Back then, people look at Legos as a typical toy for the kids to play with. Many adults or household members got the chance to step on one of them as the children scattered them on the floor during their playing time. While ordinary folks only remember Legos as disposable like any children’s toy, others see more of them, like Lego robotics.
Scientists, researchers, and innovators look at Legos as something more. They found that robotics career can happen from playing with Legos. For them, Legos can be a springboard to engineering and mechatronics, or a branch of electrical engineering technology.
Since its inception, Legos has captured the children’s imagination across the globe, and yes, to the engineers and scientists as well. A whole new generation of learning and problem-solving became the end-results of playing with Legos, particularly with Lego Mindstorms.
Tech-writer Audrey Watters narrated that the Lego Mindstorms, or the programmable brick, was a product of collaboration between researchers at the MIT Media Lab who were looking at some ways in which Lego and the programming language Logo, could work hand in hand.
Logo was developed by MIT professor Seymour Paper, and was used to move robot “turtles” forward and backward, turn right or left, and do other functions, like drop a pen and draw.
Then-CEO of Lego Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the grandson of Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, saw Papert’s demonstration of the programming language and was struck by it.
“Kristiansen was intrigued by the possibilities of expanding Lego’s capabilities for learning and play: children should be able to build and control – program – their creations,” Watters wrote.
What followed was a visit of Kristiansen to the MIT Media Lab for their partnership.
“Children have used LEGO/Logo to build a wide assortment of creative machines. A few examples: a programmable pop-up toaster; a ‘chocolate-carob factory’ (inspired by the Willy Wonka children’s stories); a machine that sorts LEGO bricks according to their lengths; and an ‘ejection bed’ that automatically tosses its occupant onto the floor when the sun shines through the window in the morning,” said Mitch Resnick and Steve Ocko, who developed the Lego Logo project.
“Working on projects like these, children experiment with many different types of design: structural design, mechanical design, software design. LEGO/Logo might be viewed as a ‘multi-media construction kit,’ allowing students to build and create in several different (though interconnected) media,” they added.
1n 1987, MIT Media Lab came up with a working prototype. A decade later, Lego had trademarked Mindstorms, as inspired by Papert’s 1980 book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.
Mindstorms was unveiled at the Royal College of Art in London in January 1998, while the official launching took place in September 1998. By December 1998, Lego Mindstorms became a hit in the market.
Interestingly, a study entitled “The Effect of Lego Mindstorms as an Innovative Educational Tool to Develop Students’ Creativity Skills for a Creative Society” validated the effect of Lego Mindstorms “as an innovative educational tool to develop students’ creativity skills for a creative society.”
“The finding showed that there are significant differences between the creativity scores of students in the experimental group and the creativity scores of the control group. The Lego Mindstorms influences the enhancement of student’s creativity of around 23.6 percent in the experimental groups,” the research said.
As innovation and designs of Lego Mindstorms continued, three generations of Lego Mindstorms were developed. These are the Robotics Invention System (1998), Mindstorms NXT (2006), and Mindstorms EV3 (2013). According to Watters, the releases of these three generations of Leo Mindstorms also come up with different kits for retail and school.
The advent of the programmable bricks also led to the rise of Educational Robotics.
According to Watters, the introduction of Lego Mindstorms in 1998 coincided with the founding of the FIRST Lego League, a partnership between Lego and FIRST, a youth organization started by inventor Dean Kamen aimed at boosting student interest in engineering and technology.
“When we hit the market, it caught fire,” Stephen Turnipseed, President Emeritus of Lego Education, told Watters.
“By the time the Lego Mindstorms NXT was released in 2006, the acronym ‘STEM’ was becoming increasingly prevalent in education debates (although it’s worth pointing out that panic about American students’ lack of preparedness in these fields is much, much older). Robotics were viewed as a compelling means to engage students in engineering,” said Watters.
“As such, Lego Education has expanded the Mindstorms product line to include the WeDo Construction set, aimed at younger students. WeDo models are still tethered to a computer and are programmed via a Scratch-like interface, not via a brick. For older, high school-age students, Lego Education also offers Tetrix, a set with metal pieces and a more rugged motor,” she added.
Interesting facts about Lego Robotics
With the use of robot models and children-friendly visual programming application, the Robotics industry found a new meaning of finding solutions in engineering problems and designs with Lego Mindstorms. The evolution of these Lego Robotics bricks happens after one goes through the steps of programming, designing, and interacting with these Legos. Lego Robotics is a major feature in its robotics-related degrees at East Coast Polytechnic Institute alone.
- The first-generation Mindstorms bricks were able to communicate with other bricks through an infrared interface.
- in 1994, the University of Colorado built the first visual programming environment known as LEGOsheets, following a visual learning atmosphere designed to teach teenagers how to program via game design.
- NXT, which came out in 2006, featuring 577 pieces including three servo motors, sensors that picked up sound, light, touch, ultrasonic, and connection cables including USB interface, and the NXT Intelligent Brick.
- The NXT was replaced by Mindstorms EV3 in 2013. The name was attributed to the ‘EV’olution of the product and its third-generation status.
- The introduction of the EV3 Programmer Application available on Android and iOS tablets allows Lego innovators to create and save dynamic, advanced programs anywhere they happen to be to interface with the Mindstorms robots they create.
- EV3 users can join different robotics competitions, including FIRST Lego League and the World Robot Olympiad.
- Many of the participants of the FIRST Lego League proceed to take up degrees in Electronics Engineering, where they can use their knowledge to develop robotics in the real world.