Oct 31, 2008

Six-Legged Walker with UNIQUE Turning Mechanism

Scores points for creativity, even if it isn't anatomically correct. :)
Nice "Nine Inch Nails" soundtrack, too.

AlphaRex's RoadTrip to Niagara Falls (Canada, USA)

AlphaRex visits Niagara Falls on the border of Canada with the USA.
Find out about his recent visit and view the picture album here.


Oct 30, 2008

Interview with Dean Kamen

Great read... and a few thoughts:

1. He should issue a challenge to EVERY FIRST LEGO League team to raise funds during their competition season to buy one or two of the water systems (mentioned at the bottom of page 3). Let every FLL team sponsor a water purification system for a village that needs clean water.

2. To someone who knows Dean personally - please ask him to bring the electric car to FLL in Atlanta next year.

3. Kids - do NOT follow Dean's example and quit school - it worked for him but the odds are not in your favor. Stay in school and learn as much as you can.

AlphaRex in London

On his journey around the earth due to the 10th anniversary of LEGO MINDSTORMS, AlphaRex has arrived in London, on of the most interesting cities on our globe.

Oct 28, 2008

Robot Inspiration Series #12: Lock and Load!

Although LEGO doesn't like to sell or support weapon-products, let's face it... robotic weapons are lots of fun! Besides the "imagination" factor, weapons can have "practical" uses as well. For example, two or more zamor-shooting, repeating rifles/pistols can make for a great LEGO "Paintball" match! (even if it is a little close-range :) )

You can make many different kinds of NXT weapons. Some ideas include crossbows, pistols, rifles, machine guns, catapults, and slingshots. Below are some resources that you might find helpful if you want to make one.

First, there's Forbidden LEGO by No Starch, which gives instructions for making some neat-looking LEGO weapons. Although it's not NXT-related, it looks like it would be easy to interface the models with the NXT. You can also get some great inspiration from the models.

Some current NXT weapons include my Beam Weapon (scroll down) and robots entered in NXTasy's "Throw Me!" Contest, such as Matthias' Dicke Bertha and Dicke Bertha Typ II.


P.S. See other Robot Inspiration posts here.

Simple NXT Slot Machine

Oct 26, 2008

NXT Self Parking Car

While YouTube tells us that there are many NXT robots that can park themselves between objects, there aren't so many (I haven't seen any yet) of these designs that use a steering and driving mechanism that is used in real cars: front-wheel drive and front-wheel steering.

Chapter 8 in our new book (NXT One-Kit Wonders) illustrates how to make one that accomplishes both tasks with just the front wheels.

Oct 24, 2008

An attempt on a LEGO® MINDSTORMS Gatling Gun

Some time ago, I got hold on a couple of the Technic Competition Cannons and pondered about a usage of them in a model. As I always had plans to try for a LEGO® Gatling Gun, I decided to make an attempt on it:

What do you think about it?

AlphaRex's RoadTrip to Toronto

AlphaRex visits Toronto.

Find out about his recent visit and view the picture album here.


Oct 22, 2008

Lesson Plans for Designing NXT Animals

Here are some excellent lesson plans for students from grades 3-5. They include a teacher's guide and student handouts. Thanks to Tufts University. (The "Animal Design" module is located halfway down the page).

Oct 21, 2008

Odin, a robot for odometry

Philo, one of the European MCPs, has published a new robot for odometry, the art of estimating the own position during wheeled vehicle navigation. It's called Odin and
"it measures as precisely as possible distances travelled and orientation of displacement. Its mechanical structure is well suited for that: when travelling it rolls on four parallel wheel so it is able to go very straight. For turning, it raises itself on a central pivot, turns around it and goes down, ready for the next move"
, as the author states.
On the associated web site you'll find ample documentation, images, videos, programs and building instructions for it.

What's more: you can build it was one single NXT Retail kit!

Oct 20, 2008

Robot Inspiration Series #11: Robotic Butler

Although there are many robots called butlers (which usually make drinks), I'm using the term more loosely. In this case, I'm referring to robots that assist you in any way related to meals/eating. For example, can you make a robot shake salt and pepper on your food where, when, and how much you want? Maybe the robot can mix up a drink for you? How about setting your place when you're almost ready to eat? There are many possibilities for this category. You could even try to make a robot help prepare a meal or clean up from it.

