Jul 30, 2010

Custom NXT-G MyBlocks

We just had a good discussion over at theNXTclassroom.com mailing list about creating custom graphics for your MyBlocks.

It turns out that the icons for the MyBlocks are in .png format and can be found in:

.../Program Files/LEGO MINDSTORMS Edu NXT/engine/Icons/MyBlocks (or remove the Edu if you have the retail version)

I needed to delete one of the existing icons to keep it to 72 files (6x12 grid of possible icons in the editor) before adding my own.

Now I just need to figure out how to make this block actually work! :)

*clipart from openclipart.org

Damien Kee

Multi-Bot for NXT 2.0

The Multi-Bot project for NXT 2.0 from nxtprograms.com is a robot vehicle that can take a number of different forms, including taking on several different modular attachments that can be used individually or combined in various ways, all using a single NXT 2.0 (8547) kit, or equivalent/replacement parts from other NXT/Technic kits.

Multi-Bot was designed to be a flexible "teaching robot" of sorts for NXT 2.0, especially as an aid to learning NXT-G programming, as you can use it to do a lot of classic robot vehicle tasks and expand it to do your own tasks. Home users of NXT 2.0 might find it a good way to learn about the basics of robotic vehicles, and especially in conjunction with the CD (see below) as a good way to learn a lot of NXT-G programming. FLL teams that have the 2.0 retail kit (8547) or equivalent parts and software might also be interested in using it as an educational tool before the regular FLL season starts or at the beginning of the season.

Building instructions for Multi-Bot, its variations, and several different attachments using all the standard NXT 2.0 sensor types are available on the web site. In addition, over 70 ready-to-run and fully commented NXT-G programs for Multi-Bot are available on the CD LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 by Example. The programs range in complexity from beginner to advanced and cover different ways to control the motors, use the sensors, and more. The program descriptions are also included on the web site. Users or teams with some programming experience may want to see if they can develop similar programs on their own given the descriptions. Or if you like learning by example, get the CD and study the programs in each section (which are arranged in increasing difficulty) to learn NXT-G programming with ready-to-run examples all using Multi-Bot. Since you can quickly reconfigure Multi-Bot for the different tasks, you can cover a lot of programming topics without a lot of rebuilding.

Here is a video showing the included attachments for Multi-Bot and video clips showing tasks from selected programs on the CD:

Funding for FIRST - voting required

If you are a FIRST team member, parent, coach, or just a plain fan of this great robotics competition, please consider voting for FIRST in the American Express MembersProject. Voting does not require that you have an AmEx card, and registration is free. You must be 18 or older to register and vote - if you're under age 18, consider asking your parent or teacher to vote. The winner will get $200,000 - FIRST is a non-profit and has many supporters, including large companies that donate funds... BUT that doesn't mean that FIRST can't use the funds.

You can read more info here.

Jul 29, 2010

Hispabrick Magazine 008 with MINDSTORMS articles and interviews

Jetro informed me that Hispabrick Magazine has just released their eighth issue. You can view the magazine online using this link, or download the complete PDF by going to this link, and clicking "HM008 - English". Each of these options are free of charge.

Hispabrick Magazine is about LEGO in general, but this issue is especially an interesting read for MINDSTORMS owners, as several articles focus explicitly on MINDSTORMS NXT.

You will find an article about the MINDSTORMS Community Partners, as well as interviews with three of them, including Xander Soldaat, Fay Rhodes and me.

Furthermore, you'll find a tutorial: "A PID Controller for LEGO MINDSTORMS Robots". Finally, the article "Actuators for the NXT" talks about several actuators, including the new FIRGELLI Linear Actuators.

The issue also covers non MINDSTORMS topics, like Technic, Space, as well as reviews of new LEGO sets. You may also want to read the interview with Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the owner of The LEGO Group.

