Jan 31, 2011

Building Instructions on Small Screens

With Apple's new magnification software that comes with iOS 4.1 and later, I found it easy to build NXT models using my iPod Touch. (Click the above photo for a larger look).

Has anyone else built models by displaying documents on your mobile device? If so, what was your experience? What software works best when importing PDFs into your mobile device?

"NXT One-Kit Creatures" Book Now for iPad, Kindle

The book sells for $9.99.

Jan 30, 2011

Audrey III - Men Eating Plant

Like a nightmare before Christmas, I created this men eating plant robot to relax in a snowy Sunday of December. It is a nice deadly robot, useful for example to keep intruders away from your desk. The robot jaws are really dangerous, so be careful!

I provide building instructions and NXC program to make this horror creature alive!
More details on Audrey III's homepage.

Help a Science Fair Participant

If you've got time and wouldn't mind helping Luke out, please see his request below - good luck, Luke!


My name is Luke and I created a survey, because I would like to know how people would tell their robot (currently the NXT MINDSTORMS) to perform actions. This will help me to create an algorithm for my Google Science Fair's project. My project should enable one to tell a robot in simple plain English to successfully perform actions.

Please visit survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LMTWSPP

Jan 29, 2011

Swimming movement robot?

Possibly not classes as a robot (no NXT or sensors), and not really swimming (no water) but I loved the movement of this design. The wheels are free rolling (ie, no motor directly connected to them) but 1 Powerfunctions motor and a collection of pushrods and gears to create a oddly beautiful and smooth motion.

No point trying to explain it, watch the video!

Damien Kee

Jan 27, 2011

New digital gyroscope sensor for the NXT

A new digital sensor for the NXT has hit the market!
The Cruizcore XG1300L is a self-contained MEMS digital gyroscope that measures angular rates, heading, and acceleration.
Cruizcore is a total navigation solution of Microinfinity for robots, automobiles and IT which exploit MEMS, inertial navigation and GPS. This kind of sensors are used inside domestic robots (such as vacuum cleaners) or cars to improve their estimation of their position.
This new sensor is different from the actual Hitechnic gyroscope sensor: it is digital and it outputs also heading and acceleration, obtained (if I remember well) using internal Kalman filtering.

I first met the Microinfinity guys at Automatica Fair in Munich in June 2010, where they showed their drawing mobile robot. It relies only on gyrodometry to draw portraits precisely.
It is sold online at 85$.

More DIY Electronics Training

I just recently finished up blogging about my experiences working through the experiments in the Make: Electronics book by Charles Platt. It took about a year and was 100% fun... I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to really learn about electronics and circuit building... I learned more from this single book than I've learned anywhere else.

Now that the Make: Electronics blog is finished, I've decided to continue forward by digging into the Arduino. If you're not familiar with it, I don't think I could do an explanation justice, so I'll simply point you to the official Arduino site as well as to the hundreds of Arduino projects that exist across the Internet - Instructables has some here, Make magazine has some here... do a Google search and you'll find more information than you'll ever have time to read.

I selected the "Beginning Arduino" book by Michael McRoberts - it comes highly recommended and after reading through the first 50 pages or so, I knew it was the book for me. It has 50 projects that start from the extremely simple "Light an LED" all the way up to building full-fledged robots with servos and other sensors.

You can follow my work as I tackle these 50 projects over at HandsOnArduino - I post my notes, pictures, and videos... and I'm keeping a spreadsheet on the blog that tracks my purchases for the projects.

I must admit that my experiences with the NXT over the past 5 years have really caused me to want to go deeper into electronics and robot building, and I'm sure there are many kids and adults who feel the same... I'm hoping that documenting my experiences with these books will help others to see what's involved and maybe encourage them to continue forward...

Jan 24, 2011

NXT-G Trig functions

HiTechnic have just released new NXT-G blocks that enable you to do simple Trigonometric functions such as sin, cos and atan2.

What would you need these for? Well when you're dealing with angles, you often need to calculate the length of the side of a triangle. Suppose your robot drives 1m forward, turns 23 degrees and then travels another 0.75m forward. How far are you from the start? That's where these blocks come in handy! I won't go into the math in this post but you get the idea. (wikipedia)


via - I'd rather be building robots

Damien Kee

Jan 23, 2011

We need your Bluetooth experience

UPDATE: An updated version of this article is found here. Update your bookmarks.

