Today, I was excited to discover that the Lego Education Mindstorms EV3 Programming app is now available from the App Store for iPads with iOS 8.0 or later.
Previously, if you wanted to program the EV3 robot, you had to use a PC or Mac. That can be somewhat limiting, if you are running a class and don’t have enough PCs or Macs to go around or if your child is already used to programming with other iPad apps and enjoys the ease and flexibility of that environment. These days, it is somewhat expected that there’s an app for everything, so I’m pleased to report that the EV3 software environment has come of age.
While the Lego Education Mindstorms EV3 Programming app is available to download for free, you will be prompted for a password, which you can only get if you have purchased the Lego Education EV3 Software. If you’re like me, and you purchased the software awhile back, you can call Lego tech support at 866-349-5346 for assistance with the password. Make sure to have your order number ready.
I know it may seem expensive to buy the Lego Education EV3 Software for $99 when you can get the Lego Retail EV3 Software for free, but there are a lot of additional capabilities in the education version that I think are worth it. The software includes a Robot Educator that contains 48 step-by-step tutorials. It also provides model building instructions and programs for fascinating robots not found in the retail software. Some of the building instructions can be found in other places, but only the software has the programs. Please note that the retail EV3 31313 set, the Lego Education EV3 45544 Core Set, and the Lego Education EV3 Expansion Set contain some different Lego Technic bricks, so make sure you have the right parts to build the desired robot models. If you need more help understanding the part differences, Robot Square has a great rundown.
So, how easy was the app to install and use? Well, I had to clear some space on my iPad 2 and upgrade it to iOS 8.3, and that took me some extra time. Once the app was installed, though, I had the Bluetooth between the iPad and the EV3 Intelligent Brick talking in just a couple of minutes. The app included basic instructions on enabling Bluetooth and iPad use on the brick.
I was immediately impressed that the app screens looked very similar to the Content Editor screens of the software. Programmers that are used to programming the EV3 on the PC or Mac won’t miss a beat. I had a sample program to light up the brick LEDs orange for 5 seconds coded and running right away.
I soon noted, though, that the app did not support all the programming blocks and tabs as the full software. The action and flow control tabs and most of their programming blocks are available, but the sensor, data operations, and advanced blocks are not. You’ll be able to move the robot, make sounds, light up the LEDs, do loops, and switch logic, but you won’t be able to check sensor values, work with variables, or create my blocks… at least not yet. It’s a good start, but if you are a sophisticated EV3 programmer, you won’t be able to utilize all the programming options available in the regular EV3 software.
The app does have some extra features that some users will find helpful. For instance, it currently incorporates some of the Robot Educator tutorials. You can learn how to program the robot to follow a line or stop at an object. You’ll also find Teacher Support including tips and tricks on how to teach EV3 and an Introduction to Robotics Lesson Plan. Great stuff!
Another issue that bothers me is that I don’t see a way to share my program. I can download it to the attached brick, but I can’t send it to another user. In my FIRST Lego League class, we write programs on several computers, and we’re used to saving and sharing the programs, .ev3 files, on Google Drive. If another user wants to take my program and modify it on another iPad or a PC/Mac, how are they going to do that? There is an option in the PC/Mac software for doing an Import Brick Program, but it’s only for importing programs written on the brick itself. I tried to import the program I downloaded to the brick from my iPad with no luck.
As I said, I’m thrilled that the there’s an app for EV3 programming now. It only took me a few minutes to set up, and since I had already purchased the Lego Education EV3 Software, I didn’t have to invest any additional money. I am sure that we will use the Lego Education Mindstorms EV3 Programming app in our upcoming FIRST Lego League season. It’s a great start to programming the EV3 on a tablet. However, if you only have the Lego Retail EV3 Software, you’ll have to decide if the tablet app is worth the additional investment of buying the Education Software. Or, if you need to code sophisticated EV3 programs, the app may not be robust enough for your needs. Hopefully Lego will continue to invest in updating the app and making it as powerful as the regular software.