Mindstorms EV3 are the latest edition of Lego’s programmable robotic expansion. The newest model incorporates new sensors, and an app that allows the robots to be controlled by waving around your iOS or Android device.

This is the brain of the operation, the Linux-based Intelligent Brick that is made to be hacked.

The snake character makes use of the kit’s new IR sensors. When you wave your hand in front of its head, it lunges to bite you. The snake can be controlled via an iPhone app as well.

But Mindstorms itself is being sold through the framework of five characters, like a scorpion. Look closely, and you’ll see balls lodged in the scorpion’s tail--they can be launched on command, and fly with surprising velocity.

There’s also this mohawk guy …

… and a rover. They’re partly the creative vision of Lego, partly the results of studying how kids interact with robotic toys.

Co.Design

Lego Unveils Mindstorms EV3: A Robot Kit That's iPhone-Controlled

It’s Lego’s first major update to their programmable line of robots in six years--a redesign to be more social, connected, and approachable for kids and adults alike.

A lot has changed since 2006. Social networks rule. Smartphones are no longer a luxury for the geek elite. And every kid knows the word “app.”

So maybe it’s only natural that each of these ideas worked themselves into Lego Mindstorms EV3, Lego’s first major refresh of the Mindstorms line since 2006. If you aren’t familiar, Mindstorms are Lego’s programmable robotic parts--a brain, motors, and sensors--that interface with their Technic line.

“Children today don’t perceive robots as industrial machines. A robot is something of a character. It has a personality. It could be humanoid or an animal, but certainly something with a mind of its own," technology concept lead Oliver Wallington explains. “People might say 'iPhone--that’s the way Lego fashion should go!' But really, when you build an iPhone into a Lego Technic model, they just clash. We have to complement the models.”

So while the Mindstorms kit is intended to fuel infinite creativity, it’ll be marketed with five “character” designs, which were partly inspired from Lego’s conversations with children themselves. One design is a snake, while another is a humanoid, while yet another is a rover-like tank. The idea is to appeal to almost any child’s particular interests, using characters as a gateway into creation.

“The play, look, and feel has been modeled for children,” global project lead Camilla Bottke adds. “But the hardware has been made to also embrace adult users.”

So Mindstorms walks an interesting line of approachability and depth and youth and maturity. It’s designed very intently to be playable within 20 minutes without anything more than a few nonverbal instructions, what the company calls a “Christmas morning” appeal. It helps that Mindstorms now include IR sensors (allowing simple remote control). Additionally, each Mindstorms block holds the basics to programming--a single setting--that can be activated on the body, while the rest of the options lurk on a computer. So a motor can be set to start and stop, or aimed in a particular direction, right on the brick.

But to delve deeper, to make the motor skid or do other advanced maneuvers, the bricks will need to sync via USB or Bluetooth to a computer. In fact, to appeal to adult engineers, the Intelligent Brick (brain) will even run Linux and support SD storage expansion along with Wi-Fi dongles. It’s “future proofing,” we’re told, that’s intended to promote long-term hacking by a global community. Because in the cloud, kids and adults alike will be able to share their programs in an open-source environment, uploading code for others to download into their creations. It’s like Lego’s Github.

Of course, we haven’t even gotten to the iOS and Android support yet. The details of these apps still seem to be in the works, but no doubt they could prove to be even more essential to programming the next wave of Mindstorms than a PC, assuming Lego digs that deep with the UI. One need only look at the success of Atoms Express, an iOS-based Kickstarter project much like Mindstorms, to recognize the potential here.

Mindstorms EV3 will be available in the second half of 2013 for $350.

See more here.

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5 Comments

  • This is a good-ish product. The interface for programming is pretty simplistic, but I guess it's a good start for children. I run it on Linux for some students and they do seem pretty happy with it, although they really start to lose interest when I start showing them the Python API. It's a little frightening that we are being trained to think that programming should be a bunch of colored boxes that you drag around on screen, but when you tell someone to find the logarithm of a number, they have no idea where to begin.

  • 乃亜 印場

    I think that the MindStorms products are awesome, I would have loved to had them when I was a kid - I have to take some issue with the opening lines.
    >Social networks rule. They main thing they rule for me is the spam in my Inbox.  The signal-to-noise ratio seems to have been dropping if anything lately.  They are popular, of course, but that doesn't mean they are useful for anything other than finding long lost middle school friends.  There are also plenty of people who don't "do" social networks.>Smartphones are no longer a luxury for the geek elite. They're not?  You could have fooled me.  Smartphones don't even come close to accounting for half of all mobile phones sold.  In many countries having any mobile phone is indeed a luxury item.  Also, here in "high tech" japan, many people's feature phones were enough better than overseas models that there isn't as much incentive to upgrade to an Android or iOS device.>And every kid knows the word “app."
    Every kid who has a smart phone, maybe.  They know the *abbreviation* for application.  Applications are hardly a new thing.  I knew about them on the Apple II when I was very young.

  • Iikka Vaartëla

    Kinda makes you wish this stuff would have existed, when I was a kid.