Feb 28, 2010

Why don't designs work for everyone?

As someone who works hard to makes designs and building instructions easy for everyone, it's frustrating when users---even members of this blog---say that they can't get a model to work. I can't tell you how many people complain to me that they can't build the models found in various highly-rated NXT books (or free online).

I've had the same experience---or have seen my family have the same experience. We KNOW that the model works---and it has been demonstrated on video---so why the disparity?

Does varying part wear make that big a difference? Is there a difference in the production of the same part? I'd like to gather some of your insights here for the benefit of our frustrated builders and designers.

Another way of using the Power Functions remote handset to control the NXT

Philo, author of many a NXT LDraw part and renowned expert of NXT electronics, has published an artcle on his web site on another possibility of using the Power Functions remote handset to control a NXT. In contrast to other already existing solutions to do this (e.g. Dave Parker's or Mike Brandl's), Philo's one allows for using all nine different combinations of the PF handset:

"The idea is simple: combine the outputs of the PF receiver with well chosen resistor values to obtain a different voltage for each combination of controls and measure this voltage with the NXT."

Yet, you need to do some soldering inside of the PF receiver for that.

Feb 26, 2010

Yellow Cube Machine

It seems like there is another Rubik's Cube solver every day! This is one of the better looking one's, mostly yellow LEGO bricks.

An all LEGO solver, including the webcam from LEGO Vision. The laptop does the actual solution, and is connected to 2 NXTs to manipulate the cube. The laptop communicates with one of the NXTs via USB and the NXTs communicate with each other via Bluetooth. Enjoy!


Andy D

Feb 25, 2010

NXT plus Wii - Guest Blog

I received an email from Fabrice D. about his controlling an NXT using a Wii remote. He's put up a video that explains it all, and I've embedded the video below.

Thanks, Fabrice!

Feb 24, 2010

LEGO Temperature Sensor - Splicing it into Retail

For various reasons, LEGO only sells the temperature sensor through it's educational channel. That's fine... but how can the average user, with only the Retail software, use them? That's been a problem I've had a lot of folks email about, asking how I use it under NXT-G and if I can "share my secret".

Well, how about Steve Hassenplug just hosts my secrets? Look about half-way down this page, at the "Temperature Block" and the "I2C blocks" below it

Inside the LEGO temperature sensor is a Texas Instruments chip (a TMP275 chip to be exact), which can be controlled like any other I2C device. That's handy, and there are 3rd party add-on blocks that will let you let you read a byte via I2C, or write a byte via I2C, or even read a series of bytes (multi-byte read) via I2C. Steve has also been kind enough to host copies of these right under the My Block I drew up to read the sensor. Note that you need to configure the sensor before reading it - I normally configure it for highest resolution. To see how this block works (and how to configure it), take a look at the program fragments above, from my Brickshelf gallery.

Please let me know how well this works, and if there are any problems I need to address. You will need to have both of the I2C blocks installed into NXT-G, as well as have the My Block in your program, and configure the sensor correctly with a single I2C write... but it should make it a little easier for Retail set users to enjoy this fun sensor.

Brian Davis

FLL Spain Finals - Guest Blog

Koldo emailed to share some pictures from the FLL Finals in Barcelona, Spain. You can see the photos here.

Thanks, Koldo!

Feb 22, 2010

Manty NXT 2.0 bonus model

This is one of the robot designs that appears at the back of the NXT 2.0 box. It was published on mindstorms.com some time ago, but back then I didn't get to shoot a video of this robot. I have done so now, and here is the result:

You can find more information, pictures, building instructions and a program on my new website: http://www.laurensvalk.com. According to visitors of LEGO related events, it's a cute robot, but be sure to let us know how you like it when you build this animal.

Feb 21, 2010

LEGOWORLD 2010 Denmark Sunday

Today, Sunday the last day of the show, the Highbay Storage Warehouse still works

There are still two boxes to give away today, are you a winner?

or does this hungry mouse, get the boxes..


LEGOWORLD 2010 Denmark Saturday

Day 3;
I first took a LEGO bath, but the bricks were a bit cold...

Then later that day ROBOGATOR was hungry and found a WeDo alligator just around the corner.

Also today we gave away 2 NXT2.0 Boxes

Hope to see you tomorrow (last day)...


Feb 19, 2010

LEGOWORLD 2010 Denmark

Welcome to LEGOWORLD, Copenhagen, 18 to 21 Feb 2010.

Demo and explanation on what MINDSTORMS.

You can build and program your own robot.

Now don't you want to be a MINDSTORMS AFOL (adult fan of LEGO) ?


