# The Programmable Brick FAQ

http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/projects/programmable-brick

Thank you for your interest in the Programmable Brick project.

This document provides the following additional information about the Programmable Brick project:

### What is the Programmable Brick?

In the Programmable Brick project, we are creating small computers that connect to the real world through various sensors and actuators. Our Programmable Bricks are designed especially for use by kids. They can be used in robot-design activities, data-gathering experiments, and "ubiquitous computing" projects (in which computational power is embedded in everyday objects).

The Programmable Bricks have been developed at the MIT Media Laboratory by Fred Martin, Randy Sargent, and Brian Silverman, with the guidance of Professors Seymour Papert and Mitchel Resnick and support from the LEGO Group and the National Science Foundation.

The Programmable Brick is part of the ongoing LEGO/Logo research project at the Epistemology and Learning Group at the MIT Media Laboratory. About 40 Programmable Bricks are currently in use at school sites and other locations.

### Versions of the Programmable Brick

We have developed various Programmable Bricks and Brick-like technologies over the last ten years, including both hardware and software systems. Some of the technology was developed specifically for use with children (e.g., the 6502 Programmable Brick, the Pocket Brick, and the Model 120 Brick), while other technology was developed with university-level applications in mind (e.g., the Mini Board and the 6.270 board).

Here is a brief overview of the collection of Programmable Brick technology, including dates of development and use.

• THE 6502 PROGRAMMABLE BRICK (1987 to 1989).

The 6502 Brick ran its own Logo interpreter, ported by Brian Silverman from Logo Computer Systems' commercial "LogoWriter" product. Two Master's theses were written based on work with the Brick: Fred Martin's Children, Cybernetics, and Programmable Turtles'' (1988) (with 5th grade children) and Mario Bourgoin's Using LEGO Robots to Explore Dynamics'' (1990) (with 7th and 8th grade children). See the references section.

• ELECTRONIC BRICKS (1989 to 1991). The Electronic Bricks were an attempt to provide a concrete paradigm for wiring'' behaviors rather than programming them. These Bricks were a set of small, dedicated pieces of functionality -- AND gates, OR gates, flip-flops, and timers -- coupled with motors and sensors. Inspired by Valentino Braitenberg's Vehicles,'' the Electronic Bricks were used with children and adults.

See Nira Granott's PhD dissertation Puzzled Minds, Weird Creatures, and Wuggles'' (1993) and the short paper Braitenberg Creatures'' (Hogg, Martin, and Resnick, 1991). Work with the Electronic Bricks gradually slowed to a halt due to difficulties in manufacturing lots of them.

• THE POCKET PROGRAMMABLE BRICK (1993 to 1995). The Pocket Brick is a return to materials designed for use by children. It fits in a pocket (dimensions are 2"x3"x4"), has 8 sensor ports and 4 motor ports, has omnidirectional infrared input and output built in, and has 8-bit sound input and output. This Brick uses 3 stacked boards with surface mounted components on two sides. The Brick has an internal 9 volt alkaline cell which is good for projects which use sensors but use motors only occasionally; for heavy-duty motor applications, a second rechargeable battery brick'' could be connected.

Unfortunately, the Pocket Brick was very hard and expensive to produce in quantity, so it was only used in small numbers during Randy Sargent's Master's thesis research (The Programmable LEGO Brick: Ubiquitous Computing for Kids,'' 1995).

• THE MODEL 120 PROGRAMMABLE BRICK (1994 to present). The Model 120'' Brick was designed as more economical version of the Pocket Brick and also to be suited for daily classroom use. It keeps much of the functionality of the Pocket Brick (6 sensor ports, 4 motor ports, infrared input, and simple sound output). Some other features can be added as external devices, such as a microphone or infrared output. It is about twice the size of the Pocket Brick, primarily due to incorporation of rechargeable cells for motor applications and a larger LCD display.

The Model 120 Brick is being used with kids and teachers in several elementary, junior high, and high schools. Various activities are being developed, including a Robotic Park'' exhibition event inspired by the MIT 6.270 contest. Both the Pocket Brick and the Model 120 Brick run a new version of Logo, called Brick-Logo,'' that was created especially for kids' robotics projects. Currently, Brick-Logo only runs on a Mac but it is being ported to Windows. Both the Pocket Brick and the Model 120 Brick use custom plastic casework and have the look and feel'' of a commercial product, though they are still research endeavors.

### Programmable Brick Documentation

There are several on-line documents:

Brief introduction to Brick project. Discusses two different Brick models.
pbmanual-120.ps [ ftp://cher.media.mit.edu/pub/projects/programmable-brick/pbmanual-120.ps ]
Manual for the Programmable Brick Model 120. Print on a PostScript printer.
pblogo-reference-only.ps [ ftp://cher.media.mit.edu/pub/projects/programmable-brick/pblogo-reference-only.ps ]
11-page overview of the Brick Logo language, excerpted from the above manual.
sensors.ps [ ftp://cher.media.mit.edu/pub/projects/programmable-brick/sensors.ps ]
13-page document describing how to build sensors for Programmable Bricks.

