Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Engineers Use Legos, Too! 93

jconley writes: "Excite is carrying a story discussing how engineers are using Legos, not just kids! Interesting read, dives a bit into the history of Legos and Mindstorm. You can read the story here. "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Engineers Use Legos, Too!

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I used to work for Lego on the Mindstorms project (the Torbot design in the back of the Constructopedia is mine), and there is a very *good* reason why the kit came with 2 motors. You can buy addon kits that have the third motor, and the profit margins on the addons is much much much beter than on the starter kit. I remember that we had to struggle to get the kit under $200 for the initial release. Since I've left, the price has dropped to $150, I've noticed, which is probably due to volume sales allowing higher production and thus less cost. I agree with you though, 2 motors sucks. The worst was when they gave me the concept of the Torbot. It called for 3 touch sensors, but the kit came with only 2. Fortunately I'm a genius (right?) and came up with teh *brilliant* elastic arm/skids that did the same thing.
  • I said this from the beginning, and stand by it still. I'm up to two RIS kits... but need more!!!! We're growing the next generation of robot-geeks.
  • I care. And so do all the people who keep correcting CmdrTaco et al everytime they keep making this mistake.

    So long as the SlashDot editors and story submitters keep getting it wrong, there will always be people to posting "It's Lego, not Legos" comments.


  • Yeah I always thought that too.

    It goes like this

    1. One piece of lego.
    2. Some lego bricks.
    3. A pile of Lego. (becauase the first thing you do is throw it on the floor to look for that one piece you REALLY need)
    4. Not quite enough lego to build the really cool thing your best friend build last week.

  • Meccano is excellent, especially the wind-up clockwork motors from the really old sets.

    lego looks cool and is great for making nice looking fairly complex models etc but if you want to build some real engineering and don't own a mini-lathe then meccano is the way to go (unless you lose the nuts like I keep doing. I think I have kleptomaniacal mice)

  • I always though Lego was one of the reasons people have kids. I know my Dad would often play with my Lego when I wanted to..........

    It was the same with my train set, rocketry kits, remote controlled cars and barbie dolls.


    PS The barbie dolls thing is complex and I've had councelling
  • I thought I was the only one around here old enough to remember Tinkertoys(insert lawyer-approved symbols here). : )
  • Well actually, LEGO(R) (the LEGO Group) is the name of the company that makes the lil' buggers (the name taken fron the danish words "LEg GOdt" which translate to "play well"). The bricks themselves are called LEGO bricks, LEGO-brand building blocks, LEGO elements or some variation of that. For brevity's sake, people tend to abbreviate that to "LEGOs" or even "Legos" (the former of which is more correct than the latter).

    These fun facts and more can be learned with a bit o' reading over here: LEGO's history []

  • This is the same Lego that removed all swallowable pieces from their collection? I think not...
    Plus Rocket-powered Lego would better be renamed to Legone.
  • Nice stuff, but very expensive. Just a thougth after last weeks lego CAD discussion: It should be possible to expand Lego CAD to contain the Mindstorm functionalities. So you would be able to construct virtual Lego robots in a virtual environment.

  • My dad's old "Juniero" kit was better than Meccano. It looked a bit like one of those throw-switches Dr Frankenstein used to fry his creation, but the idea was that you go to the local ironmongers and buy some steel strip (like Meccano but without the holes) and some steel rod.

    The lever thing then had bits to bend, shear, thread and punch the metal. You effectively made all the meccano-like pieces by hand.

    Unfortunately, it hit the old safety legislation. It was pretty easy to slice bits of yourself off with this thing. It was originally intended for kids/young teenagers!

    I hear they're banning paper in schools soon -- too much risk of a fatal paper cut.
  • If you see more than cat do you say "Oh look, a herd of cat?"

    No. "A clowder of cats" is the correct terminology -- not 'a herd'.

    Anyway, think of it as sand: You may talk about grains of sand, but sand is treated as a substance. So is Lego.

  • For a long time, I really thought the plural of moose was "meese".
  • Ok, so my english teacher would kill me for misplacing my modifier...I done learned good!

  • But it could also be because Fisher Technik is VERY expensive (much more so than LEGO). While I agree that LEGO is expensive, I have looked into FT, and while the quality is excellent (there is a reason they use them for engineering classes), I couldn't justify the cost for playing around.
  • I can understand if you guys couldn't get the software/firmware loaded onto the RCX (without reading the instructions) - that would pretty much kill Mindstorms right there. But I find it laughable that you couldn't build a robot out of LEGO.