The MINDSTORMS Development team is here to talk to you.

Brick-it build a nice forklift model

The warehouse.

You can win a NXT 2.0 box.

You can win this brick.

There are still 2 more days to go....

See you there, Martyn

Feb 18, 2010

NXT 1.0 Segway with Rider

I have posted an NXT 1.0 version of the NXT Segway with Rider project (see previous blog entry on the NXT 2.0 version).

This version uses the standard light sensor instead of the color sensor, the taller balloon tires, and the NXT-G 1.x software (tuned for the 1.05 firmware). Although the control program runs significantly slower than the 2.0 version (the newer 2.0 software and firmware has reduced the overhead of the sensor and motor blocks considerably), the 1.x version fortunately is able to make up for it by using the light sensor's "Raw" output (not available on the 2.0 color sensor), which has much higher resolution, which makes it easier for the robot to maintain an accurate on-center position, despite the slower sampling rate.

So the best NXT-G configuration for this sort of task (or similar, think line following...) would actually be the NXT 2.0 software and 1.28 firmware but using the old light sensor in Raw mode, so you would get both the high speed and the high resolution. If anyone tries this starting from my programs, you will need to re-tune the PID gains to account for the higher sampling rate, since the calculations do not take into account the time slice...

Feb 17, 2010

New LEGO (non-NXT) book

Okay, it's not related to NXT, but as someone who has visited and LOVED New York City, I thought this was just too cool a book not to share. Christoph Niemann has released "I LEGO N.Y." - where the heart is made of LEGO bricks - and it's a collection of sights, sounds, buildings, food, and more... all related to New York City.

There's a lot of subtle humor in the book... and some of the items are beyond my understanding - I think you HAVE to be a New Yorker to get it all. (I do love his take on Marilyn Monroe - very cute! And the image of Nathan's Hot Dog... I've had one. Awesome.)

Maybe someone needs to contact Abrams Image and suggest a similar book using NXT robots!


Feb 14, 2010

LEGO® MINDSTORMS NXT Robots Alive! Endangered Species: a conclusion

This weekend, I've built the last model from Fay Rhodes' "LEGO® MINDSTORMS NXT Robots Alive! Endangered Species" book: the Sloth which is capable of layawaying on a branch.

You can find a movie on it, filmed by Rick Rhodes, here.

Like the other animals from Fay's book , also the NXT Sloth is a both exceptional as well as entertaining robot.

Building time: app 60 min
Programming time: 10 min
Difficulty level for children: medium

After having worked through the complete book now, I can draw the conclusion that all the five models reflect Fay's particular skill in mimicking the physique and the motion patterns of real-world animals with LEGO® MINDSTORMS NXT. Apart from some minor things (which mostly are adressed already on the accompanying web site) I was able to follow the elaborate and well commented building and programming instructions without any problem.

Because of the appealing models, the well adapted level of difficulty, the particular topic, the extensibility of the robots (of which Fay proposes some in the appendix) and the didactic part at the end of the book,  "Endangered Species" in my opinion is a very good choice both for parents who are in search of a book for their child accompanying the newly bought NXT 2.0 set as well as for teachers who are looking for a guide to their robotic classes.

Toy Fair 2010

Great news for our favourite LEGO product. The NXT was just voted "Educational Toy of the Year" at the 2010 Toy of the Year awards at ToyFair, New York.


Damien Kee


Have you seen any incredible Rubik's Cube solving robots lately?  Ya, that Speedcuber was pretty cool.  But believe it or not, the king has already been dethroned (in my opinion at least).  This thing reminds me of the Large Hadron Collider and is probably just as impressive.  Extra credit for pulling off the teal and purple parts, plus all the lights.  This one will make you stand up and clap.

Feb 13, 2010

NXT 2.0 - One Kit Segway

Dave over at www.nxtprograms.com recently put up instructions and programs for a Segway - built with a single NXT 2.0 set and programmed with NXT-G using a simple PID loop. Very cool!

Great job, and thanks!


Feb 12, 2010

In Recognition of the Start of the Vancouver Olympics

My husband and I are fans of curling and created this video a few years ago.

I know the robot is rather lame, but it was just for fun---so enjoy!


Just watch and enjoy.

Bluetooth control of NXT

This is a re-post of a January 2008 item - the weblink has changed. I thought this was a useful enough application that this needed to be re-posted.

Mario P. emailed me to let me know about a new piece of software he's created that allows you to control any robot wirelessly using your mobile phone.

From the website:

"This should run on any MIDP 2.0 phone, provided it supports the JSR-82 Bluetooth implementation.


