Personal Robots in LegoLand

Lego's Mindstorms NXT might just be the start of a whole new digital revolution.
Written by Jeffrey S. Young, Contributor
Could one product turn around the fortunes of a company that has been struggling?
If you’ve been following the personal robot space—perhaps an aficionado of the TV show RobotWars, or the proud owner of a Sony Sebo or dependent on Roomba—you’ve got to feel a thrill at the news that Lego is going to release a new programmable robot system later this year.  In my opinion Lego's Mindstorms NXT might just be the start of a whole new digital revolution. And it could be the answer to the troubles facing the company as well.
In my household, where an 8 year old boy resides, Lego building kits were long a major fixture at every birthday and holiday holiday gift giving.  Until about a year ago.  That was when he realized that although he was fascinated by the process of building the kits—following the directions, and creating the space age vehicles, planes, and rocket stations—he quickly lost interest after he had completed the models.  He would fly the models around in his imaginary wars, but soon they were relegated to a shelf.  It was the building that he loved, and since Lego has missed the idea of reuseability—well, maybe that was part of the design—there was nothing more he could create with each kit once the basic device was conquered.
Maybe the Mindstorms NXT will change all that and help resurrect the nobility of hands on skills.
Ever since the personal computer graduated from the hobbyist and soldering gun set with the arrival of the IBM PC in 1981, the promise of the revolution has been hobbled.  What started out as a tinkerer’s dream, the latest in a proud tradition of American mechanics and builders like the hot rodders and car buffs from the fifties and sixties, turned into an abstract universe driven by programmers.  Software was the secret sauce of the PC generation, and those who could sling code succeeded—the Internet is the latest software universe—while grease monkeys were relegated to second class citizens.
But building a robot like this requires a combination of hardware and software and they have to work together perfectly.  I know my son will find this absolutely fascinating, and I like the fact that the one kit can be used to create many different projects.  Although I don’t like the $250 price tag, I’m sure I’ll find a way to get one.  And maybe, just maybe, if the folks at Lego can play it right they’ll also create a social network where all of the robot designers can share tips and secrets and challenge each other.  MyRobot.com?
Take me to your leader!
Editorial standards