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Fan-Designed Mindstorms Release Next Tuesday 73

Posted by Zonk
from the bot-bot dept.
EaglesNest writes "The Washington Post has a story describing Lego's new Mindstorms. Two years ago, Lego formed their own 'star chamber' to decide what the next iteration of Mindstorms would look like. Eventually reaching 14 people, the Mindstorm users panel had a huge impact on what will be released commercially next week." From the article: "One member was even able to pressure the company into building a part that makes its debut in the new Mindstorms set -- a rare event at Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence. The new part is a connector that allows two long pieces to be joined at a 90-degree angle. The resulting toy has much more up-to-date technology than the original set, including a USB 2.0 port for fast downloads and Bluetooth for wireless connections. With the right parts and programming, a Mindstorms robot can dance in response to sounds or follow the beam of a flashlight."
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Fan-Designed Mindstorms Release Next Tuesday

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  • Hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:45PM (#15806558) Homepage Journal
    With the right parts and programming, a Mindstorms robot can dance in response to sounds or follow the beam of a flashlight."

    You can do the same thing with teenagers and some ecstasy pills....
  • Yes, but (Score:5, Funny)

    by 0racle (667029) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:45PM (#15806560)
    With the right parts and programming, a Mindstorms robot can dance in response to sounds or follow the beam of a flashlight.
    Can it find Sarah Connor?
  • great news but... (Score:5, Informative)

    by grapeape (137008) <mpope7 AT kc DOT rr DOT com> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:48PM (#15806572) Homepage
    The new mindstorms set sounds great, but the article contained rather disturbing news about the financial state of LEGO. How does a company that makes plastic bricks loose over 200 million in one year? Im sure that the new mindstorms will help boost the bottom line but I cant help but think LEGO's biggest problem was when they went away from generic build kits to licensed sets with highly proprietary (i.e. unusable for much else) pieces. Is it that kids arent as creative today or does LEGO just keep them from being able to be creative? Part of what made LEGO's col in my day was that you could create just about anything you could think up. When I was a kid UI was able to build an entire rebel base for my star wars figures with a blanket and lego bricks but today I have to buy a $75 kit. Todays sets appear to be more of a model kit than a creative toy.
    • Employment Costs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Black-Man (198831) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:52PM (#15806590)
      The Lego company just kept doing business as it always had... which was fine when the bricks were selling, but once the video game crowd eroded their sales - they tanked. Since, they have laid off a number of employees - not making the town they reside in happy but the alternative was much worse. They have also moved production off to eastern european countries where labor costs are reasonable and they can compete in the global market. The new CEO means business and I am optimistic they will survive and maybe thrive.

      • by Shaper_pmp (825142)
        Sorry, but no.

        Back in the day lego blocks were general and non-specific. Sets came with instructions for at least two different models you could make with the same bricks, and bricks could easily be mixed-and-matched between sets.

        In the last few years (partly as a response to your points) Lego started producing more and more licensed tie-in (cash-in) sets, which had all sorts of weird and wonderful single-use bricks and were, frankly, crap for general creative building.

        Granted, the factors you raise may ha
    • I have this set and I have to say it's one of the coolest Lego sets EVER. I even had to go back and reclaim some of my old Legos from my little brother after 10 years or so.

      Yes, I'm 25 and still play with Legos.

      http://youtube.com/watch?v=Fq2Mu7hadI8&search=nxt- a-sketch [youtube.com]My NXT-A-Sketch
    • by johnw (3725) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @01:12PM (#15806696)
      How does a company that makes plastic bricks lose over 200 million in one year?

      Probably the same way my children do - by leaving them all over the bedroom floor and having them disappear into the vacuum cleaner.
    • by ilsa (197564)
      When I was a kid UI was able to build an entire rebel base for my star wars figures with a blanket and lego bricks but today I have to buy a $75 kit. Todays sets appear to be more of a model kit than a creative toy.

      $75? Yeah there are sets you can buy for that little. Check out Lego shop-at-home [lego.com] and you will see that lego sets can run up to $249 for the Mindstorms NXT. There are probably pricier sets I am not thinking of.

      Inasmuch as I can get 5 new release video games or 12 older games for that money, no
    • When I was a kid UI...