Bluetooth is a great way to enhance your experiences with NXT programming. You can program your robot, transfer files and sounds, all without requiring a physical connection to your robot with a USB cable. To use Bluetooth, all you need is a proper Bluetooth dongle that plugs into a USB port on your computer. You can find some technical details on the MINDSTORMS website.

It turns out that many Bluetooth dongles work well, including several very small and cheap ones. Sometimes, however, it is hard to get a certain dongle work well because of issues with drivers or operating systems.

For new users, it can be difficult to find the right Bluetooth dongle for their NXT system because there are so many dongles available. To make the selection process a little easier for these people, I’d like to compile a list of dongles that YOU confirm to work well.

Please post your Bluetooth experience in the comments, and I’ll update this blog post with new items. Feel free to link to this post from your blog or website, using < this link >. Doing so will get the post higher in the search ranks, and more people will quickly find a solution.

To get started, fill in the following list and post them as a comment, or if it’s easier for you, send it to this email address.

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
2. Price:
3. Where to get (web link, or store name etc):
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
5. Notes (if applicable):

Please only post dongles that you’ve confirmed to work well. If someone has already posted about your Bluetooth dongle, but if you want to confirm or add anything, please do.

Please take 5 minutes to fill in this form. Thanks!


List of NXT compatible Bluetooth dongles

Here's a list of compatible Bluetooth dongles, in no particular order, submitted through the comments or email. Last update: 23 January 2011

As time passes, certain items may run out of stock on the links provided. Also, the shops referenced below may or may not ship to your country. When so, just search for the dongle name on the internet (Google, Amazon, Ebay etc).

Also, only confirmed operating systems are shown below. It -could- also work just fine on other systems.

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
ABE Bluetooth Dongle
2. Price:
$40 (US) - 32 Euro (Europe)
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 (32 and 64 bit)
5. Notes:
This dongle is officially supported by LEGO, but quite expensive.

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
MSI BToes 2.0 (3X Faster)
2. Price:
Approx £15 (In Europe)
3. Where to get (web link, or store name etc):
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows XP, Windows Vista

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Cellink BTA-3100
2. Price:
10 euros
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows XP, 7
5. Notes:
Uses Microsoft BT stack, works well

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
D-Link DBT-122
2. Price:
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows Vista Home Premium

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Not specified
2. Price:
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows XP

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Esense D600
2. Price:
430 NTD
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Anycom Mini USB-500
2. Price:
Approx £15 (In Europe)
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows XP, Windows Vista,Windows 7, Linux
1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Super Mini Bluetooth 2.0 Adapter Dongle
2. Price:
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows 7

Internal Bluetooth

1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Dell Inspiron 1545 built-in BT module 365
2. Price:
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Win XP, 7, Ubuntu


1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Dell Wireless 370 Bluetooth Mini Card (integrated)
2. Price:
35 €
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Windows XP, Vista, 7


1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
HP Integrated Module with Bluetooth 2.0 Wireless Technology
2. Price:
3. Where to get:
In a HP laptop
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Win XP
5. Notes:
Only tested with BricxCC


1. Brand/Name of Dongle:
Integrated MacBook Pro
2. Price:
3. Where to get:
4. Confirmed compatible operating systems:
Ubuntu and Mac OSX Snow Leopard
5. Notes:
Only tested with nbc/nxc.


Central European FLL winner: avaloq from Switzerland

The winner of yesterdays's Central European FIRST LEGO League Finals is (as in 2005) the team avaloq from Switzerland, which will go to the World Finals at St. Louis (USA) in April.

The first eight teams will also take part at the FLL Open European Championship at Delft (Netherlands) in June.

Jan 22, 2011

Today: Central European FLL Finals (with live stream)

For all our Readers that are located somewhere in Central Europe, the Central European Finals for the FIRST LEGO League that take place today in World's largest computer museum, the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum in Paderborn (Germany), might be a worthwhile event to visit.
More than twenty teams from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czechy, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland will compete for the first places that will allow them to take part at the FLL World Finals in April in St. Louis.

For those who can't be at place there today, a live stream is available from the event starting with the Robot competition at 12.30 CET.

New Book - Winning Design!

A good friend of mine, James Trobaugh, from the Atlanta area just had his first book published... an NXT book! It's called "Winning Design! LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Design Patterns for Fun and Competition." I've completed reading the book and I'd like to share my review (also posted on Amazon.com) of the book below...


