01 January 2009

Lego NXT in the Stocking

A while back, I wrote that I needed something cool to bring out the geek in my 10 year old son. He was hoping that Santa would bring one of the Tamiya robocraft kits. I think Santa did a little better than that when he stuffed a Lego Mindstorm NXT into the stocking. These have been out for a few years so I know this isn't news to anyone but these things are cool.

He's a young geek but mostly interested in gaming. This toy has him building things and then spending time working thru the programming. As an aging programmer, this brings joy to my heart. My son has interest in geek. Instead of wanting to be a taxi driver, he may actually want to someday be an Engineer (?). Wow, that would cool.

The basic NXT kit ($230 @ Amazon) has plenty of parts to make some pretty decent starter bots. His first project was to build a Tribot that took less than 30 minutes. You can do basic programming right on the controller. He needed zero help to create a quick file that ran the bot straight until its touch sensor was pressed, backed up, spun around, and then zoomed the other direction. This is almost exactly what I've been trying to do the past few months with a gumstix, then an Orangutan, then Arduinos and Xbees. I think he won the bot war.

We're going to build a few more of the basic models that are described in the kit and then we'll move on to LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT One-Kit Wonders: Ten Inventions to Spark Your Imagination. I spent some time looking for a decent NXT book. One that didn't require additional parts and had interesting projects. This one seemed to fit the need. The book descriptions says:

... packed with new and exciting techniques, advice, and robots that guarantee awesome results. And best of all, you'll only need one NXT Retail kit to build all ten of them! LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT One-Kit Wonders will make it simple for you to construct even the most complex of these ten robots, all while you learn the ins and outs of the NXT kit. You'll learn to build and program:
  • PunchBot, a robot that you program using old-fashioned punchcards
  • M, a robot that sorts your M&M candies by color
  • NXT Dragster, a super-fast racecar that will take you all the way to the drag strip
  • BobBot, a versatile skid-steer loader, equipped with a ball grabber or demolition claw
  • RoboLock, a security system for your robots
  • The Hand, a robotic replacement hand to protect you from those dangerous cleanup jobs, like picking up your brother's gym socks
  • SPC, a robotic vehicle that can park itself between two objects using front-wheel drive
  • The Bike, a two-wheeled robot that can balance and steer
We have the NXT software (NI LabVIEW) loaded onto a Windows Vista laptop. I run Ubuntu on my laptop but his is still on Windows since most of his games are also on Windows. When the time comes, these look to be a few good leads:

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