A Review of the Lego Mindstorm’s Basics Robotic Kit

Lego�® Mindstorms KB565 RIS 2.0 Basics Kit

3804 Robotic Invention System 2.0

When you think robotic, you usually think of a movie with some clunky metal monstrosity running around dropping parts in it’s wake or some sleek 25th century mechanism doing it’s owners bidding. Maybe you see those shops or manufacturing facilities with the huge robotic arms welding spots or painting car frames. But nowadays you only have to look as far as your child’s school or after school club to view some of the cool things you can do with robotics.

The Lego toy giant has come up with some very easy to use and understand sets that teach computer programming for robotics. The RIS 2.0 Basics Kit comes with everything you need, except a PC, to build, program and run your own robot.

One of the fun parts of the whole robotic system that has been growing in popularity is the challenges that are taking place across the country. After-school groups are challenging each other and discovering the fun and adventure of modern robotics. The concept is two teams are given a set of written instructions of things their robot needs to accomplish. Then each team must build and program their robot to do these tasks in a certain time limit. Then the teams get together and show each other what they accomplished and share their creations. Each group can use it’s own rules and instructions and also get idea’s and advice from several Lego websites.

You receive the Robotics Invention System 2.0, which includes over 700 Lego pieces, a remote control, 9 volt motor, capacitor, and Jin Sato’s Lego Mindstorms âÂ?¢ The master’s Technique book. All of these items are used as a basic set for building robot’s and programming them using your personal computer. The kit has all the pieces required for building all of the basic robots in the program and some of the robot’s in Jin Sato’s book.

The minimum requirements for a PC (Not included) are:
Operating System Windows�® 98*, Windows XP
CPU Pentium II 233 Mhz
RAM 32 MB
Available Hard Disk Space 115 MB
Mouse Windows�® Compatible
Sound Sound Blaster 16â�¢ Windows�® Compatible Sound Device
CD-ROM Speed CD 8X
Video Display 800 X 600 SVGA with 4 MB RAM
Colors Colors 16 bit
Modem (optional) 28.8 KBPS
Internet Browser (optional) Netscape�® Navigator or Microsoftâ�¢ Internet Explorer

You open the box and included is a nice plastic tray to hold all the various plastic pieces while you build your inventions. There is a smaller book by Lego that shows in their easy to understand picture layout how to assemble some of the stock robots that are used as some of the basic robots. In the program you have the choice to build from nine different robots that are the stock ones or you can change them and invent your own special purpose robots.

The heart of the robotics system is the RCX 2.0. It is a programmable microcomputer that stores the program used to make it do it’s thing. The various motors and sensors hook up to this using wires that you snap onto the devices. You use your home computer to make a set of instructions that the RCX 2.0 will get downloaded to using an infrared tower that is included. The RCX can store five separate programs, allowing you to program in the different ones and then saving them for later use. You can also lock or unlock the five slots the programs are located in so you don’t accidentally write over them.

The tower connects to your PC using a USB connection. It takes just a few seconds for the program to download and then you push the run button to activate your robot.

The first thing you need to do is load the CD onto your computer. It loads with just a few questions about where you want the program to load to. Default is in a Lego folder of Program Files on the C drive. It will then tell you to hook up your tower to a USB or Serial bus connection. The IR Tower included with the kit is the USB one. You may purchase the other from Lego separately. This is used to program the RCX using other programs that you can write on your own and is described in Jin Sato’s book.

The program then checks to see if your IR Tower is on and tells you to put six AA batteries into the unit if it does not detect the unit. Then you set the unit four to six inches in front of the tower.

It will download the basic program into the RCX which will take about four minutes. Don’t move either the RCX or the tower or move anything into the way of the two. You may interrupt the data flow and have to start over.

After that it will go through a test to show how far away and at what angles the device can be programmed, which is quite far. The tower uses an infrared beam, much like a remote for a TV to program the RCX unit. I have used it from about fifteen feet away and at angles pointing away from the tower and it still worked. You can go to the home page of the program and to settings to see the range and functionality of the signal. It takes a second or two for the unit to update the signal.

Using the program is quite easy. On the Main menu there is: Tour, Missions, Program, Library, and Settings.

Tour plays a movie giving an overview of the whole system and shows you what you can do with your robotics system.

Missions is the actual “how to” of the program. It has three sections. Training missions, Challenges and Pro Challenges.

There are a number of tutorials or training missions as they call them, that will help you in programming the various robots and learning how to use all the parts of the system. If at some point you want to skip the parts in the tutorial it allows you to do so. Some of the beginning ones are quite easy and you may wish to skip ahead.

The training missions take you step by step in a virtual movie of the system parts and shows how each one is used and connected to make the various components of your robot. It shows step by step what each piece of your kit does and how to use it. It shows how to connect the motors and sensors to the RCX and how to program the RCX from your PC. It then shows you the resulting actions that happen to the RCX and motors you have attached.

The Challenges and Pro Challenges are the fun part. It gives you from simple to more complex tasks that have to be completed and then you must properly build and program a robot to complete the tasks. It will then ask you if the tasks were performed. In the programming section it will give you steps to help you program the robot to make sure you get all the tasks completed. Each robot has different levels of difficulty that can challenge and entertain you.

In the Program section it has all the programs for the various robots that are in all the challenges and a free style section to build your own. This is where you program your robot and then download that program to the RCX unit. In the pre built robots section the menus are different for each robot and you must pick the correct blocks to enter for each task function.

The whole program concept uses blocks that you drag and drop to get a flow chart of your program. This is done in a simple to understand chart on your computer screen so you can see what the program will do and how your robot will behave. You have the option to save any programs that you design and can use these at a later time.

The remote control that comes with the set allows you to change from one of the five programs as well as change the motor direction manually and send a message to your RCX unit to change the program in the middle of executing.

When you get to Jin Sato’s book you will use the free style section to program the robots he has built. His book is very well put together and describes every aspect of what you are doing in easy to understand terms. Some of the robots in his book use parts not included in the kit.

You can start at the beginning of the book and just read through, working on the simple Lego creations he starts in on and working on to the robots in later chapters. He starts with how Legos work and simple building techniques and works his way up into the gears and simple uses of the different Lego pieces. He takes you step by step through building robots and how they work. Continuing on with the programming and how to make different robots do different things.

In the book he builds his award winning Mibo, the robotic dog. This robot requires several parts not included in the kit and two RCX units. Although this requires the additional parts, the techniques and examples in the robot can be used to create your own robots.

In his book he shows a different computer program to use with the RCX and how to write the robotic programs using them. This is a free program available from the internet that you can use to write line for line the program you download to the RCX. To use this program you need to purchase separately a serial IR Tower. The program is not compatible with the USB Tower.

He also includes instructions for using various drafting programs to document your creations into instructions just like Lego has for their books.

Overall the Lego Mindstorm’s #3804 Robotic Invention System 2.0 is a fun and easy to use system that builds and programs your very own robot. The system is easy to use and understand and rises in degrees of challenges and difficulties to make for hours of fun and learning.

This set is perfect for after-school groups and other educational organizations to get kids involved and interested in the high tech world of robots and computers. At almost $200 for the complete set it is a bit expensive for the average family to buy for their child but it can lead to an increased interest in computers and programming

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