Tag Archives: robotics

Winner of the Coolest STEM Toy Ever Award, 2018

The winner, hands down, of the GLB Coolest STEM Toy Ever Award for 2018 is The LEGO BOOST Activity Book by Daniele Benedettelli, and published by No Starch Press. This is the book that makes last year’s coolest STEM toy ever, the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox , come to life in a way that will truly advance a child’s learning and enjoyment of robotics.

In my household, we have certain carefully designed rules. The rules are invariant, but the implementation is collaborative and open. For example, Huxley must always be engaged in some sort of out-of-school and out-of-home learning activity. The most obvious way to do this is a class somewhere (which can, actually, be in school as an ECA). The decision of what that activity should be, however, is his. During part of the summer he typically chooses etiquette class or an art class. During the rest of the year, he takes a STEM class at our local Stem Builders Learning Center. Stem Builders does all sorts of things, like computer coding, cloud computing, robotics, etc. and Huxley mainly engages in engineering and robotics classes. Over the last two years I’ve observed what is taught in intro and mid level robotics, and how it is taught. I’ve also seen how two other programs that teach robotics, both in our school system, work. So I have a good idea of what a good robotics course looks like.

The robotic raw material used in most of these classes is LEGO based, similar to (but not the same as) the material provided with the recently invented and marketed LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox , which is basically a big fancy LEGO kit that is also a robot, and a few other things. The programming learning associated with these classes is absent, however, from that project. LEGO offers some additional computer programming information, but very limited, on its web site. Earlier in the year, I reviewed another No Starch Press book, The LEGO BOOST Idea Book: 95 Simple Robots and Hints for Making More! by Yoshihito Isogawa, which is a great book that allows you to take the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox to the next level with a plethora of projects you can build using only parts that come in that kit. The objective of Isogawa’s book is to provide a diverse array of suggestions for robotic LEGO builds.

But again, the home version of STEM learning that combines the pragmatic goal of learning to build (and thus, in the future, fight, I assume) robots, and the other pragmatic goal of learning to program stuff, is not the goal of that book.

The LEGO BOOST Activity Book does fill this need. It is the book that should have come with the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox. The toolbox does not have a programming manual, and there is nothing that comes with it, or that is available in parallel that I know of from LEGO, that hints at the power and potential of the programming interface.

The LEGO BOOST Activity Book starts out with instructions to build a basic robotic car called “Mario,” that looks enough like a Kart from Mario Kart to suggest a lawsuit. Mario is then used, again and again, in project after project, as the platform to explore dozens of robotic techniques, including diverse approaches to programming, the use of sensors, and various other moving parts.

That sequence, which takes up the majority of the book, looks a lot like a full semester class in robotics, spanning introductory to intermediate and early advanced techniques.

Following that there is a chapter on building BrickPecker, which is a robotic bird that sorts LEGO bricks by color. Unfortunately, it only sorts certain size and shape bricks and it will not rifle through your closet finding all the LEGO bricks and putting them in different containers.

Don’t believe the BrickPecker can be real? It has been captured of film:

After BrickPecker, there is a final chapter on CYBOT, a bipedal robot with the ability to talk, move its arms and fingers (all four of them on two hands), and fire a weapon. Once you’ve got the robot that can do those things, well, it is all over.

There is a massive section within the guts of the book that puts in one place the building techniques and principles needed to make things that do not fall apart easily, that move properly, and so on.

It is hard to believe there is so much stuff in this one book, but there is. One way that happens is the subtle but measurable increase in format for this volume compared to other coding and STEM books by this and other publishers.

This book came to me just in time to fill our holiday vacation. Huxley is going to return to his Stem Builder’s class in advanced mode in two weeks!

Even though the The LEGO BOOST Activity Book uses only bricks that are to be found in the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox , there is a parts list Supp_LegoBoost_PartList in case you’d rather get the parts that way. However, this list does NOT contain the and seemingly unavailable as separate parts motor and brain elements in the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox . This list will probably be of greatest use to identify and then order parts that went down the heating vent or up the vacuum cleaner tube, or if you want to get extra creative and expand on the ideas in The LEGO BOOST Activity Book.

Daniele Benedettelli is known worldwide for his original LEGO robots, including his Rubik’s Cube solvers and his humanoid robots. As a LEGO MINDSTORMS Community Partner (MCP), he helps to test and develop new MINDSTORMS products. He gives educational presentations and workshops on Information and Communications Technology around the world and teaches robotics at the high school level. Benedettelli holds a master’s degree in Robotics and Automation from the University of Siena in Italy.

Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot

The Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot V1.1 is an add on for the Makeblock DIY mBot 1.1 Kit (Bluetooth Version) – STEM Education – Arduino – Scratch 2.0 – Programmable Robot Kit for Kids to Learn Coding & Robotics – Pink or any of its variants.

The makeblock robot is an arduino technology robot. It can be controlled with a supplied controller, or operated from any of several different kinds of computing devices (such as your cell phone) using an app. It can be programmed using the Arduino interface (from a Mac, Windows or Linux computer), but the robot comes with built in capabilities so you won’t need to do that to operate it. Note that the app-based controls provide more functionality than the hand held IR control.

But here we are talking about making that robot into a six legged insect with an add on package.

The add on package consists of the leggy parts of the photograph above. With this add on installed, the robot walks instead of rolls on wheels.

I love the Makeblock Robot and this is a great add on, but before you start investing in this system you need to know a couple of things.

