Dec 30, 2008
FLL Mission Overview Part 11 - Extract an Ice Core, Deliver an Ice Buoy, Study Wildlife, Beat the Clock, and Conclusion
Objective: Pull the Ice Core out of the hole. For additional points, move it to Base.
Point Worth: 20 points for pulling it out of the hole. 10 points for moving it back to Base.
Mission Location: Center East, on the Reasearch Area.
Estimated Difficulty Level: Medium - Hard
Time Length Rating: 7/10
Unique Challenge Aspects: This precision-required mission is conveniently placed on the far end of the table. Also, veteran teams may notice this Ice Core is actually smaller than previous "rings" used before - this possibly makes it even more difficult to pick up.
Objective: Move the Ice Buoy to the Research Area (Ice crater), so that it ends upright.
Point Worth: 25 points.
Mission Location: Starts in the North West corner (top right).
Estimated Difficulty Level: Medium.
Time Length Rating: 5/10
Unique Challenge Aspects: The Ice Buoy itself is an interesting shape. Its round shape may make it difficult to grip, and it is somewhat difficult to get to, surrounded by the Levee Tester, the Underground Reservoir, and the Levees.
Objective: Move the polar bear and/or snowmobile to the Research Area.
Point Worth: Polar Bear - Upright: 15 points, Asleep (fallen over): 10 points; Snowmobile: 10 points, no matter upright or on its side.
Mission Location: Research Area (bottom left corner).
Estimated Difficulty Level: Medium Easy.
Time Length Rating: 3/10.
Unique Challenge Aspects: This mission provides a good oppurtunity to combine challenges to save time. Balancing the polar may provide a little difficulty for some teams, but it is only an extra 5 points.
Objective: Move the robot to the research area or yellow grid area.
Point Worth: 15 points if the robot is in the research area. 10 points if the robot is in the yellow grid area.
Mission Location: Research area (bottom right corner) and yellow grid area (center top).
Estimated Difficulty Level: Medium
Time Length Rating: 3-5/10
Unique Challenge Aspects: For the research area aspect, this is a reintroduction of an all-terrain mission. Also, beware the ice blocks that are floating before the actual research area - the robot may slip! Note how the Ice crater doesn't actually touch the wall; the robot cannot directly follow the wall as was done in years before. The yellow grid area is not as tricky to get to, but worth only 5 points less.
I hope everyone has found these Mission Overviews useful. I would like to wish all the teams who are finished with this season a congratualations - and those who have not yet competed or have advanced to the next round: good luck!
There is still a forum dedicated to FLL here on The NXT Step - discuss your teams' results, share ideas, talk about acts of Gracious Professionalism.
We're still looking for that first 400 team... has anyone see one yet?
Dec 29, 2008
Using a "Wiimote" to control the NXT has been done before; but Jordan Fitzpatrick did it using GlovePIE and my Bluetooth remote - very simple. You can watch Jordan's video here and download the GlovePIE scripts here. To connect your "Wiimote" to your PC please follow this link. Wii-power to Jordan
Dec 28, 2008
This robot is from chapter 9 of the One-Kit Wonders book. If you watch the video, the robot may appear to be very simple. There are however, two things that make GrabBot special.
One of these two is the grabbing hand. Using one motor, it grabs and lifts object, which is a cellphone in this case.
The other is its autonomous behaviour. When I trigger the program to start by saying: "Get my cellphone", it starts searching for the closest object in range. While spinning around, it continously stores a sensor value along with a location in two variables. Then, it returns to the position where it measured the lowest sensor value and grabs the object.
When doing so many redaings from the Ultrasonic Sensor, it functions relatively accurate. It still has a few problems detecting balls, but if they're not too far away, it does find them.
P.S. Book reader Enrique has posted a call to action for One-Kit Wonders readers. Read it here.
Dec 23, 2008
As this year draws to a close, I like to share the following behind the scene video of AlphaRex in New Zealand - which gives you an indication of the work many friends of LEGO, MINDSTORMS Community Partners and LEGO staff put in to make the AlphaRex Global RoadTrip into a success so far.
Dec 21, 2008
Dec 19, 2008
Dec 17, 2008
Kids - keep playing with your NXT and learning, learning, learning - the tools (okay, toys) you'll have access to when you get to college/university are going to be beyond anything I was ever allowed to experiment with - the video is funny, but the underlying truth here is that with enough skill and interest, you can make some pretty cool stuff.
More details here.
One More Thing: What would you pay for the chance to take a class called "How to Make (almost) Anything"?
The price includes a $20US electronic gift card, effectively making the price $159US.