Jul 28, 2010

Checkers playing robot

Fantastic checkers playing robot that popped up on YouTube

It's a little slow, but makes up for it with the fact that it has regular NXt motors, Linear Actuators and Pneumatics all in the one design!

From their YouTube page:
This mindstorms robot checkers can play checkers against itself, with a person, another robot, or with a computer.
Language: Matlab (robot vision), C (checkers engine), NXC (inverse kinetic done here, could have done in Matlab)
Microsoft webcam
2 motors for x and y (inverse kinetic)
1 motor for linear actuator (low or raise the piece)
1 motor to switch the pneumatics (grab the piece)
1 motor to provide air pressure to the tank
1 NXTMMX mux to control 2 additional motors.

Damien Kee

Jul 27, 2010

NXT 2.0 Discovery Book, Reviewed by Wired

One of the authors of GeekDad, Wired, has reviewed my new book, The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book: a Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots.

The author of the review notes that the book "should come with every MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Kit," and goes on to say that the book is "not simply an instruction manual, it is a book to facilitate learning and understanding." The review goes on to say many more great things about the book. Read the full review by clicking this link.

The Discovery Book, which came out in May, has been selling very well since. As of this writing, the book has received 17 five-star reviews on various Amazon divisions, and several more reviews have been posted to other places on the web. You can read all about the book on it's companion website.

Thanks to all of you who gave me feedback about the book, either through reviews or by sending an email. Because of this feedback, I've learned that there is no age limit for neither MINDSTORMS nor the book: emails reported that people aged 6-74 have enjoyed using the book (with success). I'm always interested to hear your experiences with the book, so please feel free to send me an email any time.

And, to those who already have the book, stay tuned. More should be coming later this year.

- Laurens Valk

Jul 26, 2010

Instructions for old NXT models available

Since the MINDSTORMS website was updated to cover the NXT 2.0 set, the downloadable instructions for several older designs were missing. It seems that the instructions, including those for the Classic Clock, and the NXT 1.0 robot arm have been uploaded to the download section of the new website. You can find them using this link.

Jul 25, 2010

Giant NXT driving base

This thing is enormous!! 9 NXT's controlling 16 XL power functions motors

Some days I wish I had enough LEGO / spare time to do a project this big.

Damien Kee

Jul 24, 2010

Hardwiring your NXTs... with LEGO

As I posted about a while ago, I've been interested in making a quadruped robot with animal-like motions. I started working on different designs earlier this summer, but haven't been able to get something that works because of the sheer number of motors involved and the expense of TETRIX parts. (i.e. about $80 for a single rotation sensor!). However, while I was working on robot prototypes, I ran into an interesting problem with NXT-NXT communications. In one of my designs I wanted to use three NXT bricks which would all need to communicate with each other. But RobotC, the programming language I was using, only supports Bluetooth communication between two NXTs.

To get around this problem, I looked into ways to hardwire the NXTs together; there are some pretty amazing homebrew solutions out there that various people have come up with. However, as I lack the technical/electronics skills required to make such devices, I looked for a way to do it purely with NXT pieces. I came up with an interesting two-way serial communications cable that simply uses two light sensors to send and recieve data.

The two sensors are connected facing each other with a shield around them to block out ambient light. Each sensor is connected to a different NXT. One NXT sends data to the other by blinking its light sensor on and off, which the other light sensor picks up. The key advantage I found was that these blinks can be picked up over very short intervals of time (~30 milliseconds). This makes simple communications quite fast - perhaps faster than Bluetooth.

Here's a video demonstrating the "LightComm" cable. One NXT sends the position and power level for the motor to the other NXT, and then both NXTs move their motors accordingly. In the video, the NXT beeps when it starts sending each message, to give you an idea of the speed of the communication link. In the last part, I opened the casing around the light sensors so you can see the blinks.


