Legacy Blog

Playing with Lego Mindstorms

This Christmas I asked my father to give me the Lego Mindstorms EV3, because I wanted to play a little ‘;-) Here are my first impressions.

In the pack there is a huge number of small pieces (601) divided into various envelopes. It would have been much better if they put a container inside the box with dividers to neatly store everything. From what I see from the site of Lego, these containers are provided for educational versions, but not in the retail (and the educational version of Lego is cheaper!)

Build a robot takes time. I started with Everstorm and it took me several hours spread over two days. Yesterday, together with my daughters (8 and 6 years) we disassembled Everstorm and built the robot called Reptar. Even younger children have fun if you involve them in a small assembly line in which there are different tasks. Building Reptar took about three hours amd a lot of fun.

Lego is very good with plastic. At the beginning, you have the impression that all these small pieces are rather fragile, but you soon realize that all components are robust and child-proof. When the robot is assembled is robust and stable and can be handled with ease.

Although EV3 is the latest generation, the overall impression is that the electronic components are outdated and not open at all. Everything is managed from a central unit equipped with a monochrome monitor and powered by 6 common AA batteries. The central body ha connections for engines (the box contains two large and one medium) and sensors (provided there are an infrared sensor – the one that looks like eyes – a pressure sensor and a sensor that detects the colors). Sensors and motors are connected with cables (which seem to have proprietary plugs).
The EV3 brick connects to other devices via bluetooth and wi-fi, but for the wi-fi you need to buy separate accessories. From this point of view, the toy is rather disappointing. In 2014, I would have expected something that would almost automatically connect via wi-fi and it was visible on the web seamlessly (do you remember the Nabaztag).

Once assembled, the result is a remote-controlled toy that can be controlled with an iPhone or an Android. The app is very simple and straightforward and for a child is fun. With what’s in the box you can build many different things: the basic models are five in addition to those of the community (some of which are truly remarkable).

I have the impression that the next step, which is to provide the Mindstorms some form of intelligence, will be much harder to do. I need to free up some disk space to download the editor that is done with Silverlight (sic!) and weighs 500Mb. It is really an anachronistic choice if you think that Scratch, the visual language invented by MIT from which it is derived, is freely available on the Web and has a very active community of enthusiasts who create remixes and small applications. And everything happens on the Web, without downloading anything!

The impression so far is that the Mindstorms has great potential unexplored. If, on the one hand, it is very simple to build a remote-controlled toy, the step to play with something more elaborate seems to be very long. I can not say for sure, but from what I could find online, my idea is that the market for this game system is divided into three segments: those who assemble radio controlled toys following the instructions, those who use it for teaching (area developed mainly in the U.S.) and hobbyists who achieved amazing things like this:

The know-how of Lego with the plastic makes the gaming experience enjoyable and rewarding. I think that with the software it will be exactly the opposite. We’ll see.