Lego has been a childhood staple for decades, and for about the last 15 years now, has offered those budding imaginations a chance to do a little something extra in the form of Mindstorms kits, which allowed those who owned them to build their own robots, complete with computer interfaces that allowed a measure of programming to go into the robot. Now, with the 2013 CES event, Lego's unveiling a new and even more powerful robot building kit, the Mindstorms EV3.
A special release coinciding with the anniversary year, the new Mindstorms EV3 kit is slated to include fully 601 Lego pieces, along with a suite of sensors and programming software for the single programmable brick that controls the whole affair. Several improvements have also been made, like increased feedback in the small black-and-white LCD screen. The single programmable control brick also boasts a micro SD card slot to augment the system's memory and even a USB port. While Lego isn't exactly sure just what users will do with that, some have suggested that the USB port will boast a lot of Wi-Fi USB dongles, as the brick doesn't come with Wi-Fi support of its own.
The new line of Mindstorms robots will also have a set of new programming options; while those usedto the PC programming systems will find themselves amply accommodated, there are new--and available for free download, too--control systems for smartphones and tablets that take advantage of the new control methods afforded by the mobile hardware. For instance, in one case, an Android app was controlling a snake-style robot, which could be moved by tipping the device in one direction or another, as well as by shaking the device, which in turn produced a shaking effect on the robot itself. A forward thrust of the device caused the snake robot to attempt to bite whatever was in front of it.
Each kit allows budding young robotics students to build five different robots--an extra 12 plans are available for free download--and the kits will ship this summer at a wallet-busting price of $349.99.
While the price tag is likely to make a few parents fall to pieces, there's no denying that the overall Mindstorms kit is going to be a powerful application to not only get kids interested in the sciences, but also give some valuable early exposure to programming techniques in a fashion that gets them interested. Like a Classic Comics adaptation of classic literature, it's a way to make a topic that was formerly quite inaccessible to children very much accessible. There's a lot of value in a concept like that, especially for the young, continually-expanding minds for whom programming skills are likely to be important in the future. While asking parents to drop $350 for a toy in a bad economy may sound like a recipe for certain disaster, there's enough value in the idea of "advancing the sciences" that may make this a better buy than some might think.
Still, when it comes to getting an eight year old to build a programmable robot, Lego and the Mindstorms line are looking better than ever.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman