Lego NXT Mindstorms robotics set

It's been almost a year since we first saw the Lego NXT Mindstorm kit demoed at CES in Las Vegas, but nine months later, its here in the UK.

Robots, Lego and computers, what's not to get excited about? Excited you should be as Lego has dusted off its robotic computer-enabled Lego offering for the 21st century.

For the die-hard fans who have been building R2D2 (one of the main creations of the first Mindstorms experience) since 1998 the bad news is that your old kit isn't interchangeable. Lego sends their apologies, they really do. But for the rest of us (hey you don't still have your first mobile phone do you?), the new kit brings a host of features including, amazingly, Bluetooth.

At the core of the system is what Lego call "the NXT brick", an autonomous 32-bit LEGO microprocessor that can be programmed using a PC or Mac. Powered by six AA batteries (annoyingly not included) the Brick controls the kit's accompanying servos, motors and sensors.

In the box, apart from 519 pieces of Lego, you get four sensors and three interactive Servo Motors with inbuilt rotation sensors to enable you to have precise control over your creation. In practice this means you can measure distance and detect objects as well have your creation react to sound and voice commands via the system's Sonic, Sound, Touch and Light Sensors.

The idea is that you build robot, slam this "Brick" at its heart, connect to computer, program and then watch as said robot takes over your living room before moving on to conquer the world. Sounds fun and in practice, you'll be pleased to know it is.

As with all Lego we've ever tested here at Pocket-lint, the NXT Mindstorm set is incredibly well put together and the step by step instructions to get you going are simple and easy to understand.

Knowing that what you are about to undertake might be a tad harder than building your average dinosaur or replica sports car, Lego has even created a sealed box as a part of the kit that is simply labelled "Start here". Inside is a quick 30-minute project to get you up and running and give you the basics of what is ahead.

But the Lego NXT Mindstorms isn't just about building robots - that's only half the fun - the other half is controlling them, all of which can be done via your PC or Mac with the accompanying easy-to-use software.

Easy to install on both operating systems, the application offers users a good base of operations and it's here that you can program your robot, or creation, via the drag and drop interface. The software lets you do most things from organizing moving commands, including which motor moves for how long, to what to do when a sensor detects something like a voice command or movement.

Furthermore the software also acts as a gateway to more creations (see images) including Alpha Rex pictured on the front of the box. We say this because it is not entirely clear at the beginning where you'll find them (we had an hour of disappointment when we thought that all you got in the box was instructions to build a simple robot) and you can also use the software to access more designs from the Mindstorms website.

Once built you can either choose to fire the instructions via a USB2.0 cable to the NXT brain or better still over the air via Bluetooth and in our tests connecting the Lego to an Apple PowerBook G4 laptop was as easy as typing 1234 as the pass key. You can also control the unit via a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or PDA.

Verdict

With incredibly easy to use software and all that you need in the box (apart from the batteries), the Lego NXT Mindstorms set is offers an great package for any budding 10-year-old (or 30-year-old for that matter) with an interest in robotics.

Lego has managed to create the perfect balance between a hardcore robotics kit and kids play without loosing focus along the way.

Okay so the purists are going to say things have got too simple since its first outing in 1998, but for us this is like Big Trak on speed.

We love it.


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