    You have gears, tank treads, wheels, axles, girders (with holes for the axles), motors, and sensors - and you couldn't build a robot? What the heck was wrong with you guys? Did you EVER play with LEGO as a kid? Did any of you (OK, I will accept that it is possible to grow up and become an engineer without EVER having played with LEGO in the past)? At the minimum, one would think you could have come up with a simple two wheel motorized device with skids (even if it wouldn't work with the RCX, it would still be a robot - just one that needs the software worked out). You wouldn't have even needed to mess around with gears and such - you could have used pulleys and rubber bands.

    If you and these engineers were dropped in the middle of a Home Depot - could you build a robot with what is there? Somehow, I tend to think you would be lost - even with the multitude of tools and parts at your disposal (and for those of you who doubt that you could build a robot from parts at a Home Depot - go to one, and take a good look around).

    It amuses me that these guys call themselves engineers...
  • engineers are using Legos, not just kids!

    so engineers also play with kids?
  • Everybody knows that people using toys for real engineering have a drawer full of Tinkertoys or chemistry balls. (Thanks for the tip, Grace []!)

  • That is because the "legos" zealots are just plain *wrong*, and we will not stop until they just, like, *die* and go away...
    Well they can go away before dying if that's more convenient.
    Hanging, drawing, and quartering is too good for them. How about we tattoo "The plural of Lego is Lego" on their foreheads, and let them live. Heh, I like that.
    There should probably be a smiley in there somewhere...
  • Die, heretic!
  • Is Lego. The company says so too. Its either Lego, or Logo bricks. Not Legos.

    This discussion happens every time there's a lego story posted here... and noone ever changes their view. In some respects, it means that /. is getting more like news - threads start repeating, oldbies have seen it all, and the newbies ask the same questions. The trolls, oh, the trolls....

    On a slightly more relevant note, How many Mindstorms kits have you folks found you need to make neat stuff? I just have one kit, and it's never enough, I end up needing more motors, more sensors, and more bricks... it may be cheap robotics, but to do anything really enjoyable with it you still need to expend a fair bit of money up front.

  • The company that produces Erector sets is MECCANO. They are only called Erector in the USA.

    Rami James
    Pixel Pusher
    Altec Lansing R&D, IL
  • Poor form replying to myself aside.. you just have to see this one:

    HERE []

  • why is it so hard for people to understand that the the plural of 'Lego' is 'Lego'?
  • My daughter was using Lego [] to jam the door open. Oh, dear, had to explain that is what an Altair [] is for.

    BTW she now understands why we have a ZX80 [] as a cat flap.

    You can learn more than engineering with Lego.

  • I was impressed with the robots in the Constructopedia. Fun to build and each emphasized different aspects of the kit. Of course I expect nothing less from Lego.

    Does anyone know if the Mars Exploration add-on will be worth the money? Or am I better off just buying the motor stand-alone or from one of the other add-ons. I don't have many Technic bricks so I'm sort of hoping for lots of genereric Technic bricks.
  • Personaly I think they should have come with three motors in one kit. It's got three sockets...why not three motors?

  • You said: "If you and these engineers were dropped in the middle of a Home Depot - could you build a robot with what is there? " That's a heck of an idea for a competition for robot designers - how about getting Home Depot to sponsor that? The rules are you can use anything in the Home Depot to build the robot with the materials in the store.
  • I personally feel that Lego is completely responsible for turning me into the engineer that I am today. While I don't actually use the building skills I aquired (I'm a software engineer) I do feel that they taught me to think logically and take a more "big-picture" approach while still paying attention to the minutae.

    I realized this past weekend that I was really looking forward to having children so that I would be able to pull out my boxes of Lego and play with them again. Purely for the benefit of my children though. I won't get any enjoyment from them. I promise. ;)

  • If you see more than cat do you say "Oh look, a herd of cat?" You're logic is pathetically flawed. Some nouns in English work like "sheep" and some work like "cat". The way most people use a word is how it becomes defined as acceptable use in dictionaries, etc. Language is flexible and changes as people use it. Take a look at how silly the French are when they try to tell their people how to speak. From what I've seen and heard, *most* people call it "Legos" but those who dont, fine.

  • There is one big use for the bricks that everyone seems to find accidentally...

