May 30, 2011

Demo at Robo Cup Jr Finals

Xander Soldaat and I did a LEGO NXT demo at the Nemo Science center in Amsterdam. Here's a video that features some of the robots we showed, including two robots from The Unofficial LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Inventor's Guide: The front wheel driven Jeep and the Printer.

May 27, 2011

Google Zeitgeist London

This was a late post, about the Google zeitgeist event were LEGO CEO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp speaks about the LEGO AFOLs and the LEGO Community. for those who might have missed it here is the link.

May 24, 2011


National Instruments, the Texas-based manufacturer of the official programming environment for the NXT, based on NXT-G, has recently introduced LabVIEW for LEGO® MINDSTORMS.

LabVIEW is the the company’s professional LabVIEW graphical system design software and well established in the industry for controlling machines and robots; the new version for LEGO® MINDSTORMS is focused on the educational sector and is thus meant to be used with the Education version of the NXT set:
"Developed specifically for secondary school students to use with the LEGO Education robotics platform in classrooms or competitions, LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS is a teaching tool that helps students visually control and program MINDSTORMS NXT robots, while learning the same software used by scientists and engineers"
as the company states.

Consequently, the new programming platform well be sold exclusively  through LEGO Education and its authorised resellers.

May 20, 2011

Programming the NXT in pure English - Vote!

Luke Taylor developed a software to program the NXT in pure English language, and his project has been selected by the Google Science Fair as semi-finalist!

Click here to vote for him!

May 19, 2011

LEGO® kits in Space

Last Monday, the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off to its last journey to Space, and on board she has a very special pay-load: a bunch of LEGO® kits.
These are be the very first LEGO® kits that ever have travelled into space (there have been some pre-glued models so far only) as engineers were scared of loose parts floating around and getting sucked into the Shuttle's ventilation; Astronaut Cady Coleman (well-known for her recent ISS-Earth flute duet with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson) will build some models from them in a clear glove box on board of the ISS in order to demonstrate to children the effects of zero gravity, both on single parts as well as on some simple LEGO® machines.

I'm looking forward to the videos!

The building instructions for these models will be available for download on so we earthlings can create them also on the ground.

Update 1: Joe Meno from Brickjournal hinted me to the fact that these are not the first LEGO® kits in space: on board of an earlier mission there were two CITY Space shuttle kits. However, the kits of the mission at hand will still be the first ones ever built in space.
Thanks, Joe!
Update 2: The information that all of the pre-built models that have been sent to Space so far have been glued seems to be unconfirmed also. Does any of our readers have additional knowledge about that fact? If so, please tell us.

May 17, 2011

Wall-E version 5

Long time contributor Bazmarc has released a little teaser about his latest version of Wall-E ver 5. (Check out previous versions here)

I'm looking forward to see what he comes up with, it looks enormous!

Damien Kee

Google Zeitgeist, London

Tuesday 16 May, Jorgen Vig Knudstrop (CEO and President, LEGO) talked about Game-Changing entertainment at the Google Zeitgeist 2011 event.
Jorgen refers to us the fans that make the brand.

full movie (as shown on Jorgen's phone).

We helped LEGO to show several interesting LEGO MINDSTORMS models, sumobot (by LEGO)

Soccerbots with helmets (by NeXTStorms)

Streetview car (by Mark)

C5 (by university students Kenneth Madsen and Lasse Lauesen).

It was nice to see that many CEO's loved to play with the soccerbots.

Moonbots 2.0

Last week, The LEGO® Group and The X Prize Foundation announced the second Moonbots contest: Moonbots 2.0, A Google Lunar X PRIZE LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Challenge.

Free registration and Phase One of the contest will be open from May 9th through June 13.

May 16, 2011

New model from HiTechnic

HiTechnic have released the building instructions for a new model, this time a small go-kart. This go cart is controlled by a Power Functions remote, that sends commands to the HiTechnic IR-Receiver sensor which in turn communicates with the NXT.

It looks quick and I'm sure would be a blast to play with. Also a nice bonus that it can be built with both the 1.0 and 2.0 NXT sets :)

I Love how they get around not needing a differential (you'll have to watch the video to find out!)

More info here -

**CORRECTION** The car uses the IR-Receiver, not the IR-Link as I had originally stated. My fault for writing this post late at night!

Damien Kee

May 14, 2011

Useful NXT-G Motor Block: Absolute position control

HiTechnic has released a new motor block that you can use in NXT-G. Here's an excerpt from the description found on the HiTechnic website.

