Apr 30, 2012

NXT Pinball Machine

10 year old Peter Cembalest built and programmed this awesome NXT Pinball Machine, with 4 scoring sensors, all picking up different ways to score, 6 sensors total, and fun game play, all controlled by one NXT:

The design is based on the NXT Pinball Machine from the CD LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 by Example, but Peter and his dad Michael made some significant enhancements.  The original game had two touch sensors to trigger the flippers, an ultrasonic sensor spotting a rotating spinner target, and a color sensor ball trap.  By using a HiTechnic touch sensor multiplexer, they were able to add two more sensors and get two more ways to score: A touch sensor target lever, and a HiTechnic EOPD sensor that senses when the ball passes through the center tires.  Peter rewrote the entire program to include the new sensors, new sounds and graphics, and other customizations.  Great job!

Apr 29, 2012

Scissors Paper Rock Robot

Here is a really interesting robot that plays Scissors, Paper, Rock.  

While the construction is pretty straightforward (3 levers that represent each of the options), the real intelligence happens behind the scenes.  This robot actually learns the rules of the game as it goes along.

"This robot does not play rock-paper-scissors in the way people play.  It first asks the user to input a move (either rock - paper - or scissors).  The robot then calculates the best move to play, and then will extend a retractable arm that shows its next move (a Lego rock, paper, or a Lego scissors).  The player must then tell the robot if the robot won, lost, or tied, against the player.  
While you may think that this robot is cheating, since it waits for the player to make a move, I did not program the robot to know the rules of the game!  The robot does not know that rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, or scissors beats paper!  Instead, the robot relies on the player to tell whether it won/lost/tied to learn from past success/failures and to use this information in the future!"

It looks like after around 10 rounds, the robot has enough information to successfully know the correct move to play for anything its opponent gives it.

The Instructable gives a very good description as well about the theory behind it and how it calculates the best move.  I love the fact that the robot is rewarded with a virtual point if it wins, but penalised 10,000 points if it loses or ties. (talk about incentive!)

Full Instructable here (including source code in NXC) - http://www.instructables.com/id/Self-Learning-Rock-Paper-Scissors-Robot-from-L/

Apr 27, 2012

NXT Bottle Opener

Bottle openers seem to be popular posts here on theNXTstep (hmmm, I wonder what that says about our readership!) and this one from  R.J.McNamara is another great example.

Looks like some heavy duty gearing to get the torque necessary to unscrew the lid.  What is great about this build, is the amount of information he has also posted on his website.


There are plenty of photos, descriptions and even CAD models of the different sections you can download for yourself.

Not everything was smooth sailing though!  It looks like he had his fair share of 'issues'  :)

Apr 26, 2012

New Sensor - NXT2Wifi

One of our contributors Danny Benedettelli,  has been working on a new sensor for the NXT, the NXT2WiFi

Now there are quite a few other WiFi sensors for the NXT out there, but this packs a whole lot more on board, over and above basic communication via WiFi.
  • On board webserver, which means you can create your very own web interface directly on the unit itself
  • Control your NXT from any device from anywhere in the world
  • Lithium-Polymer Batter that can be charged over USB
  • Can handle TCP, UDP Sockets, SMTP(email) and SNTP(clock/calendar)
  • Allows you to directly control a robot from iPhone, iPod and iPads (as well as any other mobile device)

Now he has a protoype already working, but is going down the crowdsourcing route to fund a first run of 100 units.  Here's your chance to get in early and help make it a reality.  Once he gets to his funding goal, the orders will go ahead.

There are several tiers of support you can choose:

  • € 10 or more - Public thanks on project website, and one of his LEGO MINDSTORMS books in digital format.
  • € 80 or more - Public thanks on project website, and 1 (one) NXT2WIFI device for free. (instead of 100€ + shipping cost)
  • € 500 or more - Public thanks on project website, and 8 (eight) NXT2WIFI devices for free. (instead of 800€ + shipping cost)
  • € 1000 or more - Public thanks on project website, and 18 (eighteen) NXT2WIFI devices for free. (instead of 1800€ + shipping cost) 


You can see the full specs here - http://robotics.benedettelli.com/sensors/NXT2WIFI/NXT2WIFI_datasheet_eng.pdf

Apr 25, 2012

Simulink for the NXT

The new version of Simulink, the MATLAB-based modelling software by MathWorks, has a new feature that is particularly interesting for NXT builders: developing NXT robot programs and executing them autonomously on the NXT brick.

As the release's features site states:
"Students can use Simulink to create algorithms for control systems and robotics applications. They can apply industry-proven techniques for Model-Based Design to verify that their algorithms work during simulation. They can then implement the algorithms on LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT as standalone, real-time applications.
Students can download a program to the robot using a USB cable. Once programmed, these robots can run autonomously while students interact and monitor remotely using Bluetooth."
There are a lot of more details on said site, including an overview video.