One issue you may need to consider when making a butler robot is how to make it work with non-LEGO materials. For example, the robot might need to work with salt and pepper shakers, cups, utensils, etc. Since these objects' dimensions aren't made to work with LEGOs, you may need pieces that are pliable or elastic. Rubber pieces usually work well, such as the 1x2 rubber pieces that come with the retail kit. Tires can also come in handy.


P.S. You can see other Robot Inspiration posts here.

MGBC ball run

Skallagrigg, uploaded a video that follows the ball in the MGBC. the video was taken on 18-10-2008.

You See Eric (the builder of the wheel) in a Yellow shirt.


Oct 19, 2008


This year, Fernando came over to visit LEGOWORLD and he brought a nice camera.
Eric, Gerrit, Martyn and and friends prepared an MGBC setup for LEGOWORLD.
And, what is MGBC, you asks. MGBC is an expansion (in the fully sense of the term...) from GBC concept and stands for "Much Greater Ball Contraption" or "MINDSTORMS Greater Ball Contraption".

It uses MINDSTORMS balls at a much slower transport rate than standard GBC. About 2 balls per minute.
See bellow one photo from the actual setup running at LEGOWORLD.

Do you want to see more!?
Ok, take a look to this post, today from 13:00 PM to 15:PM (GMT) to see LegoWorld MGBC in action, at TechnicBRICKs live video channel. Then it will be repeated Monday and Tuesday at the same hours (occasionally you may find it streaming at different periods).

Live video on top and live chat room at bottom. Tell us what do you think.

As alternative, you may follow it directly on this URL, or take a look at the original post in TechnicBRICKs.


Oct 17, 2008

Portable FLL Table solution

Team Landroids out of Livingston N.J. has published building instructions for a very innovative FLL table design. You can find the instructions here.

LEGOWORLD 2008 (day 1)

Today was the first day of LEGOWORLD 2008.
At the MINDSTORMS booth we had a visit of Søren Lund (former Marketing Director MINDSTORMS), and I could show him and his family:
The NXT-sans (an underwater excavator build for NI-week). We displayed it inside a large tank of water. (do not put motors or other electrical LEGO parts under water at home!)
Also an almost 3 meter high ferries wheel, as part of a MGBC (Much Greater Ball Contraption= GBC with MINDSTORMS balls), the balls are first put in a basket that is picked up by the wheel, for a round, to clear out the basket at the other end. There the balls continue their journey in a train.
Most of the books (including a pre-press version of the One-Kit Wonders) are available for a look inside, and several models can be seen in real live.
You can play with the new WEDO form LEGO Education.
Various line followers are shown, and a copy of Steve’s Hassenplugs P-Sumo.

See you there...


Apologies to Cat Lovers

NXT Builders - here's a challenge for you... take a look at this guy's design for a motion-detecting blender used to keep his cat off the kitchen counter.

Nice... but it could be improved, right? The NXT has an Ultrasonic Sensor, some motors, a nice loud speaker... this thing is begging to be "robotized"!

NXT Five Minute Bot

Sometimes you need a robot. Fast. Just to run an experiment, or as a temporary base to use to start another project. This simple NXT Five Minute Bot can be built in about 5 minutes (see boring video). It is reasonably sturdy and balanced, can turn easily on smooth floors, and has several basic attachment points for expansion. The building instructions will also work for the rechargeable battery pack as well as the AA batteries.

Congrats to Chris Smith

One of our bloggers, Chris Smith, is featured in the NASA Tech Briefs for a design he created a few years back that won a Space Act Award.

You can read a partial of the writeup here but the full article (Tech Briefs page 82-84) can be downloaded here.

Congrats, Chris!

Oct 16, 2008

Bowling Robot

I was just cleaning out some hard drive space when I came across this robot that I had forgotten about. The angle of the chute is controlled by the rotation sensor of a separate motor and the release mechanism is triggers with a touch sensor. I must make some 10 pin bowling pins to test it against :)

Damien Kee

Oct 15, 2008

Special Announcement for Educators - Guest Blog

From Morgan:

"Attention Educators!

LEGOengineering.com is happy to announce our new Community section. The Community section empowers LEGO educators from around the world to share lesson plans and activities and get feedback from other users. Users can also post questions, ideas, tips, problems and start discussions with the worldwide community. Users can view and share photos of LEGO creations from students.