    Lego Landmines. Owe it to yourself- don't walk barefoot around legos.
    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • Yes, but it is a lot easier to find the last edge kid that you need to finish that particular model.

    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • You could find some high-temperature insullation and line the affectable areas (ie, the inside of the rocket) with it.

    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • Yes, Lego is a kids toy, Anime is a kid's cartoon, and Half-Life is a kid's game

    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • Lego My Eggo! []
    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • This is why it's good not to be an AC when you post important stuff. You get an extra 'safetey point' so it goes down to 0 instead of -1

    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • It was during a recent phone interview that I was asked the following question: "So, what's the coolest thing you ever made out of Legos?" I kid you not. :)


  • I used to have Meccano toys when i was a kid, and I still thought they were pretty fun.

    By the way, it's Lego not Legos.

  • I know it's a bit off topic, but the developers of Metal Gear Solid used LEGOs to make rough drafts of most of the game environments. They even flew a mini video camera on a stick through the models and so they could see what it looked like on a TV before ever sitting down at a computer.

  • Growing up is overrated. Lego is fun. If you can have fun with Lego as an adult then do so. Don't give in to what society says you should be like. Rebel! And remember - If you've got a job you can afford a lot more Lego!
  • Like for example that Metric is different from US Imperial when measuring things ?

    Of course not. All Lego uses the same units. This is called the Blob. Most bricks are 2 blobs wide and 4 blobs long. The only exception to this rule is with Duplo.
  • Toy think tank!
    How, exactley, does one get a job in a "toy think tank"?Who must I schmooze?
  • Just like breasts: intended for children, but grown-ups end up playing with them most of the time.
  • Yeah, I could have - in hind sight (I was only 14 at the time). I actually migrated to cardboard tubes that come with glad wrap - single use rocket. I didn't even bother with a parachute. Instead I stuck sparklers to the side and launched at night. At that age the concept of bush fires caused by sparklers hadn't gelled to maturity. The cardboard was lighter as well. recovery would have been nice, the rockets (all 3) just went straight up out of sight with a small flare trail. My "BigRed" a 3 foot post pack tube blew up like a big fire cracker on the ground. After that, Dad confiscated my rocket making materials. At the time I thought he was being really unfair, now *with hind sight* he was being very wise.
  • I still liked Mechano sets. Much more robust and you bend the metal bit to make the custom parts required.
  • Seems to me that Lego might be better for
    relieving stress, just try, click and go, when
    meccano is for more serious experimenting. Anyway,
    good to have choices like always.
  • Douglas Coupland did a TV interview in Denmark a while back, all about Lego. It's under TV in his flash website [].
  • Right yeah play da pro!
    I prefer healthy childishness being ported to lego than to the creation and defense of this nonsensical elite-idea of 'technical expertise'. If you are such a 'real engineer' you should be proud with so many wannabeyou's round here. Or r u having a hard time keeping it up? Almost as hard as growing up must have been? }>
    If da Vinci had had lego, the world would be different. And he would surely not have been a real engineer.
    'Fermat's last theorema is unprovable' is unprovable (which is of course...nevermind)
  • A few years ago I was driving a broken down Audi. It had a bad habit if spitting out fluid from the steering rack which would make steering the car suddenly very 'difficult'. One day I found out the steering wheel had about 2 inches of play in it.(Up and Down, not left to right)which caused this. I took it to a mechanic who said all I needed was a spacer (a.k.a. a block of rubber) and it would only cost $80 bucks to fix.
    Needless to say, I barely had $8, so $80 was way out of my league. I went home, taped a couple of Legos together and shoved them under the steering column. It worked flawlessly and they were still there when the car finally died 3 years later.
  • It'd possibly be ok for relieving stress if it weren't for the religeous wars about how to pronounce it...
  • Its Perl, not Pearl. And I do agree with you, I'm just one of the few perfectionists left in this country.
  • In English, this is to pluralize a noun by putting an S after it. Millions of speakers of the language will pluralize the noun in this way until only a few throwbacks are left running around insisting that it's not so.

    Yeah, and I suppose you make pillows from gooses, shoot deers, catch fishes and run away from mooses.

    You're an idiot.

  • Lego is in my opinion, absolutely one of the best toys ever invented. It stimulates the mind and conjures up the imagination like nothing else can. I can still remember when I was just a kid, while in bed, thinking up of all sorts of neat things to build using Lego, and wake up the next morning and try and realize them. Memories memories.

