Saturday, August 30, 2014

TBs TechReview 38 - EV3 Discovery Book

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book
By Laurens Valk
Publisher: No Starch Press


This is the book I brought into my holidays to fill the resting periods.

It is a new MINDSTORMS book from Laurens Valk which succeeds his previous work with "NXT Discovery Book". Laurens is also a MINDSTORMS Community Partner (MCP) and author of Robot Square blog, who has a proven experience building robots with the LMS platform.



You will find this a very detailed and comprehensive book with a rich color graphics and clean design, which goes much beyond a set of instructions to build a few robots.

This books assumes no previous experience with either building or programming with LEGO MINDSTORMS. It starts with simple ideas and explanations about the EV3 brick connectivity and operation as well as its built-in interface navigation.



But soon it evolves into basic and more advanced programing concepts like single and multitasking, or the execution of simple but not trivial tasks like making your bot following a line. All this is complemented with further explanations on how these work and how to achieve these with LMS EV3 IDE.



But there is much to take in consideration to build robots that are not just functional but also stable and sturdy to navigate across our uneven world.
Because of this it is also important to understand the building system behind the LMS which is fully based on LEGO Technic elements. Hence there are full sections dedicated to help you master useful building techniques and providing hints with several solutions to build sturdy drivetrains.



While this book guides you to build some new robots with one 31313 kit, it also provides plenty of detailed technical explanations on the mechanical principles required to build these along with some challenges that help you really understand the concepts convered. Some examples like gear ratio calculations, predicting compound directions and gear ratios from certain drive trains, or understanding the movement associated with multi-bar linkages are examples we can see from the sample pages below.



And all these with the objective of building cool and simple or more complex robots, like those in the examples below and many more.



Here a list of robots you can build with the assistance of "EV3 Discovery Book".
  • EXPLOR3R, a wheeled vehicle that uses sensors to navigate around a room and follow lines.
  • FORMULA EV3 RACE CAR, a streamlined remote-controlled race car.
  • ANTY, a six-legged walking creature that adapts its behavior to its surroundings.
  • SK3TCHBOT, a robot that lets you play games on the EV3 screen.
  • The SNATCH3R, a robotic arm that can autonomously find, grab, lift, and move the infrared beacon.
  • LAVA R3X, a humanoid robot that walks and talks.

After all this is a book that could be very useful for those initiating into LEGO robotics, but also quite interesting and capable to develop further knowledge to those with already some experience into this field.


Find it at:
No Stark Press (here you can also download a few sample chapter for a deeper preview)
Amazon.com


Friday, August 29, 2014

TBs TechPoll 43 (Results) - About the mobile devices you intend to use your SBrick



It was a couple of weeks ago we ran a few polls trying to profile the future users of SBrick. Which mobile OS, screen resolutions and devices they are planing to use (provided they support BLE or they're Bluetooth Smart Ready).

There is not much to say about the results neither a big surprise with them. Most relevant is the OS distribution with a small overall preference for the Android devices.



Although the other results are not much relevant with exception to the SBrick developers, here they're anyway.


Now we're all just waiting to see the first SBricks shipping!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are these the 1H 2015 LEGO Technic sets?

2014 gave us 8 new LEGO Technic sets in the first half and another 3 in the second half.
Generally the amount of new sets has increased in the last years.

Apart the Super-packs we had the distribution below across semesters:

  • 2008: 4 + 4
  • 2009: 6 + 4
  • 2010: 6 + 4
  • 2011: 7 + 3
  • 2012: 6 + 3
  • 2013: 7 + 5 (including the special 41999 in the 2H, resulting from the last Technic competition; This was also the year where we missed a set from the initial leaked sets list, 42003)
  • 2014: 8 + 3

This year we got a first list of 2015 Technic sets from a Swiss Toy online shop (Max Bersinger AG).
Searching for the new references starting with 42, we find 9 new sets. Due to the increasing amount of sets I even thought if these were not already including the 2H sets, but guess not (never happened to get both at the same time and that soon).