LEGOengineering.com is a collaboration between the Tufts University Center for Engineering Educational Outreach (CEEO) and LEGO Education. The website was created to be a resource for educators around the world that use or want to use LEGO Mindstorms as an educational tool. All content is freely available to the public.

Becoming a member is easy. Just click the Join Now link here or on the Community front page. Within seconds you will be able to upload content, ask questions, and make comments.

Oct 13, 2008

NXT 1.1 CD for sale

MINDSTORMS NXT 1.1 (upgrade) CD is for sale on the Shop@home.
Unfortunately only for the US customers.

This CD can also be usefull if you have the Education Kit (9797) and the Education resource set (9648).

Product link:
MINDSTORMS® NXT CDItem #: 4524081
Price was USD 19.99
Sale Price USD 7.98

Robot Inspiration Series #10: All-Terrain Autonomous Rovers

One of the first robots I tried to make without instructions, back in the RIS days, was an all-terrain autonomous rover. These robots are nice in that they don't have to be too hard to build or program, but they can have many challenges and thinking problems to overcome, and they can stimulate many creative ideas and designs. Although an all-terrain rover should technically be able to traverse any terrain, we're talking about NXT robots, so you might want to limit yourself to inside your house.

Since your robot needs to move around without you controlling it, you'll need to give it the capability to detect and respond to (or not be affected by) potentially problematic situations. Aside from the obvious one of walls and other simple obstacles, these may include:

- Steep dropoffs
- Short overhangs: sometimes a ledge or other object may block the top of your robot instead of the bottom. In this situation, a mechanism for detecting obstacles soley on the ground level would not be sufficient.
- Bumpy ground
- Steep ramps: sometimes the robot might go up a ramp that becomes so steep that the robot falls over. You'd need something that could detect this (for example, a touch sensor in the back that gets pressed if the robot tilts back too far)
- Obstacles in the back or on the sides of the robot: sometimes the robot might back up or turn into an obstacle (perhaps from avoiding an obstacle in the front). You'd need sensors to detect such objects.

One of the greatest difficulties I've found in building these robots is getting around the sensor and motor limitations. There can be so many things the robot needs to detect, but only four sensors and three motors are available per NXT Brick. You could try using multiple Bricks if you have them, or try to give each sensor multiple functions.

One way to make the robot travel is to simply make it move randomly while monitoring for problem situations and responding to them when they appear. If you wanted to go advanced, you might try to make the robot travel to a certain destination through terrain with random obstacles. Another idea would be to give the robot a task, like cleaning a floor, that it could do while moving around and avoiding obstacles.


Oct 11, 2008

TECHNIC at an Angle

Brian Davis and others are having an interesting discussion on constructing angles using TECHNIC pieces.

(The top photo is Brian's. The bottom photo is a peacock with angled, TECHNIC wings taken from the NXT Zoo Book).

RobotC Webinars

RobotC is running some nice, completely free, online classes to teach the basics of using their language with the NXT, Vex, and FTC. The NXT webinar is held on Tuesdays from 7 to 7:30 PM EST. You can see and register for it here. There's only one Webinar left for the NXT, but you can watch recordings of the previous three Webinars on the above link as well.

I haven't seen the NXT webinars, but the FTC webinar is taught by Timothy Friez, one of the developers for RobotC, so they seem to have the experts teaching these courses. Not only do the webinars provide nice learning sessions, but also give you a chance to ask questions. Definitely something to take a look at if you want to switch to a more advanced language than NXT-G!


Oct 10, 2008

Inspirational View - NASA's S.A.I.L. STS OV-095

Hi Folks! This may be approaching the edge of "off-topic", but it may encourage someone out there to look further into the rabbit hole. Here is the 'inspirational view' of the Space Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and Test Facility. Wait for it to load, then click and have a look around (use your center mouse wheel to zoom in/out). Related to MINDSTORMS NXT? Sort of, there is a connection though...click for it here. Please, enjoy. The view will soon be moved to a better location.


NXT controlled motorcycle – with realistic steering!

A German builder named leggor has created a remote control for his NXT fatboy motorcyle.  That by itself isn’t anything new.  Many folks have created remote controls for their NXT projects.