One advantage of this cable is that you can customize the method of communication to be the most efficient for each application. One method would be to have the light blink on and off like a digital link to send "bits" of information. In the above video, I used an analog method, where the data is sent by the time duration of each blink. The light blinks a total of two times. The first blink gives the target position of the motor, and the second gives the power level. Amazingly, the recieving light sensor can accurately measure the duration of the light to milliseconds! Thus, each millisecond in the duration of the blink represents a degree in the target position or a unit of power. As you can see in the video, the message is usually transmitted with an accuracy of about +/- 2 degrees, which should be ample for most applications.


Jul 20, 2010

Monster Chess Redux

What do you get when you make a room-sized robotic chess set based entirely on LEGO and unveil it at a major LEGO convention?

A scheduling problem.

Monster Chess went over wonderfully at Brickworld, drawing large crowds, playing multiple games, and winning acclamation & awards. It was so well-liked that LEGO requested it almost immediately... but other venues (such as Makerfaire in Detroit on 31 Jul & 1 Aug, 2010) had also already booked it. With a double-booked tour schedule, what's a Monster Chess set to do?

Clone itself.

LEGO was interested enough in having it at some events that they were able to dig up parts to make a copy of this huge creation. But with less than a week, the challenge was to assemble more than 73,000 individual pieces into a single master creation: no easy feat. So when a shipping pallet with 412 pounds of LEGO arrived at Steve Hassenplug's door, he did what came naturally to him: called on his friends. Over the course of the 17 Jul weekend, more than two dozen people* participated in a mass build to restructure the random pieces into another full functional chess set. Slightly under 48 hours later, it build was done. Steve estimates it took roughly 300+ person-hours (we could have done it a little faster, but we did sleep some, and play a game of RoboRally).

The reason I wanted to blog about this wasn't becasue of Monster Chess itself actually (it's fantastic, but Steve's Monster Chess pages cover that much better than I can here, and they will be expanding). It's about two other aspects in the LEGO and NXT world: community, and really massive builds. Monster Chess looks impressive as all get out, but for the folks that actually produce things like this, a good bit of the "fun" is in the doing, not the finished product. Getting a bunch of people together to build a copy was an amazing amount of fun. In our case, my son Ben & I walked in about halfway through at 5 PM on Saturday, and asked what we could do - we were handed two large boxes of parts, and one of the original knight pieces, and asked to make four copies (2 white, 2 black). It was a wonderful treat, turning roughly 1300 parts (420 of them pins) into four elegant sculptures while chatting with friends... not to mention the fact that I got to race a 12-year-old in a speed build of a model that we certainly never had a chance to build before (I won on the knights, but lost on the rooks later that weekend, so we called it a tie). About five hours later, we switched to building four copies of the rooks, which are completely different in structure and design philosophy. Where the knights are graceful, curved, complexly angled constructions, and very organic, the rooks are a sharp contrast: solid & angular, with some parts so amazingly strong and reinforced that Ben had to ask my help to drive the axles into their places, and using reinforced gearing systems to transfer the large torques needed to fire the Zamor sphere launchers built into them. For stress-relieving breaks, we would take "time out" to cover 48x48 baseplates with 2x2 tiles to make the board (with more than 570 tiles on each baseplate and an 8 by 8 board, close to 37,000 tiles had to be applied during this "speed build"). Another group of people formed an assembly line to produce the 32 identical robot bases that the "shells" sit on to make the completed pieces. 32 NXTs. Almost 100 NXT motors. More than 120 color sensors (and of course the more than 220 wires that were needed to hook all this together, and we've not even begun to talk about the actual LEGO pieces). And through this all, we had fun - talked to new people, reunited with old friends, and learned about others building styles and techniques, as well as just talking with a bunch of people that share a common passion (or obsession).

Huge multi-hundred-pound build opportunities are rare. They've got to be; most of us can't afford anything like enough LEGO to do this sort of thing. But the community aspect... that can be shared by anybody. From 7 to 70, anywhere in the world, you can usually find someone to interact with in the LEGO universe... hopefully in person, but if not, on-line. For some of us, we had to drive a significant distance to participate in this... but it was worth every last minute. If you ever get the chance to do a large build, do it... and even if you don't, find other people to form a community with out there. You won't be sorry, and will learn much more, much faster, than you may have ever dreamed of.