      So what's your last name? Windows, X Windows, OS X?

      Dan East
    • Personally, I gave up on Lego when I entered the local fair's Lego competition and lost to a kid who used one of those lego kits. The theme for the competition was space ships and he grabbed a box off the shelf and built it, while I had this huge bucket of Lego and put together a custom ship.

      I probably didn't deserve to win, but it threw me for a loop that a kid who basically plagiarized won the competition.
    • by erik_norgaard (692400) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @01:21PM (#15806732) Homepage
      There is a number of explanations:

      1) The period of being "child" has become shorter. Previously children would happily play with LEGO till age 15, but now kids loose interest around age 10-12 if not before.

      2) Computers take a lot of the attention, which was the reason to launch Mindstorms, make the kid creative with the computer. And when computers don't take the attention then cellphones do. Kids communicate much more (quantity, no word about if this is good or bad) than previously, chat rooms, blogs, sms, social networks etc. None of which involve any bricks.

      3) Media take a lot of attention, and there's not much to do about it. Today it is common to find tv sets in childrens room and programs directed towards children get more exposure.

      And 3) is part the explanation that childhod has become shorter: Just think about all the boys and girls bands that become the big hit, and kids want to be like them. Say, Britney Spears? (there are certainly others, I'm just not young enough any longer to catch interest).

      So, it's no surprise that LEGO looses ground. And they are investigating hugely other ways to get through and catch interests. Which explains the losses.

      PS: Don't know if the loss mentioned is actually danish kroner, in which case it's only a 6th.
      • And 3) is part the explanation that childhod has become shorter: Just think about all the boys and girls bands that become the big hit, and kids want to be like them. Say, Britney Spears? (there are certainly others, I'm just not young enough any longer to catch interest).

        It's not the emulation of famous people that shortens childhood, its that technology enables them to do a pretty good job at it. Kids today have access to high quality tools (Garage Band, Maya, Photoshop) that they can play around with;

    • There are too many things to keep kids busy today. For example, tv, video games and let us not forget the Internet. When I was growing up we could only watch cartoons on Sunday morning for an hour and had no access to this amazing toy called a computer. So, I am not surprised that LEGO is not doing so well financially. At least they have started listening to their customers so there is still hope that they will survive for a long time. I would want my kids to have access to LEGO toys more than anything.

      P
    • Two words: Theme parks. They stopped making bricks and started to diversify. Lost so much that the 4 LegoLand parks are now majority owned by the Blackstone group because Lego couldn't afford them.
    • You have to wonder how the price of oil is affecting them. Plastics are made from oil, and lately the price for plastics has been climbing...Can't totally blame it on oil, but it doesn't help.
    • Re:great news but... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vux984 (928602) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:24PM (#15806990)
      but I cant help but think LEGO's biggest problem was when they went away from generic build kits to licensed sets with highly proprietary (i.e. unusable for much else) pieces.

      They pretty much had to.

      If the set has no unique pieces a kid with 10 other sets has no real need to buy it.

      My kids are playing with thousands of pieces from my childhood. If lego was selling the same generic kits, I'd be hard pressed justifying buying them any new sets. The star war lego sets, for example, allowed us to build better tie fighters and x-wings than we'd been able to build out of classic space and blacktron...

      Part of what made LEGO's cool in my day was that you could create just about anything you could think up.

      You can still do that...or perhaps you never could.

      Making a decent castle out of classic space lego was almost impossible, and making an x-wing out of the classic yellow castle was an exercise in futility. But with a good mix of lego from a variety of new sets, and you have as much freedom as you ever did. More freedom in some cases... I'd have killed for the ball joints that are common now. ;)

      Todays sets appear to be more of a model kit than a creative toy

      Individually that's probably true. But lego still lets you go anywhere once you've got a few sets from different 'genres'.

      • but there's still a lack of basic parts on the shelves. They need to remember the days of "just bricks" when all you got was a bucket of 2x4's ... true they were "boring" but with the new sets you can't get enough pieces to build anything substantial. I know you can get them online, but what they really need is a box of "just blocks" 2x4's and bigger in a variety of colors.

        the other issue is almost the other extreme with mindstorms. They need better pieces in order to make more useful models. Once yo

        • Re:great news but... (Score:5, Informative)

          by vux984 (928602) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @05:18PM (#15807604)
          but there's still a lack of basic parts on the shelves.

          That really depends where you shop I guess. Around here it doesn't seem to be a problem.
          The ToysRus, Walmart, and Zellers all have a stack of these on the shelves:

          Start with a couple of these:
          http://shop.lego.com/product.asp?p=4496 [lego.com] - 805 basic pieces in a variety of colors

          Add in one of these for doors and windows:
          http://shop.lego.com/product.asp?p=5482&cn=44&t=5& d=11 [lego.com]

          And maybe this to get you some wheels and propellers, and other funky parts
          http://shop.lego.com/product.asp?p=10159 [lego.com]

          Sub in a few star wars space craft to for my classic space stuff.

          And I can pretty much recreate my childhood.

          All the linked sets are readily available in stores around here, at least.

          ----------------

          the other issue is almost the other extreme with mindstorms. They need better pieces in order to make more useful models. Once you get past a certian size.. about 12" in any direction they "techinic" models become fragile and unweildly to PLAY with. /shrug

          This one is a non-issue to me. Lego has a scale limitation for most projects. All you can do is get over it. A lego car can only be so big (and be playable) - the available choices for wheels alone are a limiting factor. For motorized creations, yeah the scale limitations are more insurmountable because now you are limited by batteries, motor torque, and so on, not just lego's structural limitations... but so what?

          Suppose you *could* make a working lawnmower out of lego... it would be too dangerous to sell to kids. ;)
          • I've seen that box on the shelvs and that's exctly what I'm whining about. Out of the 805 pices 100-150 are the really small 1x1 or 1x2 pieces, another 100-150 are 2x2. There's only about 100 or so of the classic 2x4 (or better) blocks in the package. Half of the package of smaller stuff is filler I'm not really going to use. when I was a kid, I used to routinely make creations several feet high or square, (we split the old pile 4 ways when we "grew up") it would take 6-8 of those boxes (at $20 USD each)
            • I used to routinely make creations several feet high or square, (we split the old pile 4 ways when we "grew up") it would take 6-8 of those boxes (at $20 USD each) to get that many of the classic blocks again.

              Trust me. There was never a normal single set that could make a creation several feet high out of 2x4s.
              I'd be very curious what you think you had?!

              I mean, lets look at the basic sets sets" circa 1975-1985 and see what they had for "basic 2x4" bricks. (Not counting anything funky with slopes, or holes
        • "but there's still a lack of basic parts on the shelves."

          The Lego stores near me have a wall full of sorted brick bins in the back of the store. Give them $6 and they give you a bucket to fill up.

          Or, if you don't have a lego store near you, you could always do this:
          http://shop.lego.com/department.asp?d=37&t=5 [lego.com]

          The Lego stores are fantastic places, though. What other store can you go into with your child and walk out with a real quality toy for just $4 these days? They tend to have great sales, too.
      • My kids are playing with thousands of pieces from my childhood.
        Somehow, I get the impression you really like Legos.
  • The Wired Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phat_Tony (661117) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:53PM (#15806593)
    Covered more thoroughly in Wired [wired.com] last February.
  • Star Chamber? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:58PM (#15806616) Journal
    Excuse me if I'm mistaken, but isn't a Star Chamber a secret tribunal used for attacking political enemies of the state? If this is correct, somehow I don't think that Lego used a Star Chamber of fans to design the new Mindstorms.
    • It's also a rather awesome online strategy/collectible card game

      http://www.starchamber.net/ [starchamber.net]

    • Re:Star Chamber? (Score:3, Informative)

      by jimhill (7277)
      You're exactly right. My guess is the author was grasping for "skunk works" in a desperate attempt to look "cool" and "with it" to the new "online generation."
    • a part that makes its debut in the new Mindstorms set -- a rare event at Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence
      Clearly they don't. Have you seen some of the specialized peices they've been making for the past decade and a half? I can imagine what's next. Look, I built a Lego computer! Which is to say, a regular computer, split in half, with lego dots holding the halves together.
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @12:59PM (#15806625) Homepage Journal
    Steve Hassenplug, left, and David Schilling put some robots to the test at a conference this week on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.