What is neat about this remote control… is it simulates a real motorcycle handlebar.  Complete with twistable throttle and a break.

A simple shot of the controller:


Here is a short video of the bike and control in action:


Thanks to Klocki for the heads-up on this project. There are some other neat projects on leggor’s BrickShelf page.

Oct 9, 2008

What's Happening?

I've received a lot of emails recently, many asking the same questions - so it'll be easier if I just post responses here:

1. Slow News Week/Month? - Yes and No. Keep in mind that we're coming up on the NXT's 2nd year anniversary - the product turns 2! I have no info on sales, but I'm sure things have leveled and the number of "unique" NXT designs aren't coming out as often as they did the day after it came out - but we're still searching for new robot designs and news - and we still invite our readers to point us to newsworthy items or even submit as a guest blogger (see the link along the right edge and click it for more info). We've seen weeks of non-stop news and other weeks with little to nothing to write about - just be patient and I'm sure we'll have some new stuff to share soon.

2. Mars Base Gamma? - Well, I really, REALLY, tried hard to get it out by Oct 1, but Hurricane Ike put a kink in my plans - I have someone who helps me develop and test the CAD building instructions and unfortunately he was in the direct path of the hurricane when it hit. He's fine, house and family are fine, but the CAD images are just a bit behind. The good news is that I just saw a completed CAD image of the major element in this module so we're close - very close. Stay tuned.

3. New books? - Well, there is the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT: One-Kit Wonders book that is due out in November. 10 robots that can be built with the Retail kit. Some of you asked about me? Well, after Jonathan and I got done with the FLL: Unofficial Guide I got contracted to write a non-LEGO book that is taking ALL of my time... well, MOST... 90%... maybe 85%. No, definitely 90%. Good news is that it's scheduled to be completed by December 15th and after that I've got some NXT ideas floating around in my head.

That's all for now...


Oct 8, 2008

Short Interview for FLL book

A short Q&A with Jonathan and myself about our new FLL: Unofficial Guide book can be viewed here.

AlphaRex's RoadTrip to Hong Kong

AlphaRex at the LEGO office in Hong Kong.
Find out about his recent visit and view the picture album here.


Oct 5, 2008

Automatic NXT Light Switch

From the creator's description:

"It works by attaching two long pieces to a motor. It must be stable so I lifted it up and taped it down. Finally I attached a cord from the motor to the Mindstorms main unit...I programmed it to listen for sound to turn it on and off."

(EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't see any sound sensor, but I'm sure that one could be added).

More pictures are here.

Oct 3, 2008

AlphaRex's RoadTrip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates

AlphaRex was looking for some warm waters at the beach of Dubai.
Find out about his recent visit and view the picture album here.


WeDo robotics kit

I was lucky enough to have a close up look at the new WeDo robotics platform from LEGO Education. It is essentially a basic introduction to robotic concepts, aimed at younger kids (7-11 years old officially). As such, there are only a few robotic elements included; a motor, motion sensor and tilt sensor.

Control is done via the computer and a special USB hub which connects to the various elements. This means that it stays tethered to a computer permanently, but has the upside of not needing batteries. The software is extremely easy to use, and resembles a significantly stripped down version of NXT-G. There are blocks for making the motors move and blocks for interfacing to the sensors. Drag and drop allows you to quickly put together simple programs.

There are instructions for 12 different models out of the one kit, but just like all LEGO products, your imagination is the limit. LEGO Education are really pushing it as more than just 'robotics', encouraging kids to use their creation in stories to discuss and research other concepts.

Yes it is simplistic, but it is a great feeling to have something up and running within 10 minutes. I had an absolute blast playing with it all :)

More info here

Damien Kee

Oct 1, 2008

Contest on Klocki

Klocki, a nice multilingual LEGO® blog (Klocki is the Polish word for Bricks), is hosting a new contest called Home Improvement: build a device that helps at home.

Entries may be submitted until end of October and there are three attractive LEGO® sets to win.

Multiple Motor Control - Guest Blogger

Mark_R80 shares the following:

I have created a card that plugs into the input port of a NXT brick and can control 2 NXT motors. By using several card (on different address) one could have a lot more motors then the multiplexer method being developed by MindSensors and HiTechnics.

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