Apr 24, 2012

Update to MINDdroid - Android NXT App

They people over at LEGO have updated the MINDdroid app that allows you to control your NXT robot from any Android device.

A few of the new features:
Upload a program to your NXT from your phone, no PC needed!
Control sounds and play music
Get sensor readings converted through text to speech

"What about doing xyz?" I hear you ask?  We no problem at all, they have also released all the code as Open Source, so if you're good with programming, you can dive in and modify to your hearts content!

Open Source Software: https://github.com/NXT/LEGO-MINDSTORMS-MINDdroid

Apr 23, 2012

ExoHand by Festo

Another great new contribution to our loose series of robotic news that are not directly related to the NXT but might rather serve as some kind of inspiration: the ExoHand by Festo, a world-leading automization company located in Southern Germany:

Looks almost LEGO®ish, doesn't it?

Apr 17, 2012

Robot Virtual Worlds - New Release

Robot Virtual Worlds, the simulated environment where you can program a virtual NXT, has received an update.

One of the great things about RVW, is that you can write programs in RobotC, test them out on a virtual robot in the simulator first before testing on a real robot.  A very handy tool to have especially if you're using it in a classroom where you only have a limited number of robots to go around.

The new update includes handy features such as;

  • Measuring tables - virtual table tops where you can calculate how far a robot travels based on wheel circumference
  • Light Sensor testing tables - As your robot drives across these virtual tables, the sensor will give actual readings depending on the colour 
  • New Navigation challenges - Billiards and Mini-Golf

You can get a 60 day trial download from here if you want to check it out - http://www.robotc.net/download/rvw/

Single licence is $49 for a year, with costs coming down if you getting enough licences for a classrom.

Apr 16, 2012

Voice Control wheelchair

Yaya Lu (the teen who has been featured on here before) has another project up.

In this project, she uses the sound sensor and some RobotC software to tell the difference between a 'dit' and a 'dah'  (effectively Morse Code).  That then sends a signal via a NXTBee sensor to her wheelchair (teddy bear included of course) to make it move around.

As she points out, there are over 7000 languages, so rather than an expensive solution to learn all of them, simple long and short sounds are a better way to go.

Check out her video, it does a great job of explaining how she went about solving the problem.

More info here - http://www.yayalu.net/Yaya-Lu-2012/Yaya-Lu-2012.htm

LEGO Mindstorms makes Top 10 robot list of all time

A recent article in PCWeek, (for National Robotics Week), lists the top 10 most influential robots of all time.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS system (That includes the RCX as well as the NXT) was included alongside some of the greatest robots ever, including Honda's Asimo, NASA's Pathfinder and the first ever industrial robot arm, the Unimate.

Now lists like these are always incredibly subjective, but the ease in which LEGO MINDSTROMS allows everyday people to get involved with robotics is a pretty big flag to fly!

Check out the full list here: http://www.pcworld.com/article/253664/historys_10_most_influential_robots.html

Apr 12, 2012

RobotC driver suite tutorial

Xander has been updating his RobotC driver suite for as long as I can remember so I guess it is about time he put together a "how-to" to actually use it :)

He goes through how to setup RobotC to use the drivers, how they actually work as well as some examples to get you started.  So if you have a sensor that perhaps is not supported well in a different language, think about giving RobotC and Xander's drives a go


Apr 9, 2012

Microinfinity Cruizcore for balancing

If you've recently been looking for a gyro sensor to build an NXT self balancing robot, here's another relatively unknown sensor for your consideration. It's the Microinfinity Cruizcore. Find a video of this sensor in action here.

There are currently three gyroscopic sensors available for the NXT (HiTechnic, Dexter Industries and Microinfinity), each with their own specific advantages. In my experience, they all perform equally well when it comes to balancing an NXT robot with RobotC code.

It should be noted however, that currently only an NXT-G balancing program exists for the HiTechnic sensor. It's possible to do this with the other sensors as well, it's just that those programs haven't been made or published online yet.

As I write this, I realize that a comparison page might be helpful. Coming soon then!

CPC by Mike Brandl

Mike Brandl published his Color Programmable Car as the eleventh NXT 2.0 bonus model. Find the building instructions and programs here.

The robot drives around in a path specified by the sequence of colored balls in the NXT set. Using Mike's words: If you throw in a ...

