January 4 2006

An engaged and passionate community of LEGO® MINDSTORMS™ enthusiasts has persisted over the past several years, even in the absence of new product introductions. Therefore, once product development for the next generation of LEGO MINDSTORMS began in earnest, it became clear to the Billund-based team that the vibrant community should be tapped for help in developing a product that would optimize the potential of the system for enthusiasts, while at the same time making it more accessible to a younger audience of LEGO and robotics fans.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS User Panel (MUP) was created in September, 2004. Five active community members were identified for their involvement in fostering a strong MINDSTORMS community and invited via a vague and secretive email to help the LEGO Group with a new project. They were instructed to log into a secure site and wait for further information. Four intrepid members responded and the MINDSTORMS development team let them chat amongst themselves for several days guessing as to the purpose of the site and their possible tasks. After agreeing to sign non-disclosures, the inaugural MUP members were told about the goal of developing the next generation of LEGO MINDSTORMS, and were asked to help shape its development.

Over a period of 14 months the MUP met virtually via secure website, held telephone conferences and even gathered together in Billund, Denmark and again in Washington, DC for face-to-face briefings and check-in meetings. Honest, uncensored feedback from the MUP led to significant product developments such as the inclusion of a new Ultrasonic sensor to give robot creations “eyes,” and the inclusion of a new 90-degree angle LEGO TECHNIC® element that allows users to easily and intuitively build cubes.

In November, 2005 the MUP was expanded to 14 members. New international participants joined the charter group to address challenges and opportunities for bringing the next generation of LEGO MINDSTORMS to market. The MUP is now divided into four groups, MUP Hardware, MUPsoft, MUP IAC (Inventions and Creations) and MUP Community, where they are working on hardware development, software hacking and development, ultimate robotics creations using NXT and community development programs, respectively.

The next evolution of the MUP, announced January 4, 2006 at Consumer Electronics Show, includes an opportunity for 100 new participants to apply to win MUP seats to help test and finalize the product and work within the MUP subgroups to inspire further community involvement, before its retail availability in August 2006. Information to enter may be found at

Profiles of the Charter Members are found on the following pages.

Charter LEGO® MINDSTORMS™ Users Panel Members

John Barnes
Electronic engineer and software programmer
Holland Patent, New York

What has been your role on the MUP?
As an avid user of LEGO MINDSTORMS, I feel qualified to review the new system from a form, fit and function point of view. As a supplier of after-market sensors and other accessories, I also have a good grasp of what many users wanted beyond those which were provided with the original MINDSTORMS sets. Some samples of my sensors were provided to the team in Billund, a few of which I believe may have helped define the sensor requirements for the new system.

What kinds of robots have you built? Favorite bot?
Competition robots. Experimental autonomous navigation robots. Stationary operational robots. My favorite may have been the playing card sorter because it was so difficult to make it work well.

What has it been like to be a part of the MUP and aiding product development?
Quite beyond anything I had expected. I feel privileged in having been asked to help.

Steve Hassenplug
Software Engineer
Lafayette, Indiana

How involved are you in the LMS community (both online and offline)?
LEGO MINDSTORMS is my major hobby. I spend a great deal of time sharing that with others, and helping them to learn and build. One idea that has become very popular with the community is the Great Ball Contraption. It doesn’t require “MINDSTORMS” per se, but it does allow people to build mechanical TECHNIC/MINDSTORMS models that interact with each other.

Have you hacked the software or developed homegrown hardware?
I’ve used many of the languages available for the RCX, but I normally program with BrickOS. In addition to writing programs, I’ve also hacked the kernel, to allow/change things to suit me better. I’ve played around with electronics, so I can talk intelligently about it, but I’m more interested in building robots. So, now, I tell John Barnes what I want, and he builds it. The best sensor he made for me was a custom light sensor, which also works well as a distance sensor. That’s what I used to make my Legway (a LEGO MINDSTORMS Segway) stay balanced.

What has it been like to be a part of the MUP and aiding product development?
I feel pretty honored to be involved in this product.

Ralph Hempel
Professional Engineer
Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada

What inspired you to pursue robotics?
I guess the real turning point for me was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. It was a galvanizing event for a generation of engineers.

Why do you like LEGO MINDSTORMS?
There are many reasons to like MINDSTORMS. You can build robots with a standard set of parts. You can document your creations and share them. You can easily prototype new ideas. It forces creativity by limiting the number of motors and sensors.

What has it been like to be a part of the MUP and aiding product development?
It really is an honor to be involved in the process as much as we have. LEGO Group is known to be a close-knit company that holds its secrets close to its chest. To be trusted with this much product knowledge for as long as we have makes us feel good. We are, of course, realistic and know that most of the development is already done.

David Schilling
Home-school teacher
Redmond, Washington

What inspired you to pursue robotics?
It’s a perfect cross between engineering and programming, with a dash of physics thrown in as well.

Have any of your feedback, designs or developments been implemented in the final product?
Steve and I pointed out early on that it was hard to connect rounded TECHNIC pieces to each other at 90-degree angles. So, LEGO Group made a special piece to solve the problem in one of the two perpendicular directions I mentioned. I think that’s really cool!

What has it been like to be a part of the MUP and aiding product development?
It’s been a blast! There have been highs and lows, but nothing can beat the excitement of knowing that LEGO Group considered us this early on in the process to participate in discussing a product they had just barely started on! We’ve made a difference in the new system that they are is putting out! Plus we got to know about it way early on! How many companies not only trust a mere ‘fan’ to see the process of developing their next product, but have input in that process?

Contact Information:

Michael McNally, LEGO Americas, 860-763-7825 /
Kristin Greene, Flashpoint PR, 415-551-9623 /