Being the devoted Mindstorms users we are, we were searching for more information on the LEGO Mindstorms NXT system announced last week at CES in Las Vegas. Along the way we ran across an excellent article scheduled to appear in the February issue of Wired Magazine.
The article (see link below) was apparently released online concurrent with LEGO's NXT announcement, and is billed as a 'sneak preview.' Written by Brendan I. Koerner, the article discloses some fascinating details and the history leading up to the NXT unveiling.
LEGO had really worked themselves into a bind. The Mindstorms product was extremely popular with it's devoted fans, but desperately needed a major upgrade. Many fans had all but written off LEGO's commitment to the product line, and rumors were rampant that Mindstorms were about to be dropped completely.
Other companies, recognizing a good opportunity when they saw it, were starting to bring competitive products to market, and were gaining some traction. Robotic products like VEX, Microbric, and others used modular mechanical designs that were very similar to Mindstorms, and most of them also provided a graphic block type of programming system.
It was obviously the time to fish or cut bait - to either drop the product line completely, or completely redesign it incorporating all the accumulated knowledge, user feedback, and experience they had gathered over the past decade.
But how do you do that without alienating and possibly losing the army of dedicated fans and supporters that made the product so successful to begin with?
That's the angle explored in the Wired Magazine article as it documents how LEGO managed to get Mindstorms guru's like Steve Hassenplug (Legway creator), John Barnes, David Schilling, and Ralph Hempel involved to form the nucleus of a Mindstorms User Panel (MUP) to participate in the design process.
From that perspective alone, the article is a MUST READ for anyone involved in rolling out a new product or upgrading an existing one. It's too early to tell for sure, but so far LEGO seems to be doing it the way it should be done.
Along the way the article also manages to reveal some interesting facts about Mindstorms that were sometimes surprising. For example:
- Although Mindstorms basic system hasn't changed substantially in the eight years since it was first released in 1998, and hasn't been upgraded for the past four years, it still manages to sell around 40,000 units annually with an over the counter price close to $200.
- The idea of upgrading Mindstorms goes back to early 2004
- The original Mindstorms sets sold 80,000 units in their first three months of release.
We suspect that the NXT system will have no problem totally blowing away that sales record come next August.
Geeks in Toyland - Sneak preview Wired article on the LEGO NXT System development