One-Kit Wonders Delivers Simple & Fun Mindstorms Projects

Geek Culture

Source: No Starch PressSource: No Starch Press

Source: No Starch Press

One problem I’ve had with LEGO Mindstorms books — even otherwise exemplary ones like Fay Rhodes’ LEGO Mindstorms NXT Zoo — is that the writers are so rich with Technics elements that perhaps they assume the rest of us are as well. Or maybe it’s more fun to design models that show off some of the more unusual bricks. But the fact remains that with my paltry single NXT set and no add-ons, I can build precious few models found in those books. (In Ms. Rhodes’ defense, all of her models in her book can be built with a standard NXT set plus one other set. Still, I didn’t own that other set.)

The fact is, in a landscape of over a thousand LEGO elements, not everyone has every piece. The solution? LEGO Mindstorms NXT One-Kit Wonders: Ten Inventions to Spark Your Imagination, a book designed to use only the elements found in the basic NXT set. The authors? Several experienced robot builders who contribute to the excellent NXT STEP blog.

As the subtitle implies, the book contains instructions on how to build ten different robots. Besides the ease of entry for parts-poor newbies, one of the coolest aspect of this book is the innovation and imagination of these robots. The usual line-following and ball-grabbing robots don’t cut it in a product like this. The authors obviously wracked their brains to come up with new and innovative projects that nevertheless only use the standard parts.

Here are my favorite robots out of the ten:

PunchBot: This robot can be programmed on the fly using punch cards, just like old-fashioned computers. Essentially it’s just a LEGO punch card reader on wheels, so each of the sixteen possible ‘programs’ probably won’t involve much besides rolling in one direction or other. However, there’s tons of potential for expansion of the basic idea. For instance, what would happen if you added a robotic hand?

NXT Dragster: A drag racer designed to operate in a predesigned race track. For instance, it has a light sensor pointing down to detect the starting line. Once it crosses the finish line, the NXT brick calculates the bot’s speed. This chapter also describes a standardized set of drag racing rules promulgated on the NXT STEP blog.

BobBot: Basically an NXT bobcat, a small robot with interchangeable attachments. You can use a ball gripper, a pallet-lifting fork, or a larger gripper called a demolition claw. Interestingly, this bot contains all four sensors that come with the NXT set, so it has tons of potential for expansion.

The Hand: A wrist-mounted robotic hand! The NXT brick rests on your wrist and you control the Hand’s gripper via the brick and a standard touch sensor.

Each project comes with a description, step-by-step instructions for building the robot, as well as NXT-G programming instructions.

Obviously, with elements limited to those found in the original NXT set, capabilities are bound to be limited. However, every robot comes with suggestions to expand on the original idea. What would happen if you added a HiTechnic color sensor instead of the standard light sensor? What if added elements of the Pneumatics Extension Pack from LEGO Education?

LEGO Mindstorms NXT One-Kit Wonders delivers awesome project ideas without forcing builders to scramble for parts, and offers ideas for further exploration once more parts are acquired.

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