- green ball it will drive forward until the ultrasonic sensor detects an obstacle
- yellow ball it will turn approximately 90 degrees to the right
- red ball it will drive forward 0.5 m
- blue ball it will turn approximately 90 degrees to the left

Apr 5, 2012

Quad Drive Holonomic

RJ McNamara has been working on a very nice look quad motor holonomic drive platform.  No videos yet but plenty of great pitcures (and CAD renders) of his setup.

He has three different versions, 2 with 4xPF motors and one with 4xNXT motors.  The NXT one uses the Mindsensors Motor Multiplexer to control them all.  He also has spaced 4 Ultrasonic sensors around, and checks the readings one at a time to minimise interference from the others.

At the end of each motor is 2 RotoCaster omnidrive wheels (That's right, 8 in total!)

Lots and lots of great pictures, as well as the full LDD cad designs for anyone who wants to download them.


Apr 4, 2012

RobotC Bluetooth Tutorial

Regular contributor Laurens Valk has put together a great Bluetooth tutorial for RobotC.  We often hear that Bluetooth implementation is tricky in RobotC, and so to have such a great step-by-step tutorial will be very helpful for many people. Sample code included! :)

Tele-Op software for FIRST Tech Challenege

One of the components of FIRST Tech challenge is to be able to drive around a robot that is powered by the NXT.  Now they can beef their robots up with other, stronger materials, but it looks like one of the real challenges has been the programming required to interface the NXT with a hand-held controller.

Titus Woo has written his own RobotC interface to make life a little easier for teams.

From the site:
Tele-op Catalyst makes it stupidly easy to create robust teleop (remote control) programs using a simple but powerful "click, command, create" workflow. While you still need to know how to write simple code such asmotor[motorA]=100, all the complexities of handling button presses, determining toggle states, driving, etc. are handled by Tele-op Catalyst, so you don't have to.
 While I've never entered FTC myself, I do hear that the interface part can be tricky for teams and this would allow them to get up and running quickly.

Anyone had a chance to test this?  Let us know in the comments.

Apr 3, 2012

The Circulator

We've seen a few of these before, but I love Michael (nxtmike14) mini version of a Great Ball Contraption (GBC).  There is something a little mesmerising about watching a little ball going aimlessly around a path.

According to Michael, it can be made out of a 1.0 and probably a 2.0 kit (any chance of some building instructions Michael??)

Michael has entered it into the NXTLog's 'Crazy Contraptions' contest which is coming up with some really great submisions.

NXT-G makes top 20 programming languages

I know that we all think the NXT is fantastic, but here is proof about how popular it is.  The TIOBE Programming Community Index ranks NXT-G in at 20th position.  (it was as high as 15th in Feb last year).  When up against such programming heavyweights such as Java, C, PHP etc that's not a bad effort.

Admittedly their methodology might not be the most accurate, as they derive their rankings based on a search engine check of the phrase "NXT-G Programming" and the number of hits it returns.  But we'll take the compliment anyway!

Interesting graph of rankings, it looks like straight after Christmas there was a surge in queries for "NXT-G Programming" and an overall stead increase over the last 4 years.

The full list - http://www.tiobe.com/index.php/content/paperinfo/tpci/index.html
The methodology - http://www.tiobe.com/index.php/content/paperinfo/tpci/tpci_definition.htm

Thanks to reader Bryant for sending this in!

Apr 2, 2012

Hispabrick 013

Hispabrick 013 is now out, in both Spanish and English.
As well as the usual range of great general LEGO articles, they have once again include some excellent articles devoted to MINDSTORMS.


In particular check out:
- RoboGaga, a Dodge em' ball robot game
- An interview with one of the FIRST LEGO League table designers.  A great insight into the process and decisions that are made each your to come up with new and challenging activities
- The Social Web of Things, A collaboration with Ericsson at the recent World Mobile Conference

Experimenting with HiTechnic's acceleration sensor

Some time ago, HiTechnic kindly sent me one of its very useful acceleration sensors.
This weekend, I finally have found time to experiment with the sensor in using it for collision detection:

Do not forget to check out Brian Davis' and Steve Hassenplug's great discussion on NXT sensors in general and the acceleration sensor in particular, too.

Apr 1, 2012

Watch TV on the brick

A football match on my brick
Another new player has entered the market for 3rd party MINDSTORMS sensors: aprilsensors, a renowned manufacturer of TV adapters, has developed a TV sensor for the brick!

According to the company, the new sensor
"enables LEGO® fans to watch TV also on there most favorite embedded device now. Just plug in the TV sensor in any sensor port, connect it to your TV cable or satellite outlet, and the LCD of the NXT will turn into a full-blown TV screen."
Doesn't that sound great?

I got the opportunity to test the first release candidate and had much fun with different movies on my NXT.
The only downside is that football games are somewhat hard to follow when the whole pitch is shown ...

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