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Lego Mindstorms 3D Plotter 41

ShadoWolf sent us one of the more creative uses that I've seen for Lego Mindstorms. This one is a 3D Plotter that makes use of Legos, GNUPlot, and a Netwinder. It can make a 3d model of any surface. Not bad for a toy, huh?
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Lego Mindstorms 3D Plotter

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  • Hmmm...

    My Dad has just finished a similar contract for Renishaw who make both the probes and the servo control systems for most CMMs. Very fun occupation....the ruby tipped ceramic probes are quite expenisve when the control software is buggy ;)
  • This is at the macro scale, how a scanning tunnelling electron microscope works (scan the x-y plane, using an atomic force diamond tip (atomic
    widths wide) to get the elevation of an atomic
    surfaces). So this is truely a scanner as
    opposed to a plotter.
  • ... I've been doing things like that with *regular* lego for ages. I wished we didn't run that lego car down the stairs, it was pretty cool. :-) proportional steering, PWM speed control... and that was 6 years ago on a little XT which would pop up parity errors whenever we toggled the relay on bit 5 of the parallel port. :-)

    Yeah yeah I know... "Back in MY day..." but it's true! Mindstorms let you do it easier but then again isn't that what Visual Basic is supposed to do too?
  • Yeah yeah I know... "Back in MY day..." but it's true! Mindstorms let you do it easier but then again isn't
    that what Visual Basic is supposed to do too?

    Erm, that's what VB's supposed to do..
    but it's also what (Perl|Python|TCL) [your choice]
    actually do (moving away from the world of
    Lego here, you understand).

  • I can see where engineers would love this - they could build a functional model using conventional techniques, then use one of these things to get the shape data into an anylysis program.

    I can see technology like this being applied to reduce the amount of time engineers and others need to spend entering shape and texture data, thus letting them spend that time actually simulating product, leading to higher quality products.

    Or am I on crack?

    Posted by the Proteus

  • ms, has just been released in '.au' and looking at the price it's going to be hard to justify the price to SHMBO ... but i reckon i could get the young bloke to do a crash course in programming (9MO) and see what happens...

    how many other languages aside fm perl can u use to prog the rcx that are open source? i know there's the mob at '' with their .....LOGOS... -0.1.7 is released under Mozilla Public License. Original code © 1998-1999 by Markus L. Noga. but is their any open source c/c++,java libraries that can be used under gnu?
  • /RANT mode on

    i checked out a number of sites (including the one above) info's okay but plzzzz, when you create a site take into consideration contrast. If you have everything on a black background and don't take into account the vLink, text and link colors the sites are diffucult to read (except possibly in the dark....

    i went thru a couple of sites on the webring and they are pretty much the same...good into but difficult to read. if yr going to copy a format try (black text on white) or (black text on yellow) but please not (nearly black text on black)

    /RANT off

  • well i found on the ms site an ocx (spirit.ocx) u can use the following languages (win32) wait for it,
    • visual

    • visual c++
      borland c/c++
      borland delphi
    i really like logo's note to vb users....This document is not intended as a general introduction to programming VB or other systems. The reader is assumed to be familiar with the different programming environments. Reminder: this document and the VB project below are completely unsupported by LEGO MINDSTORMS Technical Support.

  • by goon ( 2774 )
    ahh, i was spoilt played every morning from about '69 to '89. 0600 sat.... sadly it's been pulled :(
  • I can see technology like this being applied to reduce the amount of time engineers and others need to spend entering shape and texture data, hus letting them spend that time actually simulating product, leading to higher quality products.

    Instead, the engineers will spend their time building more interesting lego robots rather than doing actual work :). I can see it now, all these 30 something engineers raiding their kid's lego sets just to get some more bits to build a better scanner....

  • It has already been done. See my post (LegOS and Linux) further down on the page.
  • by luge ( 4808 )
    I don't have the URL offhand, but people have built lego plotters that actually scrape the design into a piece of toast. Very interesting :-) and certainly not hard to modify for an actual pen and paper.
  • by luge ( 4808 ) <> on Tuesday April 20, 1999 @12:25PM (#1924737) Homepage
    Contrary to some other posts on the list, you can use the RCX with Linux. Markus Noga and some others have written replacement firmware, which allows full control of the motors, IR, and sensors. It's in C, with C++ support. Check it out at []
    there is also a mailing list/bulletin board system at:
    http://www.lugnet. com/news/display.cgi?lugnet.robotics.rcx.legos []
    Finally, I've written a brief HOWTO (still very, very beta) at:
    http://arthurdent.dorm.duke. edu/legos/HOWTO/HOWTO.html []
    It's not much, but hopefully between the three of those the rest of you can figure out where to start.
  • Hey, if you want to avoid geting slashdotted, get mirrors set up ahead of time, and post it with a list of all of them. (And of course, you can always put one of GeoCities. :)

    I can handle running a temporary mirror, if there's any other volunteers. Anyone?
  • []

    only partial at the moment, but more going up as it comes across. poor thing.

    Now if you'd said it was a lego scanning probe microscope [], I would have been there alot sooner!
  • Stop posting about Mindstorms! Now I want a set even more than before..


