Mindstorms Reloaded: LEGO Announces NXT 2.0

Geek Culture

MindstormsMindstormsNews has been percolating over the internet regarding the new LEGO Mindstorms NXT set, called NXT 2.0, due out this August.

If you’re not savvy to Mindstorms, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s simply LEGO with motors. Yes, it’s a robotic set put out by LEGO and it uses TECHNICS parts, but that’s just the beginning. People have used Mindstorms to create gadgets ranging from autopilots to microscopes, 3D printers to Rubik’s Cube solvers and rubber band chain guns to knitting machines.

Kids have also gotten in on the action, participating in the FIRST LEGO League, a worldwide robot design competition that has exploded on the scene in just a few brief years, going from 9,500 participants in 1999 to 106,000 in 2007.

So yeah, NXT 2.0. But what exactly will be different?

There’s been a lot of hopeful clamoring in the NXT community that the release would include a new NXT brick. This brick contains the microcontroller that runs all the sensors and motors that make up a robot. It’s the sort of tech that everyone always has ideas for improving — add more memory or a SD card slot, have a faster chip, more input and output ports, and so on.

No dice.

While the NXT brick may see some sort of redesign, it appears that the basic specs are identical. Cue a certain amount of disappointing mumbles from power users about how the 2.0 set wasn’t more revolutionary. However, I suggest these naysayers may be missing the point. The NXT brick’s strength is that, as a user-programmable microcontroller, its capabilities are pretty much what you make of it. And if you can’t take care of business with just one brick, you can always add a 2nd one…

There are two areas where we’re going to see a clear improvement: First, there is a new module that combines the features of a light sensor, a color sensor, as well as a lamp. Secondly, the software appears to be radically improved, with sound and icon editors, a remote control simulator, and a packaging tool that helps users share  their programs with their friends. As an added bonus, LEGO has softened the set’s rather formidable learning curve by providing some quickie robots that take only 30 minutes to complete.

Maybe this set is, as some people claim, more of an incremental refresh than a radical improvement. Either way, it’s good to see LEGO isn’t ignoring NXT.

Photo by Joe Meno

(Editor’s note: just to whet everyone’s appetites, GeekDad may very well get to host preview demonstrations of Mindstorms NXT 2.0 at our Maker Faire booth this May. Stay tuned!)

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