    When activated, the robot stood up and yelled "Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all."
    • Those jokes were funny... when made about the Apple Newton in 1992.
      • "Tablespoons" turned out to be a hoax.

        And ironically Microsoft's most reliable text input technique on the Pocket PC is a clone of Palm's original Graffiti... which was developed for the Newton. :)
    • Right now Lego's new creation will be more Open Source friendly than ever. Some of the people on the short list were the guys that created LeJOS... a Java-like programming language for RCX. Almost all of the programing tools for RCX were rewritten by hobbists and with Open source licenses. Please Lego, Stay away from the BEAST that is Microsoft. Sure MS could probably do better, but it would be a "slap in the face" to all the help from the community that's kept Lego around this long.
  • Huh. (Score:3, Informative)

    by SheeEttin (899897) <sheeettin@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @01:13PM (#15806703) Homepage
    Huh. [slashdot.org]
  • I'm impressed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gripen40k (957933)
    I just have to say that a company that isn't afraid of letting thier consumers in on the R&D of a new prodect is really amazing, even if it is just a select few. I used the original mindstorms kit to build a robot in first year engineering, and from what I saw it was a really interesting kit. We ran linux on our computers so we used the LegOS using some NQC stuff. If Lego will open source their code from the get go then people like me, who preffer to code in C (or something close to it) than with Lego's
  • 30 minute kit? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Reading the article, I was surprised to find that they changed the kits so that it only takes about 30 minutes to finish a project. Part of the joy of Lego is to lose yourself for hours in the experience.
    • Re:30 minute kit? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ArmyOfFun (652320)
      They must be talking about building a robot according to the plans they provide. Seeing how those plans will act as a tutorial for most people, a decrease from 2 hours to 30 minutes would be welcome.

      One of my favorite LEGO books as a kid was one that had page after page of different elaborate scenes but the instructions only showed you how to make a few (typically minor) items in each scene. If you wanted to replicate some of the more cool stuff in a scene, you were pretty much on your own as how to build i
  • I think I saw this set at Fry's Electronics in Sunnyvale, CA, last night (Friday, 28 July 2006). It was just insider the door on the right under the "Electrical Components" sign and there were a few of them, around 5 that I recall. I have the old Mindstorms set and several of the Star Wars Lego ones (AT-AT and R2-D2) so I'm pretty sure its not just the same old set, but the new one. Unfortunately, I was on a mission some friends to repair a dying TiVo so I didn't spend much time looking at it, plus I probab
  • What piece? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:19PM (#15806972) Journal

    One member was even able to pressure the company into building a part that makes its debut in the new Mindstorms set -- a rare event at Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence. The new part is a connector that allows two long pieces to be joined at a 90-degree angle.
    What piece is that, exactly?

    Also... have specs on the NXT hardware been published (either by lego or somebody else) so that people can build their own sensors like they did with the RCX? Lego has been very hacker-friendly in the past, I hope this new Mindstorms set doesn't change that.

    • Gumstix! (Score:3, Informative)

      by mabhatter654 (561290)
      One of the first things lego needs to do is allow Gumstix to make a lego casing for their little computers to control a NTX robot. There's already a great hacker community around the Gumstix platform just like the Lego platform.. It's a match made in OSS heaven. Short synopsis of Gumstix is a stripped out sharp Zaraus motherboard (like a slightly large stick of gum) with various attachments and running Linux.
    • It's a 90 degree angle bracket piece which makes building with the new rounded beam pieces much easier:

      http://www.peeron.com/inv/parts/55615 [peeron.com]

      It's a very clever and handy piece.
  • Great, Except... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by andrewdk (760436) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:37PM (#15807043) Homepage
    I've had the set for a while now. I signed up for their Developer Program, but wasn't picked, however they were nice and gave everyone who wasn't chosen the chance to order it a month early. So I was able to play with it and build my robot. The only bad thing is that it's been sitting here next to my linux box while I wait for LEGO to release their SDKs for the bluetooth interface, which is supposed to be in August.

    I must note: the bluetooth connectivity to the LEGO NXT is much easier to establish with a Linux box using BlueZ, than it is with a Windows box running MCE2005/SP2 or even Vista. It's just hit or miss with the Windows stuff, depending on whether the driver likes you, the temperature, the time of day, what color shirt you're wearing -- but one rfcomm line and pin confirmation in Linux and it's done.