•Current sensor values are displayed on screen while you control your robot using the game keys.

•Basic settings allow you to easily change the way robots are controlled.

•No musical intros or fixed resolution settings.

Feb 9, 2010

Feb 7, 2010

FLL-BENELUX final (NL, Arnhem, Papendeal)

Saturday 6 Feb. 2010 at Papendal we attended the Dutch FLL final.
and the winners are:

Team 259, Smove; College Hageveld, Heemstede

Team 127, Heroes on Tour; Herta-Lebenstein-Realschule, Stadtlohn (Germany)

Team 176, WierdeWereldWegen; De Wierde, Almelo

team 221, Mind Vermeer; Montessorischool Jan Vermeer, Delft

Congratulation to all the winners, and good luck in Atlanta!
Edit: See here for a section in the Dutch Kids News, (Jeugd journaal)

Should LEGO make sure you can build everything?

There's been something going around for a long time now, and I was just answering yet another question aimed at it over on NXTasy, but I thought I'd voice it here (hey, what are blogs for, right?).

A number of folks seem "cheated" or upset that you can't build the same models with the 1.0 kit as you can with the 2.0. Or the reverse ("we want a 2.0 to 1.0 backwards compatibility upgrade"). Or they complain that LEGO should really offer a "parts pack" that allows owners of just the 1.0/2.0 kit to build all the robots in a particular book (a very common comment).


I'm not saying "why do you want this" - that's pretty obvious (I'd love it as well). I'm not asking if this is financially viable or workable in terms of production and stock issues (what I know about those factors wouldn't fill a 2x4 brick). I'm asking "why do users seem to feel entitled to this, and repeatedly demand this?".

It's funny to me, as this seems to come up again & again in discussions on the NXT set - people commenting that "they don't have the pieces they need", or that "you can't build X using just this one set", and often stating that that's a real failing on LEGO's part. The thing I find funny about this is you don't find it anywhere else in the LEGO world. I don't know anybody who bought a single Star Wars set, and then complained that you couldn't build other Star Wars sets from it. Or even that the larger sets in theme (say, one of the larger Rock Raiders sets) should have the extra pieces needed to build a number of the smaller sets in a theme (or even cross-theme). That actually seems to work just fine with consumers of any other LEGO set. And (to me!) the idea that LEGO should design their set contents in such a way as to allow the consumer to build the huge number of user-built models out there (or even figure out which ones are "most desired"... when those trgets literally change month by month or faster) seems irrational. Yey I've heard at least some folks advocate it.

It used to be the question of "Where are the extra pieces?" was answered "In Other Sets"... and that been that way for a very long time now. Of course, it's not the only answer. The LEGO community realized that to build what they wanted, they needed more parts... so you bought more sets. Not sets designated as "with this set you can also construct X, Y, & Z", but as parts - just spare parts. Not content with that, people began selling parts they didn't need from sets they had bought for a couple of special hard-to-find pieces... and Bricklink was born. So it's not like there's not alternatives (tried and true ones at that).

So I guess the question here is "what's different?" Why are these assumptions, that previous consumer have purchased LEGO under for years, not assumed by the Mindstorms consumer? Should they be? Or is there something fundementally different about Mindstorms users and therefore the way the set should be marketed and configured?

Feb 5, 2010

Hexapod Walker

Another really cool video has surfaced on YouTube.com. GusJanss has produced an awesome hexapod walker. This robot can turn, change its pace, and use a light sensor and an ultrasonic sensor to navigate. He achieves some really cool movements out of just three motors. Nice work!

Feb 3, 2010

Learning about Electronics

I posted back in December about a new book titled Make: Electronics by Charles Platt. I contacted Make: magazine and asked them if they would mind if I documented my experiences with the book and its projects in a blog format... they gave me their blessing and I got to work.

I've just completed Experiment 14 (of 36)... and I'm continuing to move forward. You can check out my work and learn more about the book's contents at handsonelectronics.blogspot.com.

I'm blown away by this book - if you're a student or an adult and want to learn more about circuit building, you're going to love this book. It's easy to read and the experiments are easy to follow. The author provides lists of all the items you'll need for each chapter (a shopping list), including tools.

Saving Electricity with the dSwitch

The dSwitch, the newest fun gadget for your NXT, is ready and available for another fun project - saving electricity. Check out this project where you pair up your NXT with a dSwitch and TweetaWatt to conserve juice.

Read the entire project, including the summaries at the end about how much energy, money, and carbon output can be saved by implementing something that simply turns off the lights when you leave the room... makes you think, doesn't it?
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