Google Translator converts these into:
  • 42031 - Platform
  • 42032 - Compact Track Loaders
  • 42033 - Action Rocket Car
  • 42034 - Action Quad
  • 42035 - Dump Truck
  • 42036 - Street Motorcycle
  • 42037 - Formula Off-Roader
  • 42038 - Arctic Tracked Vehicle
  • 42039 - Long Distance Race Cars

I guess the plurals on 42032 and 42039 references are just a translation issue and we should look for the singulars.

The 42033 and 42034 references look like the Pull-Back equivalent models, we have gotten since the last two years, and 42039 might be the new 1H flagship - Some sort of Le Mans racing sport car or similar.

Hopefully we won't be getting another missed reference.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

TBs TechReview 37 – 42029, Costumized Pick up Truck

Set reference: 42029                                                                                                                                                               
Set name: Customized Pick Up Truck
Theme: LEGO Technic
Release date: 2014.Aug

Number of parts: 1063 (plus spares)

LEGO Designer: Lars Thygesen

Model under review: Main model
Weight: 1.000g (2.20lbs)
Approximate set dimensions:
Length - 41,0cm (16.1")
Width - 20,0cm (7.87")
Height - 19,7cm (7.48")
Approximate box dimensions:
Height - 27,8cm (10.9")
Width - 53,8cm (21.2")
Deepth- 8,8cm (3.46")

Stickers: Yes
Numbered bags: No
Building instructions: 2 booklets (84 and 84 pages): 1/2, 2/2

B-model: Forrest Skidder - Building Instructions available online only: 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

Recommended for ages: 10 - 16
Building difficulty level: Medium+
Estimated building time*: 2,5h - 4h

Price range**: 89,99 - 109,95€ / $US 99,99
Price per part**: 8,5 - 10,3 Euro Cents / $US 0,094

Inventory (Bricklink): Link
Other user reviews (Brickset): Link


*) Estimation range between experienced and beginner builders.
**) Prices based on lego.shop.com, which are country dependent.



2nd largest LEGO Technic set from this half is the 42029 Customized Pick Up Truck, an American style pickup with custom supercharger protruding from the hood, on top of a V6 engine.
Design responsibility laid on Lars Thygesen shoulders and seems it will become a popular model among fans. Let's see why.


1. THE PACKAGE AND CONTENTS

The Customized Pick Truck arrives in a mid sized box reasonably filled with LEGO bags. The most distinctive aspect is probably the fact that we never saw this type of box being used with LEGO Technic sets before. Unlike other box types usually used in LEGO Technic sets like the punch-to-open, card perforated side ears or lift-up cover, this uses the same style used for instance in most Creator sets and Modulars. This simple option makes it very  simple to flatten the box and store it in perfect condition and least space for those who like to store every LEGO box like me...
Although it does include the locking slit that larger similar boxes do, but that's a minor detail.


Since I've being doing unfolded views from the LEGO Technic boxes in the latest TBs reviews, here it is also for this set box.



As usual the rear side of the box puts some emphasis on the set functions, and in this case it also advertises the possibility for motorization with optional Motor Set kit 8293 and provided instructions. It is also from the rear side we get to see the B-model proposed for this set - a Forrest Skidder.


Like it happened with 42030 VOLVO L350F Wheel Loader also this set didn't deliver on the "Try Building Digital" logo promise from the first boxes shown in this year's Toy Fairs. The actual box does not include this reference and image anymore.



As I've tried to advance with a possible explanation already, I admit the main problem could have something to do with building instructions readability difficulties on mobile device displays for larger sets, or the high efforts which are currently necessary to spend in order to guaranty the tablet applications work properly with a reasonable range of devices and screen sizes/resolutions currently available in the market.
Another possibility is the full set of app developers being allocated to other digital projects for mobile apps projects, like LEGO Fusion.