  • Lego as a concept cannot be plural, because concepts and schemes cannot really be plural

    If everybody talked about the Lego pieces/"bricks" then the problem would go away: piece/pieces, brick/bricks.

    That is, by the way, also the most common way to refer to Lego in Lego's native country: Legoklods / Legoklodser.

    Just my .02 cents


  • As far as I remember, Z and VDM don't have pointers

    Z and VDM are not programming languages, they are specification languages.

  • Z and VDM give you little more than yet-another-syntax to describe your program. They don't prevent errors and won't reduce bugs - thats why Z and VDM aren't used in industry, and rarely even taught anymore.
  • There's nothing to prevent a code-genration tool from taking a VDM/Z spec and creating some code that meets the spec. Or am I missing something ?

    Been tried. Resulting code is fat, slow, and often just as full of errors and ommissions.

  • Z allows you to write programs which are guaranteed bug free.

    Z is a specification syntax - nothing more, nothing less.

    It does not prescribe a moethodology for writing programs, nor will it allow you to avoid any common coding errors.

    Specifying anything non-trivial is nearly impossible, and Z/VDM won't help you a lick when it comes to the really nasty issues of programming, like pointer manipulation.

  • lego my bowlo of hot gritso, so i can pour it down my pantso. thank you.
  • It's grit, not grits. I saw it on their website. thank you.
  • Well why not have a conniption fit about it? The fact remains that they are identified by my 4 year old son as Legos when there is more than one. Never mind that he also eats 'Cocoa Pops' for breakfast, has a toy set of 'handpuffs' and plays 'Pretendo' games.

    This is a case of a language term being absorbed into English, as many other languages have been before. The first thing that's done is to create for nouns singular and plural forms that roughly match the language's style. In English, this is to pluralize a noun by putting an S after it. Millions of speakers of the language will pluralize the noun in this way until only a few throwbacks are left running around insisting that it's not so. In this way the language continues to change. It doesn't matter what the correct usage _was_. The correct usage _now_ in English will be to say for more than one lego, legos.

    Usage is defined by the users of the language, not by the originators. I figure in a forum such as /. this view would be readily appreciated.
  • Are you saying that maybe someone ought to breastfeed the engineers?
  • Rocket powered Lego car? That sounds cool! Do you have the plans, or perhaps a web site? Let us all know!
  • That's why there were construction kits with you could make stuff. I had legos when I was little and I enjoyed them even though I couldn't even build a small house. *shrugs* But whatever.
  • What on earth is it with you people calling it ``Legos''? It's Lego, it's a collective noun.

    It's like saying you build a house out of woods, steels and cements.

  • We've just had a week long TV series here in the UK about robot sports competitions by the guys who run Robot Wars - one or two of the robots in that were made from lego, the one that stick in my mind was a rope climbing robot. It didn't do particularly well mind you :)

    It's not really surprising that it's not only kids that play with lego mindstorms - how many of us were brought up on lego? I remember the excitement of my first lego technic set, I'm sure it's what made me the person I am today (insert geek or nerd instead of person if you feel the need :) I must admit though I always thought meccano was more powerful and I'd love a robotic control system for my meccano sets, maybe it's time for a lego/meccano hybrid. A sort of android if you will.

    just some thoughts

  • http://www.constructio [] has some kits.

    But you probably want []


  • I always preferred Fischer Technik [] (US distributor []) to Lego. I think that, mechanically, the Fischer Technik set allows more interesting geometries and has better support for building assemblies with moving parts. Electronically, they came out with analog and digital control electronics and PC interfaces long before Lego. There are a number of links at here [].

    Fischer Technik has been used in engineering classes for a long time. I think the reason why it hasn't caught on as much in the US consumer market is because for many years they went more for functionality and less for appearance.

    • being an AI sort of computer geek

    So, has anyone written a Lisp interface for Mindstorms yet? I know about not-quite-c...


    Cthulhu for President! []
  • Everyplace I've worked always seems to have different uses for the little plastic bricks. One place did most prototyping with them. Another used them as model circut boards in a device. The current place uses them to build jigs for plastic engraving as well as some prototyping. I've seen them in laser and chem labs as well.

