Next-gen LEGO Mindstorms + Autodesk = Huge educational potential

It's Valentine's Day. It's LEGO World. And I'm in love with the new Mindstorms EV3.

I thought about getting my wife the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3 set for Valentine's Day, but it won't be available until this fall. And she'd divorce me.

In all seriousness, though, the LEGO World exposition opens in Copenhagen today and the company is announcing its next-generation Mindstorms robotics set, called the EV3. LEGO has already made some really significant contributions to STEM education through their Mindstorms program with countless robotics teams, competitions, collaborative class activities, and even adventurous kids who have created thousands of robots and learned to program, all while building with LEGOs (actually sophisticated TECHNIC elements, but they're LEGOs at heart). EV3, though, is a quantum leap forward in functionality from both a hardware and software perspective and a partnership with Autodesk lets users view in 3D how the primary models are constructed.

The third-generation set focuses on combining ease of use with far greater creative flexibility and new means for programming and controlling the robots. As with a growing number of educational tools, the point is creativity and critical thought rather than trying to figure out how to stick LEGOs together (hence, the Autodesk partnership, which provides a very useful means of illustrating building skills so that students can get down to the robotics. For the first time, LEGO is also including non-verbal, illustrated paper instructions for all of the suggested robots for learners who respond better to visual cues.

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Aside from more sensitive sensors, embedded Linux in the much faster control module, and additional power capabilities, the robots can be controlled via mobile apps. Both Android and iOS are supported and they can be given either voice or touch-based commands.

Users of previous generation systems will find a similar programming interface; new users will see an object-oriented interface that looks a lot like Scratch (Scratch and the original Mindstorms software were both developed by Mitch Resnick at the MIT Media Lab). New and old users alike, though, will find a lot to like about the latest Mindstorms set. There are few products on the market today that can match the creative and educational potential of some very serious LEGOs.

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