Why the HiTechnic Motor PID Block?
This block is an alternative to the standard LEGO Motor Block. Unlike the Motor block, which when used with a duration of degrees or rotations, gives you relative control over the position of the motor, the PID Block is designed to give you absolute position control. With the standard Motor block, you might use it to go forward 45 degrees, go another 45 degrees, then go backward 90 degrees. Each time the motor turns an amount that is relative to the position that the block starts in. With the PID Block you specify an absolute position. For example, if you want the motor to go to position 45, you can pass in that value to the Set Point input of the PID Block and it will drive the motor to that position. If the motor starts at position 100, then it will go backward to 45; if it starts at 0 then it will go forward.

This type of control makes sense when your motor has a limited range of motion. For example, if you are using the motor to control the position of a robotic arm, you will likely want to make the arm go to a certain position and then have it do something. Since you may not want to keep track of the current position, it is often easier if you can just specify the position to go to. That is what this block lets you do. If you use the standard Motor block, then the direction and duration needed to get to a certain position will depend on the current position.

Here are some possible uses for the Motor PID Block:

- Steering mechanism on a car
- Linkage control system to follow the input from a sensor
- A selector mechanism for a sorter.
- A gripper mechanism that has multiple positions that you want to select between. Perhaps: Open, Closed, Crunch.
- A panning control mechanism where you want to accurately control the direction something is pointing.

Gus Jansson from HiTechnic demonstrates the block in the video below. Find more information and a download link here.

May 11, 2011

NXT 2.0 Discovery Book on sale

Amazon is offering the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book at almost 50% discount. I don't know for how long it will be up for this price, so get a copy while you can.

If your first language is German, you might want to wait a little while. The German edition of the book "LEGO Roboter" is coming out in June.

May 10, 2011

Taking over Xander's NXT

Xander Soldaat has set up an interesting interface that uses the new Dexter Industries WiFi sensor. The idea is simple: control Xander's NXT from anywhere in the universe that's connected to the internet.

Before I post any spoilers, have a look at his NXT live with this link.

Then, in a different window, send a command to his NXT with the WiFi sensor using this link:
Replace "-99" with any value between -100 and 100 and see what happens.

May 5, 2011

The Globe Plotter by Mike Brandl

Today on the Mindstorms NEWS page we can read an article on Mike's amazing Globe plotter and see a time line of his spherical plotters over the years.  I was lucky to see his Egg Plotter in Altlanta (for FIRST last year) and i'm looking forward to seeing his Globe Plotter ... in the meantime enjoy this video

Read full article here

NXT - Elevator

Nice construction of an elevator. It looks like it has 4 floors, the doors open and close and it even has the intelligence to figure out which way to go depending on who's pressed the elevator button.

Damien Kee

May 4, 2011

Maine Robotics Camps - $25 off

For any of you who live in Maine, or close enough to Maine that a trip for a week to Robotics Camp is a good thing...

Maine Robotics is having a $25 off sale on all camps.

The details are here: Maine Robotics camp

May 2, 2011

A Great Five Years...

It is hard to believe that over five years have passed since I logged into, typed in thenxtstep (hoping it wasn't already taken), and created this blog. My original goal was to create a website where I could post links, photos, and videos related to the NXT and have access to them from any computer. (This was before Dropbox and other cloud-based tools.) I was trying to collect articles and rumors and news in one place because I'd been contracted to write a book about this product I'd yet to get my hands on. I'd heard that a blog was useful because others might find it and be able to offer their own information, rumors, pictures, and such... and I really had no clue where this thing was going. A few commenters here... a few shared photos and some grainy videos... and then an invite to join the Mindstorms Developer Program (MDP) where I met a few new colleagues who would go on to become not only fellow blog contributors but also just really good friends.

The NXT was released, the floodgates were opened... and the rest is history, recorded in bits and pieces, over a small number of NXT-related blogs and websites. And, thankfully, I've been allowed to be a part of it all.

I've met fellow NXT fans, tutored teachers and students, written a few books and collaborated on many more, attended robot competitions galore... the list goes on. So many opportunities have opened, all from a simple website that's only purpose (initially) was to keep me organized. I cannot count the number of friendships that have developed over the years from a simple website devoted to a toy.

