LEGO MINDSTORMS brings the power of robotics to children
Smart tools for the computer generation to think with
January 27, 1998 - The LEGO Group today announced LEGO MINDSTORMS - a new category of products that allow children to build and program robotic inventions that move, act and think on their own.
The LEGO MINDSTORMS products extend the unlimited design possibilities that are available with LEGO bricks into the world of computers. For example, children can now create a light-sensitive intruder alarm that would shower unwelcome visitors with ping-pong balls from above the doorway. Each time a person enters the doorway, a LEGO light-sensor signals a LEGO microcomputer, which sets off a sound alarm and commands a LEGO mechanism to release the ping-pong balls.
A robotic rover can be built and programmed to follow a trail using its light sensor, avoid obstacles using on-board touch sensors - and even play tunes as it moves around. Children can program their robotic inventions to move and perform an unlimited variety of actions.
"The philosophy behind LEGO MINDSTORMS is to allow children not only to understand technology, but also to become active masters of it. This happens when they design, construct and program their own real, intelligent inventions," says Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen [ http://www.lego.com/computerLEGO/people/kristiansen.asp ], President & CEO of the LEGO Group.
You can't just give children knowledge, they must build it on their own
LEGO MINDSTORMS is a new brand of learning products [ http://www.lego.com/computerlego/background/learning/default.asp ] and services that aims to help boys and girls to understand and master an increasingly technological world. Initially, it will target children of 11 years and older, as well as their families. Products are, however, also planned for children as young as six years.
LEGO MINDSTORMS is the result of more than a decade of research and development in close cooperation with the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with which the LEGO Group has a long-standing relationship. The LEGO Group and MIT share a common view on how children learn best.
"You can't just give children knowledge," says Mitchel Resnick [ http://www.lego.com/computerLEGO/people/resnik.asp ], Associate Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab. "We believe that children learn best when they build their own theories of how the world works and try them out by building their own inventions."
Christian Majgaard [ http://www.lego.com/computerLEGO/people/majgaard.asp ], Corporate Executive Vice-President of the LEGO Group agrees. "The ability to build their own robotic inventions can help stimulate children's curiosity about hidden technologies in the everyday world around them," he says. "As adults, we take a lot of technology for granted, and this undermines a child's tendency to ask 'How does that work?' How do automatic controls know what to do? How does an aeroplane's autopilot 'know' where to go? How do they read the bar codes on products? To tell a child that a computer is simply 'programmed' to do these things makes the idea of programming mysterious. But giving children a chance to build, program and explore their own robotic inventions takes away the mystery and gives them a sense of empowerment."
RCX - the revolutionary LEGO microcomputer
The heart of LEGO MINDSTORMS is the RCX, a special LEGO brick [ http://www.lego.com/computerLEGO/background/technology/Default.asp ] embedded with a microchip that children can program, using a PC. The RCX is the brain of LEGO MINDSTORMS inventions. It takes input from its environment, processes data and drives action and behaviour.
First, children build their robot, using the RCX and LEGO elements. They then create a program for their invention using RCX Code, a powerful yet simple and child-friendly programming language. Next, they download their program to the RCX using a special infrared transmitter. Their creation can now interact with the environment, totally independently of the computer.
LEGO MINDSTORMS products
LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System is the core set in the LEGO MINDSTORMS programme. It includes a CD-ROM, more than 700 LEGO elements, the RCX microcomputer, an infrared transmitter, light and touch sensors, motors, gears, and a Constructopedia building guide. The Robotics Invention System provides children with guidance to build working robots in less than an hour, as well as inspiration for more complex robotic inventions.
The LEGO MINDSTORMS range also includes three expansion sets: RoboSports, Extreme Creatures, and Exploration Mars. Children must own the Robotics Invention System in order to use an expansion set.
With RoboSports, children can design robots that can shoot hoops, flick pucks and dart through an obstacle course. Extreme Creatures lets children build robotic models with movements and behaviour that mimic virtually any creature in the animal kingdom. With Exploration Mars, they can build and program their own Mars rovers. The rover can be steered directly from the computer, using the on-screen control panel, or programmed to explore on its own.
The initial product line of four sets will be launched in the United States and the United Kingdom during autumn 1998 and will also be available for purchase on the Internet. LEGO MINDSTORMS products will be available in continental Europe and Asia from 1999.
Learning Centres and Internet Community
The LEGO MINDSTORMS concept is also being introduced at Learning Centres for children around the globe. The first of its kind, "MSI presents LEGO MINDSTORMS", opened at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in early November 1997. LEGO MINDSTORMS Centres will offer learning programmes to children of 8 years and older, their families and school groups.
An Internet community is being established on www.LEGOMINDSTORMS.com. Here, children will be able to create their own personal home page, upload programs and display their robotic creations. They can communicate with one another and swap strategies, computer programs and ideas, or consult LEGO experts in chat rooms and on message boards. A preview site will be available at this Internet address until the LEGO MINDSTORMS community is launched during autumn 1998.
Mitchel Resnick (b. 1956), an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory, studies the role of new technological tools in learning and education. He has helped develop a variety of "computational construction kits" (incl. LEGO/Logo and StarLogo) and was a co-founder of the Computer Clubhouse, an after-school learning center for young people in underprivileged communities. He is on the Board of Trustees and is chairing the Education Committee at the Boston Computer Museum.
Dr. Resnick earned a B.A. in physics at Princeton University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science at MIT. He won a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award in 1993. He is the author of Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams, published by MIT Press (1994).
Here are some links to background information on the technology and research for the earlier versions of P-bricks ("Programmable Bricks") developed at the MIT Media Lab
Crickets: Tiny Computers for Big Ideas
This is an earlier version of a P-Brick developed at the MIT Media Lab: "The Cricket is a tiny computer, powered by a 9 volt battery, that can control two motors and receive information from two sensors. Crickets are equipped with an infrared communication system that allows them to communicate with each other." more [ http://el.www.media.mit.edu/people/fredm/projects/cricket/ ]
The Programmable Brick FAQ (relates to the earlier MIT versions of the P-brick) more [ http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/projects/programmable-brick/more.html ]
Twenty Things To Do with a Programmable Brick more [ http://lcs.www.media.mit.edu/projects/programmable-brick/20-things.html ]
Research on Learning Tools
This is a great page for diving into the research on learning tools and Toys to Think with at the MIT Media Lab. more [ http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/elprojects.html ]
Toys To Think With
A page on digital toys and learning by Mitchel Resnick, Kwin Kramer, Rick Borovoy, Fred Martin (MIT Media Lab)
"We are adding digital capabilities to the traditional toys of childhood and, in the process, redefining how and what children learn (...)" more [ http://el.www.media.mit.edu/projects/toys/ ]
Fred Martin's Assorted Robotics Links
This page contains a miscellaneous set of links related to microcontrollers, robotics, and educational applications.... more [ http://lcs.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/Projects/handy-board/misclink/index.html ]