The price also includes free shipping to your local Walmart store in the US. (Shipping to your home will cost extra).
The purchase link is here.
Dec 16, 2008
Here is an introductory tutorial created by Gautam Vallabha, which goes over the topics of:
- How to set up the Bluetooth connection
- How to set up a connection between MATLAB and the Tribot
- How to create Tribot programs in MATLAB
Gautam Vallabha is a developer at The MathWorks who works on the development of classroom applications of MATLAB.
This omni directional robot made by jason701802 has a very user friendly remote control allowing much better control over the robot. The right joystick can be moved forward/backward/left/right to move the robot correspondingly forward/backward/left/right. This is not an easy task as all the wheels are spaced 120 degrees apart. The left handle controls the spin. Well done!
The video that demonstrates how the remote control works can be seen here.
Instructions to build the omni robot the NXT-G program can be found here.
This is what jason701802 says about his controller:
"I used a modified version of Philo's Joystick with a third axis to control the spin. The controller scales the values from the servos to numbers usable by the robot. The robot then converts the x,y, and rotational values into the outputs for the motors. I have condensed the program so that the controller and the robot both use the same program."
1. This year's challenge definitely seems harder than those in recent past years. The highest score at the tournament was a 300 by the Robo Invaders, as opposed to last year's 400 followed by a 395. Also, I haven't heard of any perfect scores being made anywhere else yet... has anyone heard of one? The difficulty of this year's challenge doesn't seem to be caused so much by hard individual missions - many are simple push-objects-to-the-right-zone missions - but more by the sheer number of missions. There are 18 missions this year: twice as many as the number of missions in Nano Quest, and 7 more than in Power Puzzle. Many of them aren't all that short, either. It seems that the key to scoring high this year is to combine multiple missions per run.
2. I refereed half of the matches, and of all the robots I saw during that time and all the other time at the tournament, I only recall seeing one RIS robot. It's nice to see that just about all teams have been able to make the switch over to the NXT system.
3. One interesting change of rules this year allows teams to accomplish missions before they leave Base! So theoretically, a team could make a robot that stays in Base during the entire match, and uses some sort of extending arm to accomplish all the missions. However, I only saw one team make use of this rule change; this team had a scissor arm set up in Base aimed at a mission model, which the robot activated as it went to complete a different mission. The scissor arm then pressed a bumper on the model, accomplishing the mission. BTW, I should note that this rule change does not make it possible for teams to grab their robot without getting penalized... a Q&A (Ruling 14) specifically states that using any kind of "leash" that "tethers" the robot to Base for this purpose will not keep the team from getting penalized.
4. Probably the most unknown rule at this tournament was part of the Active Robot Touched rule. Because of the confusion with this rule, I thought I'd post about it here so that reading teams could make sure they don't get an unhappy surprise at their tournament. This rule first states that once an active robot (one that has been started) is touched, it immediately becomes inactive and must be taken back to Base. Then the rule says the following:
"If any models or strategic objects were being strategically moved by the robot at the time of the touch:
- Those being moved from Base go back to Base with the robot, eligible for continued use.
- Those encountered out of Base are taken out of play (off the field)"
This rule is quite simple... any object your robot is strategically moving from Base goes back to Base with the robot. Any object the robot started moving when out of Base gets taken off the field, if it's still being moved by the robot at the time of the touch. So for example, if a robot drives over to the Insulation models and starts pushing them towards the green grid, but then a driver grabs the robot and brings it back to Base, the Insulation models do NOT come back to Base, but must be taken off the field and therefore cannot be scored in that match.
5. The two-team mission this year seems to encourage the use of sensors, which is nice, especially since it's possible to find clever ways to solve it without sensors. However, not many teams attempted it, and I didn't see anyone use sensors to determine how to align the arrows. The one team I saw accomplish the mission used a mechanical solution; they added or removed pieces from their robot to make it turn one of the arrows the right number of times - great idea!
What are your thoughts about this year's challenge?
There are several great examples of game-playing robots. Bryan Bonahoom made a Tic-Tac-Toe playing robot that can "read" the board and make moves all by itself. You can see his robot on the MINDSTORMS website, here. Steve Hassenplug made a robot that plays Connect-4, which you can see on his website, here.
Dec 15, 2008
Articles will be sourced from the community (that's you girls and guys) and will also feature short interviews with robotics teachers as well as robotics researchers and robotic engineers from around the world.
With the Christmas break coming up for many, it is the perfect time to write an article. All articles will be reviewed by a small panel of robotics teachers and educators.
Articles could be based around a variety of topics, including but not
- Robotics in Junior / Middle / Senior School
- Robotics in remote areas
- Robotics with limited resources
- Classroom resource management
- Working with disadvantaged students
- Working with Gifted and talented students.