I've participated in many FLL tournaments as a technical judge, and I've seen many good robot designs hampered by a lack of understanding of some basic design principles. I've now completed reading the book and I'm quite impressed with the author's decision to break the book into four sections, each focusing on a particular skill (or skills) and providing plenty of real world examples of HOW and WHY things are done... or should be done.

The book is HEAVY on figures... and that's a good thing. Many of the concepts that the author writes about simply cannot be understood well without some hands-on explanations. That's why teams will be pleased to see diagrams and examples using real NXT parts to explain concepts such as turning, squaring up along a wall, and line following. And he didn't leave out some great discussion on attachments - one of the most important concepts for teams who wish to successfully accomplish multiple game table elements.

Finally, the author provides some tips and suggestions for managing your programs as well as presenting them (and the robot) to the technical judging team. And you'll also find complete building instructions for the DemoBot... a real robot that the author uses to demonstrate techniques throughout the book... build it and THEN read the book!

All in all, I'm very pleased with the book - I think new/rookie FLL teams will receive the most benefit from the book, but experienced teams are sure to find some stuff in here that will improve their scores and successes.


James put a LOT of time and effort into this book... and it shows. Much of the material in this book comes directly from his experiences with FLL over the years, including his many roles in the FLL competition every year. Congrats, James!

Dung Beetle for NXT 1.0 or 2.0

This backwardly-mobile dung beetle uses its back legs to move the "dung", which is a brown ball of yarn.

This model is from the book, "NXT One-Kit Creatures", by Fay Rhodes. The book includes full-color building and programming instructions for five animals, which can be built using either the NXT 1.0 kit OR the NXT 2.0 kit. In addition to the dung beetle, the book includes building instructions for an undulating shark, a crawling horseshoe crab, a walking chick and a leaping grasshopper. More information is available on Fay's web site.

Jan 21, 2011

Hack Club: Round 1 winners

So there it was, last Friday, New York Hack club nr1 LEGO MINDSTORMS showdown:

Starting with some NXT2.0 boxes:

And the winners are:

Congratulations to all hackers who made it to the first round.


Jan 20, 2011

Google Science Fair

Last week, Google has announced a global online science competition, the Google Science Fair.
Next to the NASA, Scientific American, National Geographic and CERN, one of the partners is The LEGO® Group.
Any 13 - 18 year old (or according teams) all over the world can submit science projects (in English) in the categories CS & Math, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Behavioural & Social Sciences, Flora & Fauna, Energy & Space and Inventions & Innovation until first of April and win valuable prizes - the 15 best teams will invited to the Google Headquarters in California.

An introductory video (containing some MINDSTORMS also) can be found on YouTube:

Also, do not miss the movie on the launch event which took place on January 11.

And, most important in case you are between 13 and 18 years old: do not miss to take part.

Jan 19, 2011

C-3PO Rides Lego Nxt-segway

Preeda form Thailand had to build this Classic rider, just for fun!

Nice work!

Jan 15, 2011

Five Years

It's hard to believe, but it's been five years since I logged onto Blogger and created The NXT Step. The first two months (Jan and Feb 2005) were nothing but speculation, interviews with Soren Lund and Steven Hassenplug, and lots of videos that were being put up all over the place. The MDP (Mindstorms Developer Program) call had been put out and those of us who had applied were eagerly awaiting a response...

A bit of backstory - I started the blog as a way to keep track of news items, videos, and photos about the NXT because I'd been contacted by a publisher about writing a book for kids that would teach building and programming - my experiences with the RCX were extremely limited (I bought one in 1998 and played around with it) so I wasn't sure what to make of the request to write a book. But I kept at the blog because it was easier to add links and notes and stuff there than write it up in a notebook. But really I was beginning to question whether I'd be able to write the requested book and was seriously considering moving on.

In March, my wife and I ended up taking a cruise for our 1 year anniversary. She could tell I was a bit nervous about the lack of Internet/email so she agreed to let me pay a daily fee to use the ship's computers to check my messages... and wouldn't you know it? The MDP announcement came that same week and I was able to check my email to find I'd been selected. But after reading and signing the NDA, I quickly realized that I'd probably have to stop blogging! I wasn't going to be able to talk about my experiences as a beta tester so I thought about just letting the blog go - at the time I think I had maybe 4 or 5 regulars posting comments and such. Yes... 4 or 5.

