Generally, the first reaction to the video above is, “Those are LEGO®s?”
Many of us played with LEGO®s when we were younger, and they are still pretty common today. However, if you haven’t kept up with everything LEGO® has offered in recent years, you might be quite surprised. There are a few product lines many people may not be familiar with that offer a tremendous amount of engagement and critical thinking for children and young adults. Concepts and ideas learned building these models are very similar to techniques used in industrial automation and industrial robotics.
The LEGO® Creator series offers the ability to build three or more unique items from a single kit. This not only helps out the parents, by offering 3 toys for the price of one, but also helps children think outside of the box and see how similar parts can be used for multiple models.
The LEGO® Technic series, which often features more than one build, is more than just standard bricks. Technic models bring regular LEGO®s to the next level, adding features such as pivoting, swiveling, rotating, and lifting. A set like the 9392 Quad bike features a chain-driven engine and a moving piston. The build is a little more complicated, but step-by-step visual instructions are provided. These models help build an understanding on how gears and drive systems work in a simple and fun way.
Finally, you have the LEGO® Mindstorms® series, which adds the ability to put LEGO®s into motion. Using a variety of sensors and drive motors, you are able to build a walking humanoid robot, crawling insects, or vehicles that judge obstructions to steer out of the way. There are sensors for touch, distance, color, as well as additional sensors for LEGO® and 3rd party providers.
Programming the robotic creations are easily done on a computer using drag-and-drop blocks for controlling a variety of behaviors. Right out of the box, the Mindstorms® microcomputer can be controlled via Bluetooth using the MindDroid app for Android.
Being a programmer, I have found the LEGO® Mindstorm® set a lot of fun. The video above we created was built using instructions found online at NXT Programs. The forklift uses the ultrasonic sensor to find the pallet and continues forward until it sees a platform to drop the pallet load on to. We had some extra time and pieces, so we added some extra background equipment such as a Pick to Light rack, a Hand Truck and a few pallets.
There are tons of resources online for additional models to build, sample programs to download, and tons of cool videos of things people have created. One of the most famous is the Mindstorm Rubix Cube Solver.
Sources: PC Mag, NXT Programs, BotMag, LEGO®, Hacked Gadgets