When I have a better schedule for where Monster Chess will appear, I'll put it in the blog, but until then I'd recommend watching Steve's site for updates. Maybe Monster Chess will appear in your neck of the woods.

For more pictures of the build party, you can take a look at my Flickr page, or Brickshelf.

*To those two-dozen-plus folks: a really huge thank you, as this wouldn't have happened without all of your contributions. So let me quickly thank, in no particular order, John, Steve, Heather, Matt, Kurt, Ron, Zoe, Bryan, Kathie, Brian, Ben, Tom P., Chad, Brenda, Steven, Kate, Bunnie, Barbara, Aaron, Stacy, Tom B., Linda, Tom T., Jennifer, James, & David, and a huge thank you to LEGO for providing the parts, & shiping massive amounts of LEGO in a rapid fashion.

Brian Davis

Jul 17, 2010

Fay's Archerfish on mindstorms.com

There's a new NXT bonus model available on the official LEGO® MINDSTORMS site: the Archerfish by Fay Rhodes.

Read more about it here.

Well done again, Fay!

New NXTLog Challenge - Robotic Pets!

The NXTLog Challenge this summer is to build a robotic pet! Real and made up animals are all allowed. Awarded categories will be: Domestic Pets, Exotic Pets, Creative Pets, and Interactive Pets. The deadline is August 31!

Read more about the challenge here.

You might find inspiration from Fay's LEGO MINDSTORMS ZOO or Robots Alive! Endangered Species books, as well as the Internet. Good luck and happy building!


Jul 16, 2010

Transformable Wall-E

Received the following from Andreas:

"I built a Lego NXT wall-e transformable fully self controlled, it uses Lego Mindstorms programming environment. The video shows the transformation which is quite similar to the original wall-e. It is for all I know the first in Lego build look-alike which is capable to transform automated."

Nice work, Andreas!

Video below and more information can be found here:

Microsoft's Robotics Developer Studio Info

Received the information from John O. of Microsoft - I'm including the entire thing here, un-edited, for those interested in Microsoft's Robotics Developer Studio.


Full Disclosure – I am an employee of Microsoft Corporation with an interest in robotics and also am a big fan of Lego Mindstorms and Lego Technics and am patiently waiting for my two young boys to get a bit older so they can discover the fun of building with Lego Technics.

You may have heard that Microsoft has a robotics systems of their own which is now free to download and use at http://www.microsoft.com/robotics

You may have also heard that it also comes with a simulator so that you can simulate robotics in many different simulated environments such as a house, factory and city. Recently we have ran competitions where contestants were required to drive a simulated Mars rover and drive a car through a simulated city whilst obeying all the rules of the road.

However did you know that since its initial release Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio has supported Lego Mindstorms? Yes its true, you can build robotic applications for your favorite Lego robot with a freely available development system from Microsoft built on .NET.

Ahaa I hear you say, I have to be a C# developer before I can use this system. I have just bought my new Lego Mindstorms kit from the Lego store and now you want me to learn a new development language?

Well actually the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio team has made it easy to build robotics applications for Lego Mindstorms and you do not have to write a single line of code. The tool I am talking about is Visual Programming Language. With this tool you basically drag activities and services onto a page and link them together. Think of activities as commands like IF something happens and Services as talking to hardware such as a Lego Mindstorms motor for example or a compass. We have services for motors, sensors from both Lego and Hitechnic and more. In no time at all you will have built your first Lego Mindstorms robotic application using Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio and with no coding required.

However if you decide you want to get into .NET programming with C# you can look at the source code behind your new robotic application. Just rest assured that the decision is yours to either stay in the visual programming world with Microsoft VPL or delve deeper and work with the generated code.