Since starting this blog, a couple of things have happened - I have two young sons now - a four year old who is just starting to discover LEGO bricks and a baby who looks at them as if they're candy right now, but we all know that will change. I moved from part-time writing (evenings and weekends) to full-time writing, my dream job. Either of these could keep me constantly busy, but combined they're keeping me EXTREMELY busy. I love being a dad... and I love being a writer. So it's been quite the struggle trying to find time for my other hobbies, especially LEGO robotics. LEGO robotics has become a large part of my life - and that's not a complaint. But I've got other interests and other goals that I want to tackle. A few new opportunities have dropped on my desk that I just don't want to let slip away. The first is that I've been invited to blog for, one of my own favorite blogs. The other is some special projects for (Make Magazine's blog) and its sister-site, Both of these opportunities, plus 5 to 6 books per year, my Hands-On blog series, plus many more proposals for books that will never see the light of day... and I hope you can understand why it's time for a change.

Goodbyes are difficult, but let's not make this a goodbye. Damien Kee will be stepping into the role of Editor-in-Chief, and I've told him that I would love to hang out in the background and post the occasional item. I'm not walking away from LEGO Mindstorms... I really don't think I could that even if I wanted to... and with two boys growing up in a house full of NXT parts, it's inevitable that Mindstorms isn't going away in my house. But it is time for a change.

I want to thank all of readers for their attention and their participation. It's been a great ride. But the trip isn't over. You've got Damien and the rest of the blogger crew who will continue to keep you up-to-date with the latest in NXT news. But remember that the blog needs you! It needs readers who will share new projects, new websites, new robot designs, and more. So keep the tips coming!

I also want to thank my fellow nxtstep bloggers. It has truly been a privilege to work with all of you. I've long since given up trying to figure out who has been here the longest (hey, new blog post idea!) but it really doesn't matter to me... I've got some friends for life with this group and I really don't think they've seen or heard the last of me. (And yes, rumors are true - there IS another LEGO book due out later this year. It's not set in the jungles of Guatemala but somewhere a bit more distant.)

A big thanks to LEGO and LEGO Education, as well. And for three folks in particular - Soren, Steven, and Kristie - I don't think I'll ever be able to thank you enough for the doors that have opened for me because of your support, assistance, and friendship.

Readers know me as the guy who can write and write and write... so, as I try not to turn this into a short novel, I'll sign off by telling everyone that I'll still be around if you know where to look.

James Floyd Kelly
Atlanta, GA
May 1, 2011

May 1, 2011

Serendipity crosses open water

Claude Baumann and his students have produced yet another outstanding combination of LEGO engineering, digital hardware prototyping, and innovative programming. Taking inspiration from some of the LEGO boats that have come along in the past, the team set out to make a LEGO boat that could cross a significant sized lake. The result was Serendipity, a autonomous waypoint-navigating craft with a custom GPS sensor.

In their normal fashion, they've provided
a detailed log of their progress on this project, from beginning to end - and it's something I'd really suggest any budding engineer (LEGO or otherwise) read. A lot of people look at an end result and are amazed by it... but the really amazing thing to me is the process to get to it. The inspiration, the wrong turns, the problems anticipated and the surprises learned the hard way. Claude's team has done an admirable job documenting all this, and for anyone who's been involved in such a project it's enlightening to see (and a great way to teach young engineers).

The basic boat was a simple catamaran using two of the stock LEGO motors at the rear on a pivoting mount as a sort of "powered tiller". With a compass to determine the boat heading the only thing they lacked was an absolute positioning system... so they made their own GPS sensor. With this they programmed the boat to do a waypoint navigation on the surface of a large reservoir... it work work flawlessly! To put this in context, the Serendipity is about 38 cm long, and traveled an 800 meter course from shore to shore.
That's the equivalent of a 16' boat traveling more than 16 miles (2,100 boat lengths). Not too shabby, especially considering that waves to not "scale down" nearly as nicely, so while it seems to have been a calm day... those are still significant waves for such a small boat! It also points out the efficiency of the LEGO boat motors: two of them (each running on a single AA battery) had enough power to thrust continuously for 40 minutes. I'm not sure what the total running time is... but it's clearly significant, and that was pushing the boat at good speed!

There's also a nice YT video of it up, if you want to see the "movie version". Now, if I could just get a calm enough lake and a GPS sensor... well, if I didn't have ideas before, I certainly would now :).

PS- There will be a series of boat races again at this years Brickworld event in Chicago, so there may be more of this "risking LEGO inches above the water" coming in the near future.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...