- Reviews of robotics resources
- Robotics and girls / boys
- Robotics and Text based languages
- Robotics competitions
Have you done something amazing / unusual with robotics in your class?
We love to have an article about that as well.
Once compiled, it will be available for free as a pdf download to anyone who is interested.
Deadline - 31st of January
Length - Approximately 4 pages
Formatting - Single column
- Times New Roman 12pt
- As many photos / graphs as you wish
Attribution - Please let us know if you would like us to also acknowledge your school. Please also ensure any photographs of children have the relevant permission to be published on the internet.
Please seriously consider writing an article. This community (and many other teachers around the world) possess an amazing amount of knowledge that can benefit so many others out there in the field. The success of such a journal will be heavily dependent on contributions from the community.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Here's the link for buying it. The rub is that it normally takes 5-9 days to receive the NXT after it ships. If you want it by Christmas, it may be better to apply the extra savings to expedited shipping.
Dec 14, 2008
Each leg is identical and is controlled by its own NXT. A leg starts off completely straight and when pivoted forward at the ankle, a touch sensor is activated which triggers a motor to bend the leg back at the knee and another motor to swing the leg forward at the hip. The process is repeated on both legs merely by leaning the robot forward so as to activate the touch sensor on the back ankle.
I was thinking that a possible improvement would be to suspend the walker along a pulley.
Dec 12, 2008
Version 0.7 of the leJOS NXJ Eclipse Plugin is available now. It supports the most recent version of leJOS NXJ, the Java platform for the NXT, on Windows (XP or Vista), MAC OSX and Linux.
With this plugin, you can use the popular Eclipse development platform for programming your NXT robots with Java.
Use Eclipse's Update Manager to install it from the remote update site as follows:
Name: leJOS NXJ (or whatever you like)
For configuration and usage, consult the leJOS NXJ topic in Eclipse's Help->Help contents view after installation.
Dr. Stephanie Ludi has composed an excellent series of tutorials and lessons plans on NXC. They're available here and here.
The lessons are targeted for grades 7-12 and assume no prior knowledge of programming in general or NXC in particular. They were underwritten in part by the National Science Foundation.
Dec 11, 2008
In this effort, I've set up a new topic in the general section of the Forum---Compiling a "Missing Manual". Please use it to suggest information which should be included in such a manual. Remember to include solutions---with illustrations, if possible.
Don't get me wrong, I love the NXT, and "evangelize" for it everywhere I go; but what I'm not loving is LEGO's seeming lack of commitment and responsiveness to NXT owners. Even as a member of the MCP (MINDSTORMS Community Partners), nothing I've seen has changed that view. The primary reason I've stayed on the MCP (as the only woman, mother or non-professional scientist) is to speak up for "everyperson." But, I have to tell you, I don't think I'm making much headway.
For "rocket scientists" this may be just a toy, but for parents it's an expensive investment in their child's future. The corporation that invested thousands of dollars in kits for my local schools doesn't look at it as a toy. Yes, it's a fun way to stimulate interest in engineering---but that doesn't make it a toy. (And they don't want to see their HUGE investment in the team's travel turn to ashes because of an glitch in the system.)
If LEGO and LEGO Education didn't actively encourage its use in competition and education, they might be able to use the argument that it's just a toy, but even so, this mother doesn't think that's an excuse for ignoring the consumer.
Why can't I buy replacement or supplemental parts for NXT and TECHNIC kits? After two years on the MCP, I still don't know! Why does LEGO depend solely on volunteer advocates for problem solving?
I'd like to hear from the whole NXT community (not just the MCP). Is the NXT "just a toy?" Are you happy with LEGO support? Is it no big deal if a robot inexplicably fails during an FLL competition? Do anyone else feel taken for granted---or put down, for raising an issue or complaining?
JimK would like to add: As a former MDP and now MCP member, I have used the "it's a toy" argument before, but that was typically used to remind my colleagues that we should always keep in mind the major audience for the NXT - kids. It is a toy... and it isn't. It's an exceptional learning tool and we SHOULD speak up when it doesn't work as desired (meaning NXT-G or something as simple as a Touch Sensor). One of our jobs on this blog is to encourage discussion and point out the GOOD and the BAD in our favorite robotics kit. I'll join Fay in asking our readers to chime in here and talk about the NXT and its life-cycle - is it a mature product? Does it have problems? Where can the kit go from here? What can LEGO do to increase the success of the kit? When will we have micro-commerce (official, not BrickLink) for replacing not just electronics but that single, lost 15L beam? Where is Waldo? (Oops... wrong blog.)
