When Lego released its original Robotics Invention System in 1998, the idea that MIT know-how could be used in toys was novel. Today, MIT has a dedicated Toy Lab and Lego rules the market for build-it-yourself androids. On September 1, the latest in its line of snap-together bots, the Lego Mindstorms EV3, went on sale to the public.
The EV3 has got more of everything: Instructions for 17 different robots, a faster processor, larger memory, better servo motors and touch sensors. And a bigger price tag too ($350). One of the biggest breakthroughs is the instruction manual; the paper version has been replaced with an iPad app that lets you rotate the pieces in 3-D. This makes building easier, speedier, and more fun. Lego also introduced a "Robot Commander" app that lets you program and control your creation from a smartphone.
The reviews of EV3 so far are overwhelmingly positive. But instead of offering my own walkthrough of the R3PTAR, a three-foot-long snake-bot I built with my 8-year-old son that strikes out with red fangs when it senses nearby motion, I asked Marc-Andre Bazergui (known in the Mindstorms builder community as Bazmarc, and the creator of Wall-E NXTfied) to teach me how to snap together a bot that isn't in the instruction manual.
Bazmarc says he starts with a concept first, then figures out how to put the components together to fulfill his vision. Then, like any good engineer (he works for IBM), he tries to create the most motion and functionality using the fewest possible number of pieces. Walking through the "Hero" models that are on the Mindstorms box is still important, as it turns out, because the components are modular--like the support structure around the IR sensor that measures distance and detects movement--and they can be latched on to a model of your own make.
He explains it all in the video at the top of this page.
Lego liked Bazmarc's Pixar homage so much that they've included it as a bonus model. It's been renamed the "KRAZ3" and includes a cute IR-controlled bug that follows it everywhere.