to this technology than schools that do. Some of the issues that have been brought up:

* There are cost barriers - How can we make certain that every school that wants an NXT kit in the classroom can get one? Apple had (or still has) the "An Apple in every classroom" - how could LEGO and/or LEGO Education (L/LE) do the same? Could corporate entities be given a way to sponsor a school or schools? How about individuals? What is in place if I should decide to donate $250+ to "buy" a kit for a school in need?

* There are language barriers (the NXT and software only support English, French, Spanish, and German, I believe) - How could the books, websites, software Help files, and more be more easily translated to other languages? Again, could corporate support fund this? Would L/LE provide source documentation for translation and download to those countries that need materials translated?

* Most teachers didn't major in Computer Science - how can we expect teachers to integrate robotics into their math/science curriculum without some sort of formalized training or more user-friendly documentation? LE is probably stretched thin as it is to offer classes and training to teachers in their respective areas. Where are teachers to obtain training so they, in turn, can pass along those skills to students?

* There are limits to student participation - whether it's the FLL team size of 10 students or just a logistical limit based on class size and availability, how can we ensure that every student who wants to participate in either competitions or math/science classroom projects has equal access? Some schools have one (1!!) NXT kit to go around... it would be interesting if we could figure out the average number of students per NXT kit, but I won't hold my breath. The real question here is how can we make sure that every school has a sufficient number of kits to satisfy classroom demand.

* Is the private sector aware that its future is tied to technology in the classroom? - More and more jobs are requiring a higher-level of education and/or technical-skill level. Many kids grow up being as comfortable holding a computer mouse as they are holding a toy. But again, not all kids. Many corporations are involved in sponsorship, mentoring, and funding of technologies in schools, but again, not all schools are so lucky.

The NXT community is a sub-group of the larger LEGO community, but the level of technology offered by the NXT has the potential here to, quite honestly, make a bigger change in a single student's future than any other LEGO product (IMO). At a minimum, the NXT could spark students' inquisitive natures and instill an urge to learn more about other subjects. Specifically, the NXT can inspire students to dig deeper into math and science (which always seem to be lagging in interest according to the media) and encourage them to pursue engineering studies. But, back to the purpose of this post, there is not equal access for many different reasons.

Advice? Thoughts? Solutions? Please share them here as comments or in the Forum section that I've started here. I've started a new section in the forum where education can meet up with private sector. If you know of grants, scholarships, or sources of funds, please share them. If you know of companies that are extremely supportive of schools, please share that information. If you know of resources, books, websites, or other media that can help teachers, students, parents, and school officials, let us know.

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