Once opened the box the first thing I do is trying to find the instructions and stickers to avoid damaging them while removing the plastic bags with parts. Although these booklets arrived a little bit creased because they do not came inside plastic bag with card board, now usual for larger sets.



The sticker sheet arrived in perfect condition though.



And finally the ABS content...



Eleven bags and 4 loose tires come inside the box.


2. THE NEW PARTS

There are no new mold parts in this set, although there are two different panels never released before in red color.


Two 11x3 panels (Element ID 6064458 | Design ID 15458 Technic Panel Plate 1x3x11), and three 11x3 curved panels (Element ID 6036771 | Design ID 11954 Technic Panel Curved 11x3 with 10 Pin Holes through Panel Surface).


3. THE PARTS ASSORTMENT

Besides the panels with new colors shown above, there are a few other parts, which I'd highlight because of not being yet so common, or because they have not been available for already some time.



The 11x5 panel (Element ID 4541294 | Design ID 64782 Technic Panel Plate 1x5x11) is a good example of an element last released in a Technic set in 2009 and FLL sets in 2009/2010, and since then hiking to premium prices at BricLink and low availability.
The steering arm (Element ID 4523398 | Design ID 57515 Technic Steering Arm 6 x 2 with Towball Socket Rounded, Chamfered) never became a common element after its release in 8297 Off Roader from 2008 and 8070 Supercar from 2011.

The picture below gives you the overall list of elements included in the box.


A good assortment for those into building vehicles all kind!


4. BUILDING EXPERIENCE

We start building the real axle with independent suspension (sort of double wishbone) for each wheel and center differential.


It uses the newest wheel hubs (Element ID 6022949 | Design ID 11950 Technic Steering Portal with 2 Pin Holes) only used before with 42000 Grand Prix Race Car.

The chassis and bed tipper mechanism starts building around the rear axle we reach this.


Here we can barely see the main shafts of this vehicle functions going through the chassis. The connection from the rear axle to the engine in the front at an upper level. The front steering which connects to the vertical HoG axle behind the cabin. And at the topmost the tipper mechanism whose shaft connects to the switch box still missing at this point, but whose place we already clearly see.

From the other side of the switch box it will leave a shaft to command the front winch mechanism.
By the way here we have also a couple of views from switch box itself. This switch box drives two selectable functions which are the cargo bed tipping on the rear side and the winch at the front.


The changeover catch is interestingly used to simulate a gearbox stick in the middle of the seats in the cabin, as it happens to be exactly in the right place.

The building process proceeds with the cabin which is built on top of the switch box shown above, before getting attached itself to the chassis as we can see from the photo below.



Then we proceed with the V6 engine assembly with the respective supercharger in the top.



This goes immediately into place and you can see how the supercharger fits through the hood cavity.



And this is how we get the end of the first building instructions booklet.

The second booklet proceeds with the doors assembly immediately followed by the front steering axle. Again an independent double wishbone suspension geometry.




The next step consists in the assembly of the front winch. A relative common function at official LEGO Technic vehicles, but always built in different parts arrangement as the LEGO elements combinations are endless...



And we proceed with fairing details like the front grill, mudguards, hood completion and rear view mirrors. As well as some headlights going on the top of cabin. And this is how it looks like at this point already with some ferocious bear stickers applied and scratch marks...



We are approaching the end and it is time to build the bed tipper with respective rear mudguards that goes attached to this.
Some fairings on the lower side, a couple of stickers more, the indispensable wheels and that's it!



The rest of the build instructions are dedicated to show how the functions work, how to motorize this set with 8293 Motor Set kit, and some other 2014 LEGO Technic sets.
But let's not finish without showing you the bottom view of the chassis. Always an interesting view when comes to vehicles.



As usual some spares are included, but don't worry! Nothing too much that can't be carried inside the tipper...