  • A friend of mine, at Network Solutions, was told to 'expense' US$70 worth of Lego's he purchased .. now you know what your dot com paid for.
  • I was not aware of that. Thanks!
  • I have to agree. I played with legos a ton when I was younger, however they did not always fit the job. As opposed to your choice of Construx, I often used my father's Erector Sets (sp?) for more "industrial" style work out in the sandbox or yard. Legos just couldn't take the weather, physical "kid" abuse, or the occasional explosions around the 4th of July.

    Legos are great, but your right when you note that some construction "toys" are more appropriate in some engineering, and fun cases too.
  • Ok, Ok. I see that Legos are the coolest thing since sliced bread (I prefer real bread that you actually have to cut.. but we won't go into that here). But wouldn't an engineer prefer something more, uhm, stable for constructing things with?

    I understand that legos have a large amount of variety nowadays.. but how many engineers will actually include a lightsaber or dragon's wings into a project.

    Remember Capsela (sp?), Construx? Neither of those would be good for engineers either. Too specialized.

    Now MECCANO [] toys are perfect for engineers (and over-imaginative youths.. hehe).

    Rami James
    Pixel Pusher
    Altec Lansing R&D, IL
  • >Hello, Lego is a kids toy, not some kind of magic prototyping tool for professional engineers.

    From the article: "As a grown man, this is good stress relief and it keeps my imagination going," said Stangl, a 34-year-old technical support engineer for Sun-Netscape Alliance and one of thousands of techies taken with this children's toy.

    This goes out to you and all the other's posting without reading the article. It says NOTHING about Legos being used as some sort of prototyping tool by engineers. It is an article about how Silicon Valley geeks enjoy playing with Lego. That's it, no more, no less.
  • The article is not about professional engineers using Lego to construct prototypes but instead about Silicon Valley software engineers playing with Lego Mindstorms to relieve stress.
    There's also some MIT professor who uses it in his media lab but it sounds like he's more a software engineer than real engineer from the article.

    PS: I'll soon be a software engineer so no offense intended to all those who think I'm belittling software engineering.
  • Hindsight is 20/20

    ... unless a rocket blows up and takes out one of your eyes.

    Don't underestimate the power of peanut brittle
  • ... involved using and building Lego and Fischer-Technic machines, and writing the control software to control and manage the physical automata.

    (this was back in '96, too)

    My team created, modified and wrote the cotrol software for the 'turtle' automaton, which acted as a transport mechanism for the production system. The turtle had light sensors and lights, which allowed it to follow a path (with intersections), and we could program where it was supposed to turn, and what kind of turn (left, right, U-turn) it was to perform. The fun part was doing traffic control for 2+ turtles moving on the same closed path. Some of the other automata were:

    • LEGO: A brick sorter, which placed bricks into bins depending on what color they were
    • FT: A crane, which would pick up and drop these bricks given three dimensional coordinates
    • LEGO: A line-feed picture scanner, with pretty decent resolution (200 dpi, I believe)

    I really had fun with my project, and I'm glad that Lego is back on track (still haven't had a chance to play with Mindstorms, tho).

  • First of all, this is hardly new news. Engineers and other cool people (like the geeks at MIT : ) have been using Lego for years. Lego is by far the most versatile prototyping tool in existance. And here's why:

    Easy and fast construction

    Equally easy and fast reconstruction (stuff happens...)

    Incredibly well designed modular components (Have you seen all the ways these parts can fit together?)

    Durability and structural integrity (Hey, for plastic...)


    Amazingly wide assortment of engineering components (There are differentials : )

    Frequent updates (Remember the differentials? Lego has released three versions; each better than the last)

    Relatively low cost

    Customer friendly company

    That, my friends, is why Lego is not just a toy.

    Four years ago, well before Mindstorms, I bought the Control Lab. It has 8 input (4 Digital, 4 Analog) and 8 output ports. The only catch is that it has to be tethered via serial cable. The software is nice too, because you can even make a little GUI. It has a pretty impressive assortment of commands too; much more than Mindstorms. If you use Lego for prototyping or just fun with engineering, I highly recommend you try one of these.

    I've built pretty much everything out of Lego. I've built automated fighting robots, a robot that could assemble Lego, and an automatic car test track (to name a few).

    My current project is by far the most impressive. I even managed to turn it into a winning Science Fair project. It's a Digital Mechanical Computer built entirely out of Lego pieces. I'm working on a nice site to explain the mechanisms and such. The entire device is modular and the ALU is expandable (I currently have it at two 2-bit inputs in parallel). The ALU returns the OR,AND, XOR, Sum, and Carry of the inputs. It has registers and everything. Very cool. Right now, the device contains about 400 gears (including 31 differentials) in very tight quarters.