One question we always get asked is where does my robotic program run? With many tools for writing applications for the Lego Mindstorms robot the final program is downloaded to the robot directly. Microsoft Robotics is a .NET system so requires a Windows based PC. This means your program runs on your home computer for example and talks to the Lego Mindstorms robot either over USB or Bluetooth. While some hobbyists may see this as a limitation there is actually a huge positive to the story. Let’s assume you keep working with your Lego Mindstorms robot but then start wondering what it would be like to control a larger robot that costs many thousands of dollars. Well for most of us there is no way to do this. However with Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio we even give you a simulated environment with simulated robots including a simulated Lego Mindstorms robot. So as your skills grow you can test them out on larger, more expensive robots without buying them. Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio lets your skills grow from being a hobbyist to a professional in the future world of robotics. In addition because the brain of your robot is running on a PC you can write much larger and sophisticated programs.

You can find more about Microsoft Robotics at this location and here is a screen showing what a Visual Programming Language application for Lego Mindstorms looks like.

Thanks for reading and you can learn more about Microsoft Robotics by watching this video - http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/jodonnell/Microsoft-Robotics-Developer-Studio-update-with-Trevor-Taylor/

Jul 14, 2010

New Spoken Language for NXT

I received an email this morning from Dr.Christoph Bartneck at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands. He informed me about a new spoken language in development:

ROILA is a spoken language for robots. It is constructed to make it easy for humans to learn, but also easy for the robots to understand. ROILA is optimized for the robots’ automatic speech recognition and understanding. We provide open source software that allows your Lego robot to understand ROILA. We are currently also working on enabling your robots to speak ROILA. Check out our website at http://roila.org/

Take a look - and be sure to let the team know what you think. Reading down the blog a bit, you'll see that they're asking for testers, too... if anyone gives it a try, let me know! I'd love to have a few testers share their experiences with us via a guest blog post.

Jul 12, 2010

Coming Soon: dSolar sensor from Dexter Industries

Remember Damien Kee's post "NXT powered by solar"? Well here is another sneak peek at Dexter's upcoming dSolar. This time by one of Dexter's official beta tester and Teen Fan Of LEGO Mindstroms, Joey --who presented us last time the dPressure sensor from Dexter Industries -- strikes again with an exclusive review that can be found on his new website: www.lego-x.com

Check out the video he made showing us the different components, how to plug them together and for the first time* see an NXT powered without batteries!

* I think others may have successfully done this before, but to my knowledge, this is the first to be commercially available solution. 

Jul 10, 2010

"Robots Alive" Ebook for $9.99

In color, just like the paperback version. Order link and more details are here.

The book requires the free software, "Adobe Digital Editions", available here.

LDraw & MLCad Updates!

I consider myself a happy person and this news makes me even happier. I like LEGO and I also like re-creating and saving LEGO contraptions with a CAD setup. You might have seen products of such a setup in the form of building instructions shared on the web or in several MINDSTORMS books available on the shelves. My setup of choice is LDraw and MLCad and both have inhabited my PCs for over 12 years. These are excellent free programs and are supported by a fantastic group of developers that work with an impeccable attention to the details. Their work really shows in the building instructions that can be created. Updates and new versions are always big news...maybe this is one of the bigger times things are coming together. MLCad version 3.30 is released to the world and the LDraw 2010-02 Parts Update is now available containing a great number of new finely-crafted official CAD parts. Installing the software can be a bit tricky sometimes but help can be found in a few books (including, 'The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Idea Book', and 'LEGO Software Power Tools') as well as the websites that offer the software and other user websites like LUGNET. The work by all those involved is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Users new and old will benefit from these updates. If you have never seen such a thing...I suggest looking deeper. This rabbit hole goes very deep!


Jul 8, 2010

NXT Parts on Sale

This month, Lego Education is offering a 10% discount on parts packs—and they are offering more parts than ever. Here are some examples of what you'll find:

Find these packs—and many more— here.