    That is, after all, how I'm going to let you darn slashdotters control it over the 'net, video included, when I finish programming the new protocol into my robot server.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I ordered and received my NXT last month, directly from Lego. I was surprised - the release date is set for August, yes, but sure enough I've had mine at least a month now.

    It's very nice - I've also got an RCX 1.0 and there are companies creating two way interfaces between the two. There are also pre-built compass sensors, tilt sensors, etc.

  • By accident I got a set of Mindstorms last tuesday. (i mean accident of the Toys'R'US). Having played with it for a few days I can say they are pretty awesome, and I can see a huge potential. Be warned though they are a time sync! Hours go by quickly. Probably it's more stimulating that reading /. comments :) Here is my review complete with a 50 second video of the NXT in action!
    Lego Mindstorms NXT review a video [schaab.com]
  • I just bought one 2 weeks ago for my son.. Toysrus in Nashua, NH.

      Very nice set, just wish it wasnt so damned expensive.
  • Rare event? (Score:3, Informative)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @04:43PM (#15807516)
    a rare event at Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence

    Bullshit. Just look at all the special pieces in the Star Wars kits. Lego has been on a binge of making special pieces for the past 10+ years.
  • One major suggestion was completely ignored: To increase the number of output ports. As it stands, the previous version had 3 outputs... and will now continue to.

    Big mistake.

    Word on the street suggests that additional multiplexers will be made available... elsewhere.

    Interesting.
  • I keep reading that Lego makes a lot of "specific" kits that can't do anything else. How specialised are these parts exactly? I remember that when I was a kid, I would often get a small Lego kit for presents. Like a Technic kit that had a car on the box and the contents contained the pieces to build the car - of course. Once I was done building the included model, I simply added my new pieces to the rest of my collection. I've not opened a new box of Lego in years, but people make it sound that the pieces
    • I've always felt the same way. It seems to me that people are complaining about 'specific' pieces that came with certain sets and complaining that there's no imagination room. Eh, I call BS on that. There were always plenty of uses for anything I found to be 'specific' as a kid. Even flower stems could be used for antennas and such. You just need to use imagination again, and forget what you've been told.
  • ...Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence

    Seriously? Maybe with the Mindstorm series, but they certain have no standards when it comes to their core line up. Have you seen some of the bizarre stuff from them lately? Like Dino Attack [lego.com], where it's a bunch of assault vehicles battling mean dinosaurs. Half the crap looks like it comes practically preassembled, the pieces are so big. What happened to the era of smaller, or geometrically more simple pieces that actually required some imagina

    • I agree. The lego I see in the shops Today does not look like the stuff I played with for hours at a time as a child. I built all manner of things from the simple bricks, and later on from the Technic stuff - not all of which were that successful (like the time I built a chassis for a static steam engine, age 10 with predictable results and a valuable lesson in materials science :P I switched that project to Meccano...).

      Today though I see lots of small kits, that oprerry much only build one thing. Take
  • Wow, this is a change of direction!

    When Noga and others came up with LegOS [sourceforge.net], an operating system for the Lego Mindstroms that enabled the writing of sophisticated programs, they were forced to change name, to BrickOS, I guess under legal thread from the Lego company due to misuse of trademark. So much for supporting the community! And the sad irony is that they must have sold lots of Mindstorms due to LegOS - pardon, BrickOS.

    So this is a real direction change! I have a lot invested in LegOS code, and

    • Supporting the community is one thing, but letting anyone who wants to use the exact same name of your company for the name of a piece of software only with differing capitalization of the letters is a bad idea, even if it is a good piece of software written and maintained by people who love your products. If the developers had half a brain about that sort of thing they wouldn't have named it that in the first place. What educated person in this modern world doesn't understand trademark dilution?
  • ... see the big draw of mind storms. I'm not saying this as someone who has never played with the kit, I have the original mindstorm RCX or what have you lying around in the basement with several huge tubs of legos. I've played around with it quite a bit, but I just don't see the point in creating little robots that do insignificant things. Color me unimaginative, but I'd rather be making AI for a game than playing with lego robots (actually, I'd rather be coding a virtual lego enviroment :))

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