Makeblock itself makes well designed and interesting robots and add ons, but they also produce several slightly different versions of everything they do. They all seem to work fine but there are many differences you will want to track. For instance, when buying a robot make sure you get one with bluetooth, because you will enjoy controlling the robot with your phone, where you will have more options than with the supplied IR controller. When choosing a leg upgrade, there are several options, though I think they all have the same basic parts. Each expansion pack allows you to make a six legged robot (the beetle robot) or a mantis robot, or a crazy frog robot. The kits I know of are:

  • Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robotby Makeblock
  • Makeblock Add-on Pack: Six-legged Robot Designed for mBot
  • Makeblock mBot STEM Six-Legged Robot Add-On Pack
  • Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot Enjoyable Funny Tool Kids Adults Xmas Gift for Learning Programming Promote Creativity
  • Makeblock Flagship Store – Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot by Makeblock
  • Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot V1.1
  • I would go for the cheapest one, which at the moment, is this one. Whatever you do, don’t spend more than about 30 bucks.

    The basic idea is this: The main back wheels of the mBot robot serve as cams for a set of levers. To get a six legged robot, the first lever is attached off center to the wheel, and thus acts like a piston as the wheel rotates. This then drives all the other levers in a series of crude step like movements. The other variants use a similar principle.

    Tips and hints for building the mBot legged robot extensions:

    This is a DIY kit. Therefore, the manufacturers have less than the usual interest in keeping their product exactly the same for every iteration. This probably contributes to the plethora of seemingly similar but maybe slightly different versions. So, the first hint is to look at the pictures and descriptions closely to see if you can figure out exactly what you are getting, and then, don’t expect the instructions to necessarily exactly match the product. They usually do, but beware.

    If something doesn’t seem quite right, check the instructions to see if you screwed up. Whether or not you screwed up, remember: DIY project. Fish some additional bits out of your box of extra parts, figure it out.

    The biggest limitation of the robots, especially the six-legged version, is the surface on which they are walking. I have two suggestions that may allow them to be able to turn on a carpet and to keep traction on slipper tile. First, maybe add length to the legs so the thing rides up higher. Second, add feet. Feet that provided a bit more traction would help on tile. Perhaps a simple wrap of electric tape will do this. Feet that are flat attached to the bottom of the legs, like little snow shoes, should both increase traction and allow better turning on shag carpets. If you are going to have this robot chase around your cat, you are going to have to handle a variety of surfaces. We are playing around with some of these ideas.

    The kit comes with what are called “lock nuts.” But really, they are “hard to screw on nuts.” They are designed to not unwind themselves to fall off this highly energetic device. Two hints will make their use more effective.

    -use a socket from a socket wrench kit to hold the nuts when you are screwing in the bolt.  This will work better then the little wrench the kit supplies, or your fingers.
    -there may be some places where the instructions don't tell you to use a lock nut, but you will want to anyway.  You will discover these when the nuts start falling off as you use the robot.
    In the six legged build, shown at the top of the post, notice that the wheels do not have their tires.  Take the tires off. In our kit, the instructions did not say to do that. 

    Instructions for making the Mantis, and Crazy Frog configurations

    The six legged adapter kit allows you to make three configurations. The most complex one is the Beetle, which uses six legs. The other two, Crazy Frog and Mantis, are much simpler.

    Instructions are provided to make the Beetle. To make the other two, look at the back of the box and, well, DIY!

    Notice that with the Mantis, I think you keep the tires on the back wheels. With the crazy frog, you take the tire off.

    Have fun!

    Lego Technic Builder’s Guide

    The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide by Pawet “Sariel” Kmiec (Second Edition) tells you how to build machines, models, robots, etc. that will work.

    screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-46-11-pmYou need to construct these things in a way that ensures they won’t easily fall apart, and that requires a certain amount of engineering. There are some fairly expensive and specialized Lego Technic pieces that you may not have on hand, and this book can help you emulate them. How do you matcha motor or servo to a specific task? You need to know some stuff to make that decision sensibly. How do you make a transmission? Or an independent suspension?

    And, very importantly, how do you manage the backlash that is “the gaps between mating components.” That seems important.

    From the publisher:

    This thoroughly updated second edition of the best-selling Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide is filled with tips for building strong yet elegant machines and mechanisms with the LEGO Technic system. World-renowned builder Pawe? “Sariel” Kmiec covers the foundations of LEGO Technic building, from the concepts that underlie simple machines, like gears and linkages, to advanced mechanics, like differentials and steering systems. This edition adds 13 new building instructions and 4 completely new chapters on wheels, the RC system, planetary gearing, and 3D printing.

    screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-5-45-47-pmYou’ll get a hands-on introduction to fundamental mechanical concepts like torque, friction, and traction, as well as basic engineering principles like weight distribution, efficiency, and power transmission—all with the help of ­Technic pieces. You’ll even learn how Sariel builds his amazing tanks, trucks, and cars to scale.

    This beautifully illustrated, full-color book will inspire you with ideas for building amazing machines like tanks with suspended treads, supercars, cranes, bulldozers, and much more. What better way to learn engineering principles than to experience them hands-on with LEGO Technic?

    New in this edition: 13 new building instructions, 13 updated chapters, and 4 brand-new chapters!

    We’re only starting to mess around with techincs but there is a lot of hope for it. People are starting to combine arduino and traditional robotics, Lego and robotics, and arduino and LEGO Technic. Pretty soon, someone will be combining Arduino controllers, Raspberry Pi computers, LEGO technics, and the Cyberdyne Systems hardware, and we’ll all be history…

    But in the meantime, The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide will be our guide for the immediate future.