LAS VEGAS (January 4, 2006) - The LEGO Group’s robotics development team today 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.
Okay, here's an extremely simple pop quiz for all you robot fans out there. By now you all know that Lego announced the Mindstorms NXT robotics system at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. So, what did they build with it to show off all it's features?
No fair peeking at the answer before you guess. . .
I didn't play with Legos as a kid, but my children did and I had the pleasure of playing with them under the guise of helping the kids. So when the Lego Mindstorms RIS was released buying it was a no-brainer from the get-go. Over the years I've built numerous robots and other devices, and kept waiting for Lego to really do something dramatic with Mindstorms. . .
We've all experienced it. You've been up working on your robot until all hours of the morning. You're tired and frustrated, but you think that you have finally gotten the last bug out of it and it's ready to test. Only problem is you can't think of a quick way to put together an obstacle course to test it on. . . .
A little over five years ago I saw a fantastic Lego Mindstorms television commercial on the internet. I was so blown away by the possibilities that I arranged to have the RIS purchased by a friend in the US and then shipped over to me here in Japan. Not only that, I also bought two of the additional sets and was beside myself waiting for them to arrive.
“They seem to be growing in popularity everywhere. It is a great way to get kids introduced to some of the basic concepts involved in robotics.”
I agree totally. I’m a big fan of Mindstorms, especially for teaching and prototyping. I’m a little clumsy, and don’t have good manual coordination, so they can be a little frustrating for me. I usually manage to knock some pieces loose right at the worst possible moment. Still, they are a fantastic tool for quickly and relatively painlessly proving or teaching a concept.
Another reason why I’m so fascinated by the Mindstorms phenonmena is the way it’s been accepted globally. Ignoring really old handcrafted mechanical dolls, the first practical robots – the Unimate - were imported to Japan from the US where they were developed for auto manufacturing applications.
Sidebar: The Unimate page at the Robot Hall of Fame states– “Unimate was conceived in 1956 at a meeting between inventors George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, where they discussed the writings of science fiction. Together they made a serious commitment to develop a real, working robot.”
The Japanese refined and advanced the state of the art for industrial robotics tremendously. Now we have a Danish company (Lego) working with a major US technical university (MIT) to produce a product (Mindstorms) that’s being used in Japan to teach young budding roboticists . . . You can’t get more global than that. The technology and the desire to learn bridges geographic and cultural barriers.
By the way, Redcone has a great website focused on robotics. I am constantly surprised and delighted by some of the interesting and often arkane robot news stories he manages to dig up.
I just ran across this newspaper article that was published late last year -
The text talks about learning how to program robots, and features a young group at a township community center. From the photo it appears that they are using the Lego Mindstorms Robot Invention System, and seem to be having a great deal of fun with it.
Frankly, I had the impression that Mindstorms, and Legos in general, weren't very popular here in Japan. I used to see regular Legos on the shelves at the local department store, but about a year ago they were displaced by an off-brand look a like. In the regular robot hangouts in Tokyo, like Tsukumo's Robot shop in Akihabara, you can find Mindstorms sets and individual components, but the prices are two to three times what you would pay in the US.
But, the more I look around, the more evidence I find that Legos are actually alive and well here in the Land of Wa. There have been regular feature articles in the RoboCon magazine focusing on Mindstorms projects. There are quite a few Japanese Mindstorms books available via Amazon Japan and other sites. And one of my favorite weekly television programs - Telebei Champions - devoted a full 90 minute broadcast to a Lego construction contest.