This set was built online in a Google Hangout on Air session and you can see the recording of the live streaming here. Although and since I guess you may not be willing to waste almost 5 hours of your time seeing this, here it is also the time-lapse video where I build it much faster...



Can you beat this?


5. FUNCTIONALITY AND PLAYABILITY

This set can be played manually or trough motorization if using some elements from 8293 Motor Set. In either case the functions are nearly the same but only two of them can be motorized per the instructions included.

Main geared functions are:
  • Bed tipper (via switch box; manual or motorized with 8293)
  • Front winch (via switch box; manual or motorized with 8293)
  • Steering (manual via HoG)
Secondary geared and non-geared functions are:
  • Push-pull rolling (manual)
  • 4 wheel independent suspension (double wishbone)
  • V6 engine with moving pistons
  • Roof lights (with 8293)
Other non-geared functions are:
  • Openable cabin doors
  • Openable hood
  • Openable bed tipper rear door
  • Adjustable seats reclination
  • Adjustable rear view mirrors

Let's grasp some of them in more detail:


Bed Tipper

The bed tipper is certainly the main function of this Pick-up model and it is characterized by a cargo bed that tilts towards the rear side of the truck, where there is also the door to easy the cargo unload.



Unlike every other bed tipper I have ever seen (yes it doesn't mean I had seen them all) which push the tipper from the underside to release cargo, 42029 features an unusual setup which works somewhat in the reverse way we would expect. The distension of the mini-linear actuator pushes the linkage and lowers the tipper, and retraction pulls the linkage while it lifts the tipper.
The images below try to make it clearer for you.



But if it was not the case, certainly these animations will do...



I doubt there is a significant mechanical advantage with this particular setup, but it seems to implement a good compromise to deal with the limits of the mLA internal clutch and the travel required for a complete tipping.
The last time we had seen a LA driven tipper was with 8052 Container Truck in 2010. It used a more regular lifting setup using the bigger size LA, but the B-model used some sort of inverted lifting mechanism similar to what we can see here.

Here some photos on how this tipper operates.




And again one sequence animation.



In what regards the tipper we can identify an easy opportunity for improvement.It lacks a lock for the rear door in its original version. This has the inconvenient of letting heavy cargo to fall out automatically once a certain tilt is reached. Such problem could have been prevented with a minimum of two or four extra parts like in the picture below, whether you want to have a lock at one or both sides.



The Suspension

As previously said about each suspension axle, this pick-up truck uses double wishbone (or a sort of in the rear axle) independent suspension in each wheel.

Unlike most of othe Technic vehicles released so far this one uses suspension travel limiters. Four Pin Connector Perpendicular 2 x 2 Bent (Element ID 4211880 | Design ID 44809) for the rear suspension and two Light Cover with Internal Bar elements (Element ID 4623199 | Design ID 58176) at the front suspension.


They are both limiting the suspension travel towards the bottom side, before the suspension spring reaches its limit, although the limit achieved is quite more effective on the rear suspension than in the front one.


It seems reasonable to assume these limiters are used to avoid the chassis raising too much because of the relative low weight of this model. I wonder if it would have been better to use the Soft Spring version rather the Hard version here used, but I admit it didn't because the front axle limit is almost doing nothing there and consequently a softer suspension would let the front to become lower.
Even the the vehicle forward facing attitude caused by the higher suspension the rear will be naturally eliminated once we put some load on the bed tipper.



Didn't made further tests with a softer suspension it as I'd need to dismantle and rebuild a considerable part of the model...


The video demonstration

And that's time for a short video demonstrating the functions built in this model.



Something else you'd like to know, just drop your questions in the comments to this post.


6. THE B-MODEL

There is not much I'd like to say about this except the obvious. The proposed 42029 B-model features a Forrest Skidder.



Nothing very knew to the LEGO Technic line-up except some specifics maybe, like the front blade in a forest machine. Otherwise forestry machines use to be quite common when it comes to B-models (maybe they're just an easy fit for some main models as they do not require very specific).

