28 November 2008

In September 1998, hobbyist robot builders woke up the world over to robot building when the original Lego RCX was released. It changed everything. The plastic toy of our childhood resurfaced as a leader in technology- and woke an army of AFOLS - adult fans of Lego, a completely unexpected group who were contributing, collaborating and hacking the product in ways Lego could not have dreamed of. The Lego company watched, saw satellite businesses spring up, and even encouraged this. New sensors, devices, programming systems and even complete OS’s resulted. The Lugnet Lego community and Lego hosted discussion sites- and Lego’s best selling toy went from strength to strength.

But then the company hit trouble, they lost touch with this community, and invested heavily in License deals. It produced a raft of badly received toys, and then announced that to save costs it would rein in and focus its market again. During this time, the community rumour mill speculated, was the amazing Mindstorms to be dropped or revamped. Lego stayed silent. They released the Spybotics kits, which were interesting, but fairly limited in comparison.

During this time, the community continued to innovate, but the limitations of the RCX were becoming well known. It was too awkward to interface with, sure there were custom sensors, but it was such a task to create them. There were not enough ports, the IR often played up, the RCX Code system did not go down well. As result of these, massive innovation in the community continued, but frustration brewed, and people were looking at other systems. They starting considering using alternative microcontrollers with Lego, like the RCX, or those less targeted at Lego like the OOPic, but not before voicing their issues publicly.

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Lego it appears were listening, and in secrecy, quested after some of the top contributors to the community, brought them together and formed the MUP - the Mindstorms User Panel. This included Steve Hassenplug, a driving force behind the Great Ball Contraption efforts, from Lafayette, Indiana, along with John Barnes, David Schilling, and Ralph Hempel (who is known for his pneumatic compressor designs). Between them, and Lego’s own Søren Lund, they conspired to create something amazing.

On January the 4th, at the Consumer Electronics Show 2006, Lego announced the NXT - the Next step in the Mindstorms line. This amazing creation has rekindled the community interest, and further extends its open doors, by now looking to take on 100 volunteers, who will buy the set early at reduced price, and contribute to the total experience.

Key Features

  • 3 Intelligent Servo Motors with Feedback
  • 4 Innovative Sensors with 6 Pin RJ style IO Connectors ** Light and Colour ** Sound (level) ** Touch ** Ultrasound
  • USB 2.0 connection
  • Bluetooth (possible phone camera connections?)
  • 519 Lego element kit
  • “Organically styled” studless construction
  • New LABView based code system.

The NXT looks like an iPod - sleek and beautiful. But don’t let the exterior fool you, inside this baby, there is a fast and powerful 32 bit

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