Jul 7, 2010

Over 90 NXT Projects and 150 NXT-G Programs on CD

Now available is the CD LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 by Example, which contains the NXT 2.0 projects from nxtprograms.com in convenient CD format plus exclusive bonus projects and bonus material.

Designed to be both fun and educational, the CD is intended for users of the NXT 2.0 (8547) kit (NXT 1.0 users see the CD 65 Fun Projects for your LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT).

In addition to the 23 NXT 2.0 Projects on nxtprograms.com, the CD also contains the following exclusive bonus content:
  1. Over 70 ready-to-run and fully commented NXT-G programs for the new Multi-Bot project, for both fun and programming education (beginner to advanced). Studying and using these programs will provide an extensive education in NXT-G programming, including a variety of techniques for motor control, sensor usage, and more (see the program descriptions).

  2. A new Vending Machine project.

  3. The Pinball Machine project (demonstrated at the LEGO booth at FLL World Festival 2009).

  4. The full version of the Guitar Challenge Game project, including the PC song editor and full source code for the NXC and C programs.

  5. A library of useful My Blocks, plus two more complex programs that make extensive use of other My Blocks to demonstrate breaking down a complex task into parts.
In addition, the CD also contains 66 NXT 1.0 Projects, which can be adapted for NXT 2.0 with additional parts, or used to inspire your own NXT 2.0 designs.

All projects have full step-by-step building instructions with color photos and ready-to-run NXT-G programs in convenient and fast-access digital format, with no internet access required.

I will blog some more info and previews on these items and post some videos in the coming days and weeks.

Jul 6, 2010

RoboCup Junior

I was very fortunate to be a part of the organising team responsible for this years RoboCup Junior competition. I was in charge of the Rescue division and this year in Singapore it was the largest competition we have ever had.

The local Singapore organisers did an amazing job, with so many enthusiastic students from the Polytechnic volunteering to be our referees. Thanks guys, we couldn't have done it without you!

Stats (rescue section)
- 100 Teams
- 27 different countries
- 250+ students
- 6 competition fields
- 4 practice fields
- 7 rounds each
- 20 + victims (softdrink cans)
- More fun than could ever be measured!

Here's a little video I put together of the 4 days of competition.

Bring on RoboCup Junior 2011 - Istanbul!

Damien Kee

HiTechnic Balancing the HTWay

Sweet! HiTechnic's turn with HTWay ... a two-wheeled, self-balancing, Segway like marvel with a nice added feature...Power Functions remote control! At this point the HTWay requires a HiTechnic Gyro Sensor, a HiTechnic IRReceiver, and a LEGO Power Functions IR Remote Control. Programs for both NXT-G 2.0 and NXC are available. With the integrated wheel-size setting menu users have an interesting option. The provided programs can also be altered for exchange or integration of different sensors to fit specific needs.

HiTechnic has posted HTWay's detailed instructions (including building/ programming steps) and a nice back-history of self-balancing pBricks from the beginning. Be sure to see the video!

I've always loved the way 'AllTheseWays' look like nothing is happening when they are performing at their best...for me anyway...just standing there.


Jul 4, 2010


Fana'Briques 2010's topic was "Space", so I brought along two LEGO® MINDSTORMS NXT astronauts, the NXTronauts:

Jul 2, 2010

Books 'n' Bots

David Perdue, besides being an NXT author, has done an excellent job of keeping all the NXT-related books in an easy-to-find location... and he's updated his site with a new format... check it out here.

His site now features the ability to view a publishers complete library by clicking the publisher's name on the menu bar.

He's also welcoming suggestions for his new site.

Thanks for doing this, David!

Android and NXT

Got an email from Boris about a recent project of his involving the NXT and the Android mobile phone operating system... he's got a nice writeup here with video. Check it out and let him know what you think.
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