But a few questions to LEGO and I realized I could still post stuff that was in the public domain - videos that were still being released, photos, etc... so I kept at it, thinking that I'd still try to give writing the book a chance while playing with the beta kit. (True story - the parts all the MDPers received came in one big clear bag tied in a knot! The bag was easily larger than a gallon of milk... maybe almost two... and it was a bit overwhelming to pull it out of the box and see all those zillions of little pieces mixed together.)

Jump forward a bit now - and the blog is starting to get some good comments and discussions going on, but the NXT hasn't yet been released. May 1, 2006 was an important date as LEGO had agreed that we could start sharing more details about the NXT-G software and our own designs, but even before that date plenty of folks had been able to get their hands on the NXT and play around with it as LEGO demo'd it as the WorldFest in Atlanta in April... word was spreading.

I honestly have no recollection when I began to invite folks to join the blog - I don't even remember the order. I know Brian Davis and Matthias and Martyn were a few of the very first (sorry guys, can't remember the order), and then the gates opened and more and more contributors began to join up... by the time the NXT was released in late 2006, we had about 10 or so contributors putting up posts, videos, photos, and more - at one point I can remember maybe 5 to 10 posts per day!

Over the past five years, the blog has grown - more contributors, more readers, and more topics. We added a forum along the way (thanks, David Levy) and even wrote a few collaborative books (The Idea Book and NXT One Kit Wonders) that each had 8 or more NXT contributors' names on the covers. Contributors have written their own books (Fay - Matthias - Damien - Laurens - Daniele - ???). And would you believe it that there are still contributors who I haven't yet met in person??? The strange world of blogging...

Over the past five years, I've enjoyed being part of this blog... and I look forward to many more years. The posts have slowed down as the product has matured - contributors have moved on to other projects - and the NXT seems to have stabilized in terms of excitement level (I hate to say that, but it's kinda true).

But the blog continues. We still want to be the main source of information and news on the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT, so we continue to invite our readers to send us their photos, videos, and write-ups on their designs and experiences with the NXT. There's an entire group out there that is just learning about the NXT - it's all NEW to them! And thankfully this blog has five years of archives for them to sift through to see what others have done (or are doing) with their robot kits.

Thank you - readers and contributors - for helping make The NXT Step what it is... an unofficial source of inspiration for all things NXT. I can't wait to see what 2011 brings!

Atlanta, GA

One Motor Color Sorter!???

Received the following from Brazil - Ivan Seidel has shared a video with a robot that appears to be using a single motor for color sorting... you can view more on his blog here (but it's in Portuguese).

Thanks for sharing, Ivan!

Update: I posted the wrong video earlier and incorrectly placed Ivan in Portugal... he is from Brazil.

Jan 14, 2011

8 Legged walker

Here is another nice implementation of the Theo Jansen leg mechanism. This time the builder uses 1 motor for 4 legs on the left hand side, and 1 motor for four legs on the right hand side.

I probably wouldn't call it a true Octopus as the legs aren't independent, but it is still very cool nonetheless.

Damien Kee

Building instructions for the NXTAPOD

New year's starting good! I finally prepared the instructions for the NXTAPOD, a six-legged walking robot that can walk straight forward and turn backward, driven by a single motor! This is made possible by a latch mechanism. The robot can be built with a single NXT 2.0 retail set, and its programming is really simple: go forward until the Ultrasonic sensor sees something, then reverse motor direction for few seconds, and begin walking forward again, and start loop again.
Check it out here!

Jan 13, 2011

Hack Club: MINDSTORMS Showdown

The Hack-Club has a new contest!.

No business cards.
No recruiters.
No spoon.

Hack Club Round 1: LEGO Mindstorm Showdown

LEGO provides the Mindstorms, we provide the battlefield and the rules, and you provide the robots that do the special challenge better than every other robot there.

Date: January 14th-15th, 2011 New York City

Doors open: at 9 PM

Competition starts: at 10 PM on 01/14/11

Competition ends: at 9 AM on 01/15/11

Location: Solve this puzzle for the location of the event!

Once you solve it, please email me (christina@) to check your answer and RSVP so we can get a rough head count!

read more
I robot, LAWs

Read the rules and good luck!

PS please do not post the solution here.