This one might look similar to the configuration below.


Maybe the red color is not a very common one among Forrest Skidder equipments though!


As a model it provides a very reasonable set of functions:
  • Push-pull rolling
  • Articulated steering
  • Lifts/lowers crane arm
  • Open/closes claw tool
  • Rear winch
  • V6 engine with moving pistons
  • Adjustable seat reclination
  • Adjustable rear view mirrors

Although the front blade doesn't raise.


Unfortunately the building instructions are only available online for download (although it is very positive to save the environment), but as usual this focus in the building steps only and lack any explanation on how the functions work as usual for the B-model instructions... :P
Not that these are very difficult to understand, but they are also not the functions of the main model and these are conveniently illustrated in the main model instructions, so it would be nice to have the same level of detail for the B-model.


    7. FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

    All in all this set offers quite a reasonable sort of elements if you're into building vehicles, maybe we could just wish a 4WD drivetrain instead of RWD, but that would be quite hard to achieve the way the front suspension is achieved and let's be fair, not a common feature at this scale.

    It is also a very good source for some newly introduced red panels and those 11x5 which had became quite rare in the mean time.


    Motorization

    Of the box motorization instructions cover just the functions attached to the switch box (bed tipper and front winch). There are inclusive some parts added to the main model with solely purpose of an easier integrations with the parts available from the motorization kit (8293).

    If you're aiming to do so, it won't be extremely difficult to pursue drive and steering motorization given you have the right skills. There is enough room in the chassis to do this and you just need to find adequate bracing solutions to the motors tight in place.
    Of course it just makes sense if you also aim for remote controlling, but even the PF IR Receiver can be easily fit in (e.g. in place of the passenger's seat).


    Aesthetics

    At first sight the used wheels may look a bit small for the overall model size. On the other end I feel the body quite slim for the chassis size which makes the wheels to protrude quite a bit too much IMO.



    From a side perspective the next size wheels are probably a better fit, but I leave it here for your own evaluation. Of course these keep protruding the same way as the originals.



    I've seen other proposals like the use of Power Puller wheels, but despite the nice looking those I feel completely ridiculous in this model unless you pretend for some sort of Monster Truck. But then it lacks adequate suspension, as the wheels touch the chassis too easily...




    In order to let you easily evaluate the model relative size I took a picture with the 2H2014 Technic flagship side-to-side..



    Very reasonably sized when compared to this year's flagship Volvo L350F.


    8. THE RATINGS

    Now that's time for the final Pros and Cons synthesis.


    PROS
    • Good parts assortment for those willing to build vehicles 
    • Reintroduces some parts that time made to become rare
    • Very good and realistic suspension
    • Very nice functions and enjoyable to play with
    • Can carry and lift a reasonable amount of load
    • Ready for motorization (some functions only)
    • Building is fun and not repetitive

    CONS
    • New parts resume to old elements introduced in new colors
    • Relative high price per part, given there are no PF elements included
    • Missing lock mechanism for the tipper door
    • B-model comes a bit repetitive within Technic portfolio
    • B-model instructions not included in the box and lacks demonstration on how the features work


      And now my individual ratings upon all the observations done until this point:

      AFC Concept Ratings
      Authenticity  (Does it looks authentic?)   
      Functionality  (Does it has the functions I would expect and do they work right?)   
      Challenging Build  (Is this set building experience challenging and interesting?)   

      Beyond AFC Ratings
      Parts Pack  (Is this set a good parts source?)   
      Parts Innovation  (Are there great new elements included?)   
      Set Innovation  (Is this set innovative in the Technic portfolio?)   
      Set Design  (Does it has some flaws?)   
      Playability  (How fun and easy is it to play with?)   
      Aesthetics  (Does it looks awesome?)   
      Value for Money  (Is this set worth its price?)   


      Overall Rating: Recommended  



      Take care with the bears!

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