    For more information about the Lego, visit Lugnet [http]

  • I just finished taking a tour of the New Mexico State University's Engineering and Computer Technology facility. The manufacturing and electronics programs got together and built an entire computer controlled manufacturing plant out of Lego bricks and a PLC (Programable Logic Controller).

  • I have been doing research into autonomous agents, and there are alot about that use LEGO as it is a great prototyping tool, and reasonably versatile...
  • In the US there is a school level competition where groups of students build a robot to try and achieve various tasks. They get a pack that includes the instructions and the extra pieces. They can only use the basic Robotics Invention System (RIS) and the supplied extra pieces. The current challenges revolves around rescuing trapped astronauts.

    There are instructions for building standard arenas so that teams can get together and hold tournaments. Although there are some people doing this outside the US, none are in the UK (and I'm too old anyway). This just shows that yet again us old wrinklies were born too early (and in my case in the wrong country).

    Details can be found under the 'First Lego League' button on the MindStorms website [].
  • Astronaut Dr. Daniel T. Barry has been involved with the First Lego League, and carried a working MidnStorms model of the shuttle arm into space on Discovery during STS-96 (May last year).

    The MindStorm kits can be used to learn important engineering lessons and can help to encourage budding engineers.
  • Does anybody know if there is a LEGO Mindstorm attachment which lets you shoot things other than those little catapult balls?

    I want to shoot cats.

    Say, with a rail gun that fires ball bearings at 120ft/sec?

    Or perhaps heat-generating attachments? I could fixed-mount some .22 caliber bullets and fire them off one at a time.

    Thank you.

  • by troc ( 3606 ) <troc AT mac DOT com> on Monday March 27, 2000 @02:53AM (#1168824) Homepage Journal
    The top 10 reasons engineers don't use kids:

    10. Kids aren't colourful enough
    9. You can't get 2000 kids in a standard plastic box.
    8. A model made entirely of kids will get you put away
    7. You can't get the really usefully shaped kids these days
    6. Kids have to go to school
    5. No mindstorms - where would you put the batteries?
    4. Half way through building, the model would bugger off for dinner!
    3. You can't get buld orders of kids through the internet
    2. Well not legally

    And the top reason engineers don't use kids?

    1. Engineers aren't allowed access to kids :)

  • by unitron ( 5733 ) on Monday March 27, 2000 @04:19AM (#1168825) Homepage Journal
    So "real" engineers never try out new ideas with scale models?
  • by dgoodman ( 51656 ) on Monday March 27, 2000 @04:52AM (#1168826) Homepage
    I've been playing with legos since i was a small I cannot get enough of them. When I got a Mindstorms set for Christmas two years ago (and the 1.5 upgrade pack this christmas) I was overjoyed. Easily the coolest toy I've ever gotten.
    But the fact of the matter is: it is much more than a toy. I've found, being an AI sort of computer geek, that it's not a bad testbed for research (/serious/ /academic/ research), because it's just so darn cheap, and it's easy to build a functional robot quickly. Design changes in programming and structure can be changed in minutes. And unlike "real" robots used often enough in /serious/ research, you can attach cool little wings and lightsabers and lasercannon and such to lego robots =).
    I say it's no good if you can't have a sense of humour about it.

    just my $0.02
  • by Saraphale ( 65475 ) on Monday March 27, 2000 @02:36AM (#1168827)

    Hello, Lego is a kids toy, not some kind of magic prototyping tool for professional engineers. It seems that a lot of people here on /. are "engineer wannabes" who wish that they were able to do something practical, but cannot do anything apart from sys admin Linux boxes. All the time in the world spent playing with your plastic bricks won't change that, and it's sad to try really.

    I agree with your point, in that lego is not suitable as a prototyping tool for the vast majority of applications. It's not sturdy enough, you can't tailor the pieces to a particular application.

    That said, it does have another purpose, which I think is just as important: stimulating the imagination. While Lego might not be the ideal tool for building prototypes, it does offer a cheap and easy way of 'thinking out loud', and that can spark ideas for real designs of real machines. IMHO one of the major problems facing the various different engineering industries at the moment is that the working environment stifles creativity and imagination. If these people are using lego to break free of that, and start the creative process going, then all the best to them.