Jan 8, 2011

Guitar Man

I just came across this video, in which a robot mimicks the movements of a guitar player. It does a very good job at that. Watch the video to see what I mean.

Before you watch it, though, make sure that your speaker volume is not set to its maximum level!

Pneumatic Art

NeXTSTORM, Greek creator of many a fascinating LEGO® model, has published a new movie, this time on Kevin Clague's stunning pneumatic robots that could be seen on LEGOWORLD 2010:

Scratch for NXT - Enchanting 0.0.4

Clinton Blackmore has continued working on his programming tool called "Enchanting". His goal is to make it easier for children to program their NXTs.

"This video shows off Enchanting version 0.0.4, which can be used to program LEGO Mindstorms NXT robots in a Scratch-like environment."

This is only version 0.0.4 and it looks great already! If you want to give this tool a try, visit the project's website here.

Jan 5, 2011

Cherry Picker / NXT Hybrid

Sorry I've been a little quiet over the last few months. A new bub in the house has put a small limit on the amount of free time I have :)

I have however finished a project I'm been meaning to do for quite a long time, the NXT-afication (is that a word?) of the LEGO Cherry Picker.

Here is a video of it in action:

More photos, explanations of the NXT-G program used and the NXT-G download files can be found here: www.damienkee.com/robots.html

Damien Kee

Jan 4, 2011

Analog Multiplexer for NXT touch sensor by STAAK

STAAK posted on the Polish LUGPOL forum an nice instruction guide in How to build a touch sensor multiplexer.

He describes:" For both multiplexers I used resistors with values 32k, 10k, 68k, and 150k. The NXT touch sensor already have a built-in additional 2.2 k resistor.

By design, the two multiplexers (RCX, NXT) will work with the NXT via a single block in NXT-G. Because the use of the internal resistors (and the same precision resistors), I needed to create a block for the NXT-G that allows the thresholds to be set by the user. Normally when you insert a block to the project can be seen only as the left side of the settings. Select the checkbox will show a window for manually setting the appropriate thresholds.

Block Parameters:
Port: 1 to 4 = the Port connected on the NXT
Limit: 1 to 6
TH1000 for threshold limit of 5 = 520 indicates that this threshold is detected in the range 515 < TH1000 < 525.
Threshold: 0 to 1023

Drop-down box in the left window is used only for viewing a given threshold value.
A threshold value is nothing more than the raw value for the relevant states of the configuration of sensors

TH1011 should be read as TH Sensor1=1 Sensor2=0 Sensor3=1 Sensor4=1 where
Sensor1 = in series with 10k resistor
Sensor2 = in series with 32k resistor
Sensor3 = in series with 68k resistor
Sensor4 = in series with 150k resistor

The output signal from this block is the four outputs (T1-T4), True / False
where True state of the output indicates that the sensor is pressed.

After setting the threshold check block, save the project.
The Copy/Paste option allows you to insert the block into a new project together with the pre-set thresholds.

Click here to download the block.

The cost of the multiplexer elements was less than 2$ for the resistors
The NXT-G block was written in LabView with the overlay LabVIEW Toolkit for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT available on the National Instruments.

see also his Brickshelf folder.

Well done STAAK!

Jan 2, 2011

NXT 2.0 Inventor's Guide

David Perdue and Laurens Valk have done a remarkable job of creating what amounts to a comprehensive NXT 2.0 "missing manual."

In dedicated chapters the book offers some coaching in building basics (how to use gears, for instance) and NXT-G programming. Also, the building and programming instructions for the diverse (and very cool) models included are loaded with helpful information. The authors have clearly worked hard to anticipate what an NXT user wants (and needs) to know, even going so far as to explain the names of the parts—which is very helpful when looking for parts on Bricklink.com. ("L-shaped thingy" doesn't work).

The only thing that could make this book better is printing it in color; but that would have increased the cost significantly, so they've settled for making the best grayscale instructions possible.

It's definitely a "best buy" for the new NXT user.

Jan 1, 2011


Happy newyear to you all!!
I hope 2011 will fill your lifes with joy, love, luck, prosperity, happyness,...
I wish you all get what your hearts desire, yet can't be bought in stores.

My newyears' eve hasn't been what it should have been liken due to personal reasons, yet I wish you all the very best for 2011!

May the new year bring us many robotics, joyful LEGO-building, and other great stuff!

Martijn Hellemans
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