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Lego Mindstorm Programming Question

Has anyone programmed a LEGO Mindstorm kit to do something useful?

I took a first step towards something useful by getting an NXT unit to light an LED from a sensor port rather than just connecting to the standard LEGO parts.  In this case I used the sensor type definition to switch the extra pins of the port (pins 3 & 4 in black and orange for the sensor 4.3V supply and pin 5 in green for the type output), leaving pins 1 and 2 (red and black in the photo) still available to receive an analogue signal.  This means the LED could be an infra-red LED and the input pins receive a signal returned from the real world.I also used the Codatex RFID sensor to detect the tag on a train.  Depending on which train was detected I could send a speed command signal on the IR Link sensor and also make the right bell code sound for the signal box.  In this way it could run a model railway.  Sometimes it was not easy to get enough time to detect the train if it was moving fast, even when I had the RFID sensor as close to the train as the loading gauge would permit, hidden behind a 1x4x3 thin panel piece in the scenery.

What value did you get out of playing around with LEGO Mindstorms?

It helped break the language barrier between man(me) and machine. The goal of programming is to communicate with the machine and tell it what to do. It’s a high level language, so it’s a great way to start coding becauase it’s so simple. If you really explore it it may show you almost everything you can expect to see later on in low level languages if you choose to continue.

What are some of the coolest things that LEGO Mindstorms bots have been programmed to do?

Its the unbeatable Cubestormer 3.

I want a Lego mindstorms RCX?

1 and 2. Price varies between used and new for the RCX, motors, and sensors. You can buy entire new or used sets on eBay or on BrickLink. LEGO Education also sells new components. Remember, sensors for the NXT are different and cannot be used with the RCX, hence why I mentioned all of these.
3. When LEGO discontinued the RIS sets a few years befor NXT cam out, the NXT, they also ended further support and sales of the software. They did graciously let the software go into the public domain howerever, and Philo Hurbain has the SDK software archived on his website at http://www.philohome.com/sdk25/sdk25.htm. The Mindstorms PC software can also be found on places lie eBay for versions 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0. Be aware versions 1.0 and 1.5 used a serial RS-232c interface to a tower which you will also need. version 2 uses uSB
4. As mentioned above, eBay, BrickLink, or LEGO Education
5. Software is dependent upon how you want to program most s free but you still need the tower to download firmware and programs.
7. Cables between RCX and sensors and motors are specialized connector cables. software programs and firmware are downloaded to the RCX via An IR tower connected for ver 1.0 and 1.5 by serial RS-232c or by USB on ver2.0 tower.

LEGO Education - http://www.legoeducation.us
Philo Website - http://www.philohome.com/sdk25/sdk25.htm
BrickLink - http://www.bricklink.com/

Since sensors and actuators, cables and software ARE NOT interchangeable, it is better to buy a used or new in box set that is complete. The RCX rims around $65 new.

To be honest, it may be much cheaper in the end run to purchase a separate NXT - 2.0 brick. That way you already have the software and can purchase additional sensors from LEGO direct or the resources specified above.

Can LEGO Mindstorms interact with Furby?

Yes, in the sense that it can interact with *anything*.I do not know of any Furby specific aftermarket accessories to allow interfacing with NXT or RCX, so any electronic interface would have to be homebrew but it's certainly doable in lots of ways.There is also Furby triggering various sensors to cause interaction, and Mindstorms sensors are plenty accurate enough to discern Furby movement.To give a better answer the question needs to be revised to give more context/requirements.

My son (12) loves (but has exhausted) Lego, Scratch, Mindstorm, and Sandbox video games. He explores until exhaustion with great passion. Is there anything that he could, after some learning, master and enjoy to create his inventions?

I think this is perfectly normal! In fact that's how an adult behaves as well.One way to handle this is to make sure something new is made available to him/her every time he achieves mastery.Secondly, it will be good to see if he/she enjoys music and if so, have him/her learn. It will be with them for their life and there is no end to learning!!!Thirdly, if he/she is not a music person and enjoys doing mind riddles, see if you can challenge him to "create" his own puzzles? Once he is able to do it, he can ask his friends to solve. May be publish them after a while. There is no end to creativity here. Forth, see if he enjoys reading. Fundamentally, I think, see how you can involve him into activities (typically art) that challenge and build his creativity rather than those that limit (video game is created by human - so it does limit creativity - wouldn't count lego in here)

What should my 8- and 10-year olds work on before they take on LEGO Mindstorms for the first time?

Hey.What i would suggest is that the kids should first learn robotics using another kit called the M-Bot. The M-Bot is basically the robotics kit that is used for teaching the newbies and beginners in robotics. This will help to give the kids a basic idea and knowledge of robotics. However, do keep in mind that when they transition to the Mindstorms, they will find it completely different as the construction and the programming of M-Bot is completely different in comparison to that of the Mindstorms. So I would suggest you to not let them stick to the M-Bot for a long time.Secondly, it would be advisable for them to learn Scratch, the programming Language. This is particularly important for your kids if they are into the programming of the robot rather than the construction. Learning Sratch will help them immensely when they program their robot. This is because both Scratch and the Mindstorms programming use a similar user interface of drag and drop thus allowing the children to think in a similar way while programming the robot.Hope this helpsMeshach