Dec 10, 2008
Mike Brandl from Austria has visited the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of LEGO® MINDSTORMS in the LEGO® headquarters in Billund, Denmark, alongside with some other MCPs; he has published a lot of photos of the event in his web site.
Have a look and enjoy: there are many prominent robot members of the MINDSTORMS history to be seen.
Dec 9, 2008
(Your mileage may vary, as they say).
Which type do you use and why? Has anyone compared the life and power of AA rechargeables with non-rechargeable AAs?
And of course, after accomplishing such an engineering feat, surely your mom wouldn't mind donating some... "contents"... for your robot, right? :)
P.S. The rest of the posts in this series can be seen here.
Can FIRST LEGO League teams transform the way we look at transportation? The key to the 2009 “Smart Move” Challenge is accessing people, places, goods and services in the safest, most efficient way possible. In this journey, teams will consider many modes of transportation beyond their daily routine and streamline their options by making smart moves!
At this weekend's competition, we experienced having a robot ignore the simplest of programs---rotate motor C 100 degrees. Instead, motors B and C both rotated forward 100 degrees, randomly. We coaches assumed the student had picked the wrong program; but after repeated demonstrations on the practice mat (between rounds) we were convinced that the error was not hers. (sometimes it worked correctly, other times it didn't.
Some NXT "experts" have never experienced these problems, but I'm hearing from others that some teachers have been reporting these errors. I'd appreciate hearing if you have experienced similar problems, so I can get some productive assistance (if it exists).
We are using new Dell laptops (Vista), purchased and managed by a computer professional from our sponsoring company. The software was a group license of NXT-G, purchased from LEGO Education in September 2008. (We own multiple copies, but used one on all of the computers.) Also, there were two teams using the same equipment. The other team did not have the same problem, but, of course, wrote different programs. (They used three My Blocks, while my team used seven My Blocks.)
If you're not familiar with this quote, it was apparently posted in numerous places at LEGO during the development of the MINDSTORMS NXT. It's a grand statement, so my question to you is this - has LEGO done it?
I'd like to point out that many students have now entered college/university (or will be shortly) who have had access to these kits. Whether they're choosing robotics as a career or not, it could be argued that having access to MINDSTORMS may have sparked an interest in math and science that will follow these students into their chosen careers.
The iPod has definitely shaken up the music world. I own one and have converted every CD I own so I can listen to them on my iPod. I continue to buy music from iTunes at 99-cents each. Yes, there are other products out there that play MP3 and other formats, but... I'll be honest here... the look of the iPod, combined with how easy it is to use, is what sold me. Can the same thing be said for the NXT?
Has the NXT (and RCX) done for robotics what the iPod has done for music? I think we can all agree that MINDSTORMS has definitely sold well and has achieved media attention (magazines, TV, newspapers) and contests such as FLL and FTC continue to introduce robotics to students, parents, and teachers around the world. Other kits exist - VEX comes to mind - but has any other robotics kit done more to increase interest and awareness of the field than MINDSTORMS?
Dec 8, 2008
Objective: Move each of the objects - insulation, bike, and computer - to the green grid area.
Point Worth: 10 points apiece.
Mission Location: Start somewhat scattered on the southern (bottom) half of the table; they need to be moved to the green grid area (the property around the house)
Estimated Difficulty Level: Easy
Time Length Rating: 3/10
Unique Challenge Aspects: Be careful of how small those things are, your robot might run over them! Also beware of the CO2 balls in the way.
Does anyone have a video of their perfect run taken at an FLL qualifying event that they would be willing to share?
Dec 7, 2008
Objective: Move the core drilling machine to the research area (bottom right corner). For additional points, raise the drill assembly.
Point Worth: 20 for moving the drill marchine to the research area. 10 more for raising the drill.
Mission Location: Starts top right corner. Needs to be moved to bottom right corner.
Estimated Difficulty Level: Medium
Time Length Rating: 5/10
Unique Challenge Aspects: This mission is placed nicely in a corner, but on the other side of the table from the Base. This is a mission I can see having many solutions on how to move it: picking it up? pushing it? and how to get it into the research area: dragging it? pushing? And whether teams find a way to raise the drill or not. Rated 5/10 for time length because it's on the other side of the table, and medium difficulty for finding a way to move that drill.
Dec 6, 2008
Since them the two robots have been clocking up the frequent flyer points as they manage to travel around the world and meet really cool people and stunning places.