    Of course I'm on the Mindstorms/robotics list which doesn't help either. :-)
  • You can use it with Linux.

    I've been watching the list for awhile and it would seem they have even re-wrote the firmware in the kit itself. And the have libraries and stuff so you can code with gcc if you like.

    It should work.

    Check here:
  • This is a crappy scanner, not a modeler.
    As am STM researcher, I am annoyed at the
    use of "Scanning Tunneling" combination
    on their web page. No tunneling is involved here.
    These people are grossly ignorant.
    Besides, there is already technology to transfer
    real shape into computers. High-end studios
    routinely do this for special effects.
  • You get what you pay for. This crap has
    negligible resolution, and I don't think
    it's worth even $10. I don't have a problem
    with people tinkering. I do have a problem
    when they start spouting scientific terms
    which have nothing to do with their stuff.
    I also do not understand people who like
    the end result of this particular tinkering
    Lastly, one can build an order of magnitude
    better system for about the same price.
    'Course it won't involve Legos, so some
    babies out there won't be happy.
  • These types of machines have been around for a while, and they are used just as you said. One company that I'm familiar with uses it to scan prototypes made of clay, because they found that trying to draw the products in CAD was way too time consuming (their product involves many complex shapes that are hard to model in a computer). There's many types of machines like this to "scan" in a 3D part into the computer. There's machines like this one that actually touch the object to map it, there's ones that use a laser to check the distance from the tip down to the part, etc. There's even a nifty box that you put a part in and it has several speakers that generate sound waves and then microphones pick up the reflections, and... but supposedly it doesn't work too well.
  • So can I use Mindstorms with Linux?

    If I'm reading this correctly, they used Linux for the plotting, but may have used another computer for controling the robot--I'm guessing that that was done with Windows and the software included with Mindstorms.
  • The CS department here is offering a class that revolves around Mindstorm next semester ("Programming with Uncertainty" or something.) I so wish my schedule worked out that I could take it.
  • isn't this more a 'scanner' than a 'plotter'?

    what do i know.
  • /.ed already. Does anyone have a mirror? Just seeing this little blurb makes me want a set of these things to play with.


  • I have a whole website dedicated to them... Not only are there many alternative programming languages and firmwares(LegOS, NQC), but the support community for building and creating feels like the Linux community in many respects (maybe because the members overlap a great deal).
  • Yeah, screw the fact that I can make it with a toy that I can buy for $200. It's not ready for me to use it to cure cancer, so it's a piece of shit.

    How's the view from that high horse?
  • boy, this sounds like a flame waiting to happen...

    I must applaud the site, even though it is something that may have been done before on a greater scale, this is with something that an every day joe can buy. Anyone can buy a set of Mindstorms, but I for one wouldn't have thought of trying to do this with them. BRAVO! :)
  • Ok, I can't take a slashdot during the week, but I'll post another mindstorms/linux site on Friday afternoon. Check this thread then.
  • Can't mirror. Its an interactive site. You get to run the thing and watch it on a video camera in your browser. Only one person can run it at a time.
    It takes 8 seconds to run, so that should be about 3 solid days to handle the slashdot pulse. :-)
  • ok, here it is.

    The Public 8 Ball []

    Its a magic 8ball (fortune telling device for those unfamiliar) shaken by a mindstorms cradle, watched by a video camera, all displayed for you in your browser.

    Sadly IE Windows will not work. Come with netscape or IE Macintosh. (It uses the multipart/x-mixed-replace mime type for the video.)

  • The device that they have created sounds more like a crude coordinate measuring machine (CMM) than a plotter.

    The manufacturing world uses rather expensive CMMs with multi-directional sensing probes to verify tolerances on manufactured parts and assemblies. The probe is usualy computer driven and in sophisticated situations, the probe path is programmed from a CAD model. Use of these machines for "reverse engineering" is not as common as for tolerance verification.

    In my previous job, I actualy designed and managed the development of a module for a high-end CAD package to program the probe path from a CAD model. It is still one of the projects I am most proud of. A Swiss watch band manufacturer was one of the customers for this product. I have never seen so much platinum in my life!
  • I was hoping to check this out before it was /.ed, but, alas...

    I'm wondering if there are some potentials for the really neat applications - CAD/CAE modeling in a cheap, reusable material, etc...

    I suppose crash simulations would be somewhat meaningless, unfortunately..

  • As of now, the only thing that can run the software from Lego that controls the Mindstorms is Windows (AFAIK). I have heard there are some people trying to get it ported to Linux....
  • Actually, they have a crude plotter off of the main page

  • I'll say this much; It makes me want to go out and buy these things.
    Way fun.

  • If it is precise, this type of thing is used to check tolerances on manufactured products (like bike frames, gears, etc)

    The part is put under a robotic probing arm, and it automatically checks the position of points on the part to see if they are where they belong.
  • Yes this is really a '3D Scanner', but if we could
    make a similar robot and mount a low temp hot glue
    gun on it, the you could have a cheap 'Santa Claus' Machine. ... Interesting

    I think there is more info at

    Don Lancaster's site.

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.