07/02/2006: This past Thursday, I received my LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics kit in the mail. It is not supposed to officially launch until August, but those of us who pre-ordered were pleasantly-surprised with an early shipment.
When most people think of LEGOs, the first thing that comes to mind is building bricks for kids. While that is certainly a huge part of LEGO’s market, the Mindstorms products are hugely popular among electronics enthusiasts, hobbyists, engineers, and geeks of all stripes. One may also argue that geeks are really kids in adult bodies, but I digress… 😉
The Mindstorms NXT kit is the new generation of Mindstorms products; the “brick”–the programmable controller–is fully-programmable in Microsoft .NET (the most common languages, of course, being C# and VB.NET). If you are a Mac user, there is nothing to fear: the brick is also programmable within a Mac environment.
Those who loathe programming languages can use a very intuitive, graphical programming interface; however, delving into the code allows for optimum functionality. Mindstorms NXT comes with touch, light, sound, and ultrasonic sensors, in addition to three servomotors. This on top of an assortment of LEGO attachments–connectors, rods, arms, gears, wheels, etc.–with which one can build simple and complex robots.
The kit also comes with a startup that allows one to build a robot inside 30 minutes. The instructions were easy to follow, and the setup time was about 30 minutes. If you have a cat, count on adding about 30 minutes to your setup time!
The programming interface and servomotors are fascinating tools, and–if I am not careful–I will find myself staying up later than I ought to. I played with it last night until about midnight, and almost missed the 8:00 church service this morning.
At about $250, the kit is reasonably-priced. (I sold a firearm I didn’t like in order to raise the money.) RadioShack’s VEX kit–which is based more on Erector set tools–runs for $300.
In addition to adult hobbyists, this is an excellent learning tool for junior high and high school students. It is a neat way to gain exposure to concepts in physics, engineering mechanics, and computer programming.
If you have household pets, the Mindstorms robots are great for driving them nuts. 😉