Published On: November 21, 2007
Author: Tom Atwood
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|Soren Lund, Director of LEGO Group’s MINDSTORMS division, has led the development of the MINDSTORMS line since its inception in 1998.|
At the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January, LEGO Group announced LEGO® MINDSTORMS„¢ NXT, a new system that redefines the consumer robotics category which the company created in 1998.
ROBOT had the privilege of meeting with Soren Lund, International Director of LEGO® MINDSTORMS„¢, and with Kristin Greene (Flashpoint PR), who has been helping coordinate the public relations side of MINDSTORMS since its inception in 1998, to learn more about the new LEGO MINDSTORMS release. It was for us, an extraordinary interviewROBOT was given an opportunity to take pictures and video clips of the new technology in action.
Soren, director of the MINDSTORMS division since it was created, is a dynamic multilingual executive with a demonstrated talent for meeting the needs of the mushrooming robotics marketplace. He modestly noted that between 30 and 40 books on MINDSTORMS robots have been written in many languages (he has copies of most). A variety of programming languages have been successfully used to drive the first generation MINDSTORMS microcontroller. Multiple development environments have been created by enthusiasts and even CAD software for designing your MINDSTORMS is available for free.
|This walking NXT-based humanoid objected in English when Soren put his palm in front the robots eyes. Note the LCD on the NXT brickit offers you information in addition to that available from the built-in speaker.|
The popularity of LEGO MINDSTORMS is unprecedentedprior to the interview we had learned that nearly 50,000 students were pursuing FIRST LEGO competitions in the U.S. aloneSoren confirmed this and added that there are another 20,000+ deeply involved students abroad and an additional global complement of about 30,000 dedicated hobbyists of all ages that are independently and cooperatively building this technology! The MINDSTORMS division at LEGO has been the fastest growing and most successful division at LEGO in recent yearsa testament both to the importance of robotics in the 21st century and to LEGOs marketing success in educational and commercial arenas.
Soren expressed much enthusiasm for the future of robotics and credited all of the robotics companies that are contributing to this rapidly expanding market. He then turned to the details of the new release, which we summarize below, and demonstrated the new technology using several MINDSTORMS robots.
The new LEGO brick is called NXT and has been upgraded from a 16-bit to a 32-bit processor. NXT is at the heart of the next generation of the LEGO MINDSTORMS toolset and is designed for novice to expert robotics enthusiasts. The NXT microprocessor can be programmed to exhibit autonomous behavior using either a PC or a MAC.
After building a robot, users create a program with easy-to-use, feature-rich LabVIEW software from National Instruments. You can program robots and actively interact with them during programming. The new system features an improved, intuitive, icon-based drag and drop environment for building programs; 18 building challenges with clear, step-by-step instructions help new users create robots ranging from humanoids and machinery to animals and vehicles.
Users with Bluetooth®-enabled computer hardware can transfer their programs to the NXT wirelessly, or anyone can use the included USB 2.0 cable to connect a computer to the NXT for program transfer. The inclusion of Bluetooth technology also extends possibilities for controlling robots remotely, for example, from a mobile phone or PDA.
|This robotic crane could locate a ball, identify its color, pick it up and transfer it to a second location.|
In addition to the new NXT brick, standard kits include three interactive geared servo motors that feature built-in rotation sensors (sensitive to one degree out of 360) for precise control. A new ultrasonic sensor enables a robot to see obstacles, measure distances and respond to movement. A sound sensor enables robots to respond to sound commands with sound pattern and tone recognition. An improved light sensor actually permits color differentiation and an improved touch sensor reacts to contact or releaseallowing robots to feel their surroundings.
The new tool set no longer relies upon LEGO building blocks but rather is based on stylized elements from the LEGO TECHNIC® building system (see photos) to ensure robot designs will be sturdy, durable and authentic looking.
Do you want to get involved in a high-profile way? The LEGO Groups robotics development team has announced a call for entries to secure one of 100 seats on the newly
expanded LEGO®MINDSTORMS„¢ Users Panel (MUP), an exclusive group of MINDSTORMS enthusiasts who have helped guide the NXT product development process. Through February 5, 2006, individuals can apply to be part of the developer team by filling out a simple form at www.mindstorms.com.
|Able to seek out the red ball, this bot could select it and take it away.|
If selected, developers will have four months to experiment with the product prior to its availability to the public.
NEW MINDSTORMS BLOG
LEGO also announced a new blogrobotics enthusiasts can remain current on the latest news from the ever-changing field of robotics at www.nxtbot.com. Hosted by writer and robotics enthusiast, Jeff James, nxtbot.com will serve as an online community, where like-minded individuals can share commentary and observations about this exciting and emerging field. In addition to regular postings about his online discoveries, James will also write monthly features and interviews.
LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT will be available at most toy and discount merchandise retailers, select consumer electronics retailers or online at www.LEGOshop.com in August 2006, at a suggested retail price of $249.99 (USD) and $ 379.99 (CAD). A special version for school and institutional use will be released later this year.