One of the two AlphaRex robots made it to Auckland, New Zealand this month and he just loves it here. Part 1 of his pictures just went up on the LEGO MINDSTORMS web site:
More pictures of AlphaRex coming soon to the LEGO MINDSTORMS web site .... In the mean time here is couple of pictures from the LEGO web site of the AlphaRex in Auckland city at lunch time:
TIOBE Software, the coding standards company, has just ranked NXT-G as the 37th most popular programming language in the world. (Click on the above graphic for an enlarged view of the rankings).
The methodology for their rankings is imprecise, to say the least. But it supposedly serves as an indicator of the increasing/decreasing popularity of particular languages. See a description of TIOBE's ranking methodology
See TIOBE's complete rankings
Pictured above are the two FLL teams from Perry, Oklahoma, leaving today for their regional FLL event in Amarillo, Texas. As time allows, we'd like to hear from teams around the world as they progress to the finals.
Dec 5, 2008
"I taught your Mystery Warehouse modules last Saturday and 17 kids had a blast. Kids came in from the Kansas City and Overland Park areas (3-4 hour drive) to attend. We did it on super high-speed (5 hours total); all the kids got the beginning of the story, then two teams of three each worked on the module pre-challenges and main challenge. For the last half-hour, the entire group began with Mod 1, recapped the story, explained and demonstrated the robot, went on the Mod 2, did the same, Mod 3, etc., finishing with the end of the story. While not perfect (there's never enough time for testing), it was a great success thanks to your creativity and ingenuity."
Jessica was kind enough to also provide a handful of documents she developed, including technical notes for each module as well as a summary of her experiences and suggestions for anyone else who might like to try and run these 3 challenges. A 55Kbyte zipped file can be downloaded here and contains 5 Word documents and 1 Excel spreadsheet.
I'd like to thank Jessica for providing these documents and her feedback - and I'd love to hear from any one else who tries out the challenges.
Mystery Warehouse Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be purchased directly from LEGO Education here or from The NXT Step storefront here. Each module provides a minimum of 2 Pre-Challenge activities that provide a basic understanding of a specialty sensor and 1 Main Challenge. Part 1 covers the Compass Sensor, Part 2 the Color Sensor, and Part 3 the Acceleration/Tilt Sensor.
MARS BASE COMMAND UPDATE: I appreciate the patience from all of you regarding the 2nd module in the series. As a freelance writer, I take paid writing assignments (book and other) when they come - the current economic situation has been bad for others, but for freelance writers, graphic artists, and other "creative" types, business booms in this type of economy. The downside to it is that I'm slightly overwhelmed with the amount of writing work I have at the moment - okay, not slightly... majorly! I have about 5-6 more hours of work on Mars Base Gamma and it'll be ready to go, but I need to finish a new book project (due Dec 15) before I can dedicate any time to Gamma. Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Dec 4, 2008
Dec 3, 2008
And if your special someone already has an NXT set, adding a CD or book can really help re-energize their existing NXT set, so a CD or book gift for them is a great value.
In my experience teaching hundreds of kids robotics over the years, and feedback from their parents, when the the kids are at home working on their own set, the majority of kids need some help with building instructions, and almost all kids need help with the programming. Providing the extra instructions with the gift (or after the gift) can really make the difference between that gift that gets used for a week, or one that gets used and grows with them for years.
For a CD guide with lots of building instructions and programs, take a look at:
50 Fun Projects for your LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT, and for a great selection of books, take a look at this NXT Book List.
By buying one of these products, you are also helping to support the NXT community. I use the money from 50 Fun Projects for your LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT to donate to FIRST LEGO League teams and FLL in general, and for many of the authors of the NXT Books, book revenue allows them to put a dent into their day job to also spend time and resources providing help and information to the NXT community on the internet and in person. Thanks for your support!
Dec 2, 2008
Dec 1, 2008
That is what I did over the weekend. Inspired by a Monster Truck in the latest 'V' energy drink advert, I decided to build a remote controlled monster truck robot.
The picture on the left is the real remote controlled monster truck from the advert, and the one on the right is the NXT version !
The only thing the NXT is doing in the truck is to provide power to the motors and act as a Bluetooth receiver for my my mobile phone I was using to control the robot!
To get the real feel of a Monster truck, I used 4 TECHNIC tractor wheels, and 4 PF-XL motors. You can use the adopters available from the LEGO Shop @ Home to connect the 4 PF motors to the 2 motor ports. The second picture shows how the two left hand motors are connected to the same port in the NXT.
With 4 direct drive wheels, the vehicle can handle any terrain. The giant tractor wheels are amazing - it is great to watch it climb over rocks, mud and ride through long grass - that normal NXT robots struggle with.
Check out the video ...
In the coming weeks, I will be extending this vehicle with more autonomy, more features .....