The files are available from ftp://cherupakha.media.mit.edu/pub/projects/programmable-brick/.

### How Do I Get a Programmable Brick?

At this stage, the Programmable Brick is not a commercial technology. We are a research group and it is not our charter to sell and support hardware. Therefore, we are using the Programmable Brick technology only with our close research collaborators.

### Research Papers About the Programmable Brick

The Programmable Brick project began at the MIT Media Laboratory in 1986. The project builds on a foundation of earlier MIT research on children and technology.

Here is a chronological bibliography of Programmable Brick-related research. An asterisk (*) preceding the reference indicates a document that can be ordered from our publications office. Contact Florence Williams (daria@media.mit.edu) for information, or look on our electronic document distribution site ftp://cherupakha.media.mit.edu/pub/el-publications.

*(1971) Papert, Seymour, and Solomon, Cynthia. Twenty Things to Do with a Computer.'' Short, visionary memo suggesting twenty different project activities kids could do on computers were they ubiquitous. This was written in the TeleType days but describes projects that are yet to be fully exploited. Many of the projects are prescient of LEGO/Logo and the Programmable Brick.

*(1988) Martin, Fred. Children, Cybernetics and Programmable Turtles.'' Master's Thesis, MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering. Describes work with fifth-grade children using an early version of the Programmable Brick technology.

*(1988) Resnick, Mitchel. "LEGO, Logo, and Life". In Artificial Life, edited by C. Langton. Addison Wesley.

*(1990) Bourgoin, Mario. Using LEGO Robots to Explore Dynamics.'' Master's thesis, MIT Media Laboratory. Describes new programming language specifically developed to help kids think about dynamics when working with small LEGO robots.

*(1991) Resnick, Mitchel. "Xylophones, Hamsters, and Fireworks: The Role of Diversity in Constructionist Activities." In Constructionism, edited by I. Harel and S. Papert. Ablex Publishing.

*(1991) David Hogg, Fred Martin, and Mitchel Resnick. Braitenberg Creatures.'' Epistemology and Learning Memo~\#13, \MIT\ Media Laboratory, Cambridge, MA.

*(1992) Martin, Fred. Building Robots to Learn Design and Engineering.'' In {\em Proceedings of the 1992 Frontiers in Education Conference}, edited by Lawrence P. Grayson, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, November 1992. Describes the MIT LEGO Robot Design Competition project.

(1993) Martin, Fred, and Resnick, Mitchel. LEGO/Logo and Electronic Bricks: Creating a Scienceland for Children.'' In {\em Advanced Educational Technologies for Mathematics and Science}, edited by David L. Ferguson, Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg, 1993. Describes LEGO/Logo work circa 1990.

*(1993) Granott, Nira. Microdevelopment of Co-Construction of Knowledge During Problem Solving: Puzzled Minds, Weird Creatures, and Wuggles.'' PhD thesis, MIT Media Laboratory. Analysis of thinking processes of adults trying to understand the behaviors of small LEGO robots.

(1994) Resnick, Mitchel. "Behavior Construction Kits." Communications of the ACM, vol. 36, no. 7 (July 1993).

*(1994) Martin, Fred. Circuits to Control: Learning Engineering by Designing LEGO Robots.'' Doctoral Thesis, MIT Media Laboratory. Genesis and analysis of the MIT LEGO Robot Design Competition, an intensive month-long robot design course for MIT undergraduates based on Brick-like technology.

*(1995) Sargent, James Randy. The Programmable LEGO Brick: Ubiquitous Computing for Kids.'' Master's Thesis, MIT Media Laboratory. Discusses hardware and software design goals of the Brick project and a number of different activities using the Brick with kids.

(1995) Sargent, Randy; Resnick, Mitchel; Martin, Fred; and Silverman, Brian, Building and Learning with Programmable Bricks.'' Good overall introduction to Programmable Brick project. Discusses features of the Pocket Programmable Brick. In the Logo Update, volume 3, number 3. Available from the Logo Foundation, 250 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10107-2228; (212) 765-4918.

(in press) Martin, Fred. Ideal and Real Systems: A Study of Notions of Control in Undergraduates Who Design Robots.'' To appear in Constructionism In Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in a Digital World,'' edited by Y. Kafai and M. Resnick. Lawrence Erlbaum. Adaptation of one chapter from 1994 dissertation Circuits to Control.''

(in press) Sargent, Randy; Resnick, Mitchel; Martin, Fred; and Silverman, Brian. Building and Learning with Programmable Bricks.'' To appear in Constructionism In Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in a Digital World,'' edited by Y. Kafai and M. Resnick. Lawrence Erlbaum. Based on Sargent's 1995 thesis.

### Programmable Brick Technical Data

Contact Randy Sargent (rsargent@ai.mit.edu) regarding the Pocket Programmable Brick.

To contact the Programmable Brick design team, write us e-mail at pbrick-design@media.mit.edu.