  • by Colvin Burgess ( 146596 ) on Monday March 27, 2000 @02:55AM (#1168828) Homepage
    I would like to see high temperature Lego. The rockets I made as a kid with Lego would only last two trips. Same with the rocket powered cars - these only lasted one trip because usually they hit the garage wall hard, followed with a very impressive Lego shower. At the time I did not realise how expensive Lego was, so my collection quickly dwindled to melted lumpy bits. Other than destructive creations high temperature Lego could be used for Oil "Aromatherapy" kits, miniature kilns (to melt Smurfs in?), etc. They could be supplied with instructions of how to make your own rocket fuel packs with 63% Potassium Nitrate, 17% Icing sugar and 10% sulphur with a black powder core.
  • the competition, specifically Mattel. (geek-unfriendly Mattel, from what I read here on /.)

    A little more than a year ago I was working as a designer for the Mattel Toylab, a "toy think tank" that developed product in conjunction with Intel's Smart Toy Lab (in Portland) and other Mattel divisions. We went out and bought a Mindstorms, with the expressed purpose to open the box and build a working robot within an hour without reading the instructions. Well, no one managed to do it... Mindstorms is too complex for no-brainer assembly, which is a large part of the appeal for engineers and the like.

    However, Mattel's audience consists mainly of children 3-10, so we were tasked with the creation of a "no brainer Mindstorms robot." We came up with a sphere-shaped central driver unit, radio controlled or pre-programmable a la "Big Track," with snap on robot-accessories (it would come with two utility arms, the others would be sold seperately, of course :-)

    The idea was to sell a robot that kids could have up and running within minutes of opening the box, yet still have a feeling of "pride of construction" (from snapping on the arms etc.) Software included with the robot would allow kids to simulate how much better their robot could be if they went out and bought the extra accessories (essentially an advertisement masquerading as educational software).

    The project got to the prototype phase, but then stalled- partly due to Mattel's financial trouble causing the company to stop looking forward, and start falling back on "safe" bets (a bad idea IMHO) but also due to the fact it would have been too cheap! The robot would have sold for $40-$60 (not surprising, considering it was just a tarted-up remote control vehicle- programming was limited to "movement macros") and thus would be "losing" the $140-$120 that Mindstorms was capturing. By the time I left Mattel for a dot-com startup, I was seeing far more complex robots being prototyped, but these were mainly from the Intel portion of the lab, and were all-in-one solutions- no assembly required. Most involved remote surveillance via video and sound transmitted wirelessly to your PC from a radio controlled "robot."

    So, don't be surprised if the next robots to market sport an "Intel Inside" sticker!
  • by dannyspanner ( 135912 ) on Monday March 27, 2000 @02:47AM (#1168830) Homepage
    Excite is carrying a story discussing how engineers are using Legos, not just kids!

    Why would engineers use Kids? And why is Lego better than Kids?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 27, 2000 @03:03AM (#1168831)
    Yeah, I've seen Lego bricks used for everything from solenoid insulation in a 1978 Triumph Spitfire to replacement switches in a blast furnace (I kid you not). They're some of the most practical and useful tools you could ever want.

    Other great Lego hacks:

    • If you can hack a little FORTH, you can make a Mindstorms toy attached to someone's Solaris or SGI box seek out and store their password file when the toy is powered up. I don't know why, but there's something which appeals to my warped sense of humour in building a little model of a Trojan Horse, which is itself a Trojan :-)
    • I once made a lego "exoskeleton" for my left hand while playing guitar in a thrashadelic metal band. Basically an intertial doohickey that tapped down a fret above my pinky finger, giving me access to extended reach and some wild chromatic licks, when playing in the right key.
    • The plastic axles from a Technics kit are just the ticket if you want to unscrew the cooling fan from most Mac models, but don't have the right Allen key
    • Those little rubber tyres can be used as sealing O-rings in all models of the Space Shuttle before Atlantis, if you can't find the right part. But fer chrissakes don't let them get cold overnight; that's bad shit.
    • And finally, with a bit of skill, a motorised Technics kit, and a pound and a half of liver (warmed in a microwave), you can hack up a reasonable subsititute for female company.
    Happy Lego hacking
  • by sstrick ( 137546 ) on Monday March 27, 2000 @02:25AM (#1168832)
    You mean kids also play with lego?

The best book on programming for the layman is "Alice in Wonderland"; but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman.