Saturday, July 26, 2008

LSketchIt - Using Sketches and Retrieval to Create LEGO Models

Despite not yet available for TECHNIC models, I thought it worth to mention it here.

A couple of Engineering students from "Department of Computer Science and Engineering" at "INESC-ID/IST/Technical University of Lisbon" developed a system to create LEGO models using sketches.
The LSketchIt is a calligraphic tool for creating LEGO models that uses sketches and retrieval to ease and speed up the modeling process.

The result of this work was a prototype and one paper which were presented at Annecy (France) in the "fifth Eurographics workshop on sketch-based interfaces and modeling".
The prototype was based on the LeoCad system and supports ldraw files (.dat, .ldr). Regarding the user interaction with this tool calligraphic interface, it is made using sketches, mouse gestures commands and relies on a strong part retrieval algorithm.
See one video demonstrating this innovative interface below, which was previously also tested by a few PLUG members.

... certainly something here that deserves further investment and additional development trying to expand its applicability into additional LEGO themes according to their specificities.
IMHO, these are the kind of small advancements that makes the world move forward.

According to the authors words on the paper abstract,

"In this paper we describe a system to create LEGO® models using sketches. Although there are a few applications to create LEGO models, they are difficult to use, mainly due to the searching and manipulation mechanisms that they (do not) offer. Here, we propose a sketch based approach, where users can easily insert parts, by specifying their dimensions through sketches and the system suggests a list of possible parts. To help with the modeling and the manipulation we also developed a constraint based mechanism, which keeps parts connected, performs snap-to-grid and detects collisions. Experimental tests with users revealed that our approach is easier and faster to use than a conventional application, such as LeoCAD."

If you have interest for reading scientific papers, you may find it here.

Week TechVideo, 2008 #30 - MAN Dump Truck

Today I'd like to highlight a 'Dump Truck' or 'Garbage Truck' from Michael Andersch, with already some time.

This model uses an RCX and the Code Pilot (or barcode scanner) from 8479 (... what a cool set this also...) which is used to generate a speed-dependent motor sound. Also according to the author, it took about 60-70 hours to build.
One of the details, people seem to like most in this model is the way it shakes twice before the can gets lowered back to the ground.

It looks like the author requested YouTube to disable this video embedding capability , so the only way to watch it is through the source.
It is now fixed. Thanks Michael!

More detailed photos, can be seen at the author's BS folder, here.

This was however Michael's 2nd design for this kind of vehicle. See photos from the first model also at this other BS folder, where you can find also the correspondent video.

Friday, July 25, 2008

LEGO Education unveils WeDo

LEGO Education (The LEGO Group's educational division) announced WeDo, a new product that redefines classroom robotics as they said.
The new product is expect to become available at first in US and Brazil beginning January 2009, and later at different regions.

WeDo is targeted for elementary school students with 7-11 years of age and its concept actively involves students in their own learning process and promotes children's creative thinking, team-work and problem solving skills.

Cause and effect learning is enhanced by the models which remain tethered to a computer while children, like scientists working in labs, can test and adjust their programs in real time. After reflecting on what did and did not work, students can consult with peers, adapt the programming, adjust models or begin again.

The complete package (9580) will include:
  • 158 LEGO brightly colored elements, including gears and levers.
  • One LEGO USB Hub connects directly to a PC.
  • One PF M-motor, one motion sensor and one tilt sensor.
  • Drag-and-drop icon-based software that provides an intuitive and easy-to-use programming environment (once more and like NXT produced in collaboration with National Instruments).

Not a TECHNIC product in its essence but believe, despite remaining tethered to a computer, that hard-core TECHNIC fans will find good use for it also.

For extra information, checkout the WeDo info at LEGO Education website.

Via, The Brothers Brick

Thursday, July 24, 2008

LEGO Education - Mechanisms Pneumatics Add-On Set

A new set from LEGO Education, is available for pre-order.

It calls "Mechanisms Pneumatics Add-on Set" (W979641) and it is great news because it not only confirms what LEGO said before [1], that LAs are not intended to replace the pneumatic cylinders, but they even invested on further developing the pneumatics with new parts and colors.

Below the images from some models/activities proposed on the set activity pack. This however an ad-on set with 31 parts, which requires the "Mechanisms Set" (W979632) to build all the models proposed.

The set includes a lot of new and specialized pneumatic parts, like:
  • One manometer which is a totally brand new part. Not very useful for regular constructions, but of great utility for educational purposes.
  • One air tank, this time in a new color (white). So air tanks are back which hopefully will make their price decrease at markets like BrickLink.
  • One large pneumatic pump, also into a new color (trans- medium blue as it seems to be).
  • Two large pneumatic cylinders in the same new color.
  • One small pneumatic cylinder also in the same new color.
    But if you look into the picture of the box, it looks we get also a transparent small size pneumatic pump.
  • Three pneumatic valves.
  • Nice colored pneumatic hoses.
  • And several other parts...

The transparent colors on the pneumatics are very nice, but mainly they are very adequate for educational purposes also.

Target price is $55,00 in US and is now available for pre-order.
Most likely and as usual it will not be so easy to buy in Europe, as these sets do not use to be available to purchase online, in this region of the world.

Below, the original text that describes the product online,

"The Mechanisms Pneumatics Add-On Set is part of a complete package. Combining the set with the Motorized Mechanisms Set and Mechanisms Activity Pack enables you to carry out engaging cross-curricular activities. Your students will explore power systems and components, sequence and control, pressure, prototyping, kinetic and potential energy, and much more. The set and corresponding Mechanisms Pneumatics Activity Pack feature 14 principle model activities that introduce students to the basics of pneumatics. In addition, four main models and activities and two additional open-ended problem-solving activities thoroughly educate students about pneumatics. The set features 31 specialty elements, including pumps, cylinders, valves, an air tank, tubes, and a manometer."

Thanks for the tip, Mike (Parax)!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Week TechVideo, 2008 #29 - Scuba building

A crazy bunch of guys, grouped in something they call PLUG, joined for another club meeting (which they call PLUGfests) two weekends ago. It happened in the north of Portugal at Quinta dos Agros, Marco de Canavezes (MdC).
This time and because they have a Navy professional diver among them, they organized a dive baptism for the ones who hadn't done it yet before. With scuba bottles and everything else required...

So, what do they remembered to do? Well,... probably the first LEGO sets built under water!?

See below, the video for the TECHNIC representative (8418).

Another one (although a non-TECHNIC set) can be seen at PLUG Channel on YouTube.
The second building (snorkeling this time) was a Racers set, built with the respective parts still inside their original and sealed polybag.

Monday, July 14, 2008

TBs TechReview 04 – New parts included with 8297, Off Roader

Even before a full review of the new Off Roader (8297), I decided to go for a detailed look on the new TECHNIC parts coming with it.

These are:

  • PF Pole-Reverser
  • PF Lights
  • New and shorter U-joint design
  • New differential design
  • New and shorter suspension arm

The first three, can also be acquired for spare with the new PF Motor Set (8293) which includes one Pole-Reverser one Lights set and two U-joints.

A fellow LEGO Ambassador (Didier Enjary, for FreeLUG) sent me some scan images from the new PF Pole-Reverser, inner details (images and comments below).
This time I was the one who got life saved for one brand new PF part (thanks Didier! ;))

Most of the remaining images in this post were also sent by another TBs reader from UK (Mike Hatton, Parax), despite being also available at his BS folder.

The PF Pole-Reverser

The inner side...

This is the new PF generation of the former TECHNIC Pole-Reverser (6551).
It features:
  • The switch reverses C1/C2 but, of course, not Ground/9V (read about on the PF RC Protocol specification, here).
  • There is a neutral position (three cranks).
  • There is a little black switch. It also reverses polarity but there is no cranks...
    You can miss the fact it is in a centered position (neutral) and then you may think the switch is out of order.

The main differences to the former version that I see, are:
  • One wire is now permanently attached.
  • There is no center anymore able to rotate and inverting polarity continuously (driven by a motor for instance, if no handle is in use). This feature made possible some special arrangements in the past.
  • Handle is now able to turn about 15º maximum, in each direction.

The PF Lights

The PF lights constitute a great addition to the TECHNIC sets and will certainly find a wide range of applications.

Each cable includes two lights and assumes an 'Y' configuration.
At one end there is a PF connector (top and bottom) and at the other other side, two ends with one LED each.
In the middle, the point where the two LED cables separate has a black 2x2 brick (standard height), which is unexpectedly large for the purpose... :(

The LEDs seem to be about medium brightness, so hopefully they shouldn't "eat" too much power from the battery.
The LEDs form factor is also such that they fit into any TECHNIC pin hole, like those in the TECHNIC bricks and beams (thinner or thicker), any brick tube and the bottom of any 1x1 round plate for instance (however a bit loose in these last two cases).
In conjugation with any colored transclear part, these LEDs can produce a cool colored light effect.
Each cable is 400mm length which comprises 245mm (LEDs to middle brick), plus 155mm (middle brick to PF connector).

The new and shorter U-joint

The new U-joint is a shorter version from the previous ones, which appears with several of the new 2008 TECHNIC sets (2x in 8293, 2x in 8294, 4x in 8297).
Below a photo with the three generations of U-joints, LEGO ever made.
From left to right, the first and definitely the strongest one (1972), the modern (1977) design which proved to be relative weak under high torque conditions and the new and shorter design (2008) still to prove...

I've already commented about the new U-joint at the Excavator (8294) review, anyway I'll copy it here too.

"...the new U-joints (3rd generation), whose main characteristic is the fact they got a shorter length. 3L instead of the 4L in the former version (already 31 years old). This shorter version will allow to use them, where it was impossible to do before and is of special interest to route the driving axles into the new LAs. One of the main concerns about this new U-joints was their potential fragility, which was already the main problem from the former version, as they are know to easily break under high torque conditions. Hopefully TLG may have improved this fact as they look a bit brighter than usual, which may suggest a different kind of ABS being now used also for this part. I can't be sure, so we will see once the users reports will start to come."

The new differential

With the new Off Roader, there comes also one differential with a new design.
This new design is also the 3rd generation of the LEGO TECHNIC differentials, as illustrated below.

At center the first generation from 1980, on the right the 2nd generation from 1994
and on the left the new design (2008).

Again the new differential is smaller than its predecessor (3L wide in opposition the former 4L version), however it uses inside the same 12 teeth bevel gears as before (only the 1st generation used different ones).

Because it is thinner, both clutch gears (16 and 24 teeth) on the previous design have disappeared... which may mean that the new differentials can't be blocked anymore!? :(
Instead, it got a 28 teeth bevel without clutch.
The other extreme got no gear but its design with four inner tabs, suggests there is still an hope for a future clutch mechanism, despite it is incompatible with actual Driving Ring and Driving Ring Extension. Lets see if LEGO designers have new Driving Ring on the way for the future, to address this issue.

The differential 28 teeth gear, has a few shorter teeth (easily seen at the 2nd image above) because of a mystery slot... the wider (shallow) slot is for the present bevel gears but the deeper narrow slot is for something else... (it is too narrow for a linkarm). Because of the slot, the bevel gears only go in from one side and don't drop through!

As bevels tend to slip quite easily, the shorter teeth can make this even worse... Lets wait and see what other users will report about this new part.
The new design has other disadvantages,
  • It only interfaces it other bevel gears, which forces transmission to be perpendicular.
  • Can't be used with a chain.
  • Can't be used with standard or worm gears.
With all these limitations, hopefully this won't be the only differential in use by the LEGO TECHNIC Designers, for the future...
As AVCampos wrote in a comment to another post, lets hope "this new differential won't completely replace its predecessor, but rather supplement it where size matters".

This new differential easily meshes with a 20 teeth double bevel, as in the present Off Roader design.

In the central part of the differential, we can see a block that prevents internal bevel gears from bending, which used to make them slip and lead to breaking gears.

The new and shorter suspension arm

And at last there are also new and smaller compact steering arms (towball couplings).
TECHNIC designers have used several versions of similar parts in the past, to design many vehicles steerings and suspensions, whose details have evolved along the time.

The new part got,
  • 1L shorter ('5.5 x 2' against previous '6.5 x 2'), which is in concordance with also shortened U-joints.
  • Chamfered towball couplings, to allow for greater angles
  • A mix of pin-hole and axle-hole on the sides, for greater flexibility and in accordance with new design practices like in the Linear Actuators bracket design.

The new part on the left and a comparative with an older one, on the right.

In resume, this seems to be the set where appart the new PF elements, everything new got shorter and smaller... :)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Week TechVideo, 2008 #28 - Playing with the mouse

Found this funny...

An hamster with a private elevator in its cage, made of TECHNIC and MINDSTORMS parts. :P
How persistent he can be... an example of perseverance!

TBs TechReview 03 – 8294, Excavator

Set reference: 8294
Set name: Excavator
Release date: 2008.Jul

Number of parts: 720 + few spare parts

Model under review:
Main model (Excavator)
Weight: 590gr (1,30lb)
Approximate set dimensions:
Lowered/extended arm - 47cm (18,5") long; 16,5cm (6,5") width and 19cm (7,48") high
Raised/extended arm - 36,5cm (14,4") long; 16,5cm (6,5") width and 38,5cm (15,2") high
Approximate box dimensions:
Height - 6,8cm (2,68")
Width - 38cm (15")
Length - 38,2cm (15")

Stickers: Yes
Building instructions: 2 books (48 and 48 pages), with 38 major building steps for the main model
B-model: Tracked Dumper (downloadable instructions online)

Recommended for ages: 9 - 16
Building difficulty level: Medium
Estimated building time: 2 - 2,5 hours

Price range: $59,99 (US) / 49,95€ - 69,95€ (EC)
Price per part: 8,3 cents / 6,9 - 9,7 euro cents

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

Today we have the first TECHNIC set review at TBs . I'm using a brand new review template not yet tested, which I'd expect to be of your satisfaction and to fine tune in the future, according to your feedback.

The package and contents

Here some images from this set box. It is a medium sized box and usually quite larger than required for its contents. While it looks nice on the shelves for the general costumer, it is a problem for the collectors who want to keep the boxes.
On the backside you may find mainly images from the main model in combination with the PF Motor Set (8293) and the B-model which is a Tracked Dumper.
The box design has two seals in the front and the perforated top that flips up, which turns to be a relative solid casing.

As for the contents, you may see them also below.
A few bags (5) numbered and two large parts in the box (One 8x16 DBG tile and one 8x10 digger bucket). Includes also the manuals and one sticker sheet.

The building instructions are divided in two books for the main model. They are nearly A4 sized, with 48 pages each and 38 major building steps for the main model. I've found no errors in these.
B-model didn't get any instructions included in the box, but they are expected to be available for download at the TECHNIC instructions webpage from LEGO Costumer Service, in the near future (Which is according to the actual trend for B-model instructions, presumably to save costs and the environment. Despite many comments on this, a positive measure I would say. :)
In the end of the second book you will find an inventory of included parts (spares not accounted) which is now also a standard and represents a very positive progress.
Just before, in the same book, you get also detailed instructions to integrate the main model, with the PF Motor Set elements (8293). With them you can integrate a PF M-Motor to operate the boom, dipper/bucket and a PF Pole-Reverser that avoids the need to act on the PF Battery Box which is assembled in the bottom of the drive train. But of course you may also easily integrate the PF Lights included with the same 8293 set.
Others already went even further by motorizing other functions like the turn table, or independent motors for boom and dipper/bucket (like Martyn, here).

The numbered bags intend to make the construction easier and faster by using parts from a specific bag for each instructions section. In my opinion it wouldn't be exactly required for such medium sized set, specially when we can find much larger TECHNIC sets with with no numbered bags. But I'm suspect to speak as I prefer to open all bags and put the parts together in the box before start to build.

The new parts

This set comes with a few new parts which is one of its main interests as I'll explain ahead.

Inside you will find a pair of the new TECHNIC Linear Actuators (from which a lot have been written recently) and respective brackets from one single kind though (the PF motors adapter appears just one exemplar at the also new, Telescopic Handler, 8295).
For a more detailed analysis of these new parts, take some time to read this post.

It includes also two of the new U-joints (3rd generation), whose main characteristic is the fact they got a shorter length. 3L instead of the 4L in the former version (already 31 years old). This shorter version will allow to use them, where it was impossible to do before and is of special interest to route the driving axles into the new LAs.
One of the main concerns about this new U-joints was their potential fragility, which was already the main problem from the former version, as they are know to easily break under high torque conditions. Hopefully TLG may have improved this fact as they look a bit brighter than usual, which may suggest a different kind of ABS being now used also for this part. I can't be sure, so we will see once the users reports will start to come.

In my opinion the new parts are the main interest of this set, because it is the smaller and cheapest one, at the same time it is the unique to come with two LAs. So it will be one of the most effective ways in the short term to get LAs at a reasonable price. I guess this is an argument more than enough to make this set a best-seller and to invite many of us to buy several (I've ordered four of them...).

The part assortment

This is a studless set, without even one TECHNIC brick part included. However it is a good set for anyone who wants to start with TECHNIC and get an interesting assortment of parts, like gears, treads, beams, a turntable, etc...

With this set, color coding of parts like: gears, pins and axles continues as a trend of the actual TECHNIC line.
It makes the building experience easier, mainly the part searching process. On the other end turns the sets more colorful which may not be so nice looking for everybody's taste.

Parts color used in this set, are mainly red, dark bluish gray and black (small accessory parts like TECHNIC pins, axles, gears, etc... not considered). Despite not a common color for this kind of machines, it is positive that something different from the usual yellow was chosen for a building machine. Of course still not my personal which to see a TECHNIC set mainly made of orange parts... :P

The set

As wrote a few times here at TBs , Excavators are one of my favorite subjects for a TECHNIC model, so I got very happy when saw this would be a new model for 2008.
Despite it is much more functional than 8419 in 2005, I would loved if one of the largest TECHNIC sets have been dedicated to this type of machinery (maybe the next time...).
It is a sort of 8851, more than 20 years ago, made of modern and brand new parts. Of course with lots of extra potential made possible by all the PF elements now available.

In terms of design, we are in front of a very good exemplar, where beside a good set of functions it is also very a nice looking set. All design details look very well proportioned, from the drive train to the cab and the boom/dipper arm.

Despite I'm not personally favorable to the use of stickers (and haven't applied them for this review), I've to admit that even these small ones included, can contribute to improve the overall set looking.

Building experience

The set building starts with the drive train (below). Its construction is a bit monotonous because it includes 4 parts almost identical (the tread sprocket wheel blocks), however they are illustrated in two sequences to make it a little different. Then the completed track group from one side is just repeated once for the other side. In fact there is no other way, as a treaded excavator, is exactly that way!
The drive train includes the modern tread sprocket wheels and wide tread links. These could have been the new ones in black, instead of DGB, which would look also great in this model.
Found curious the use of a 2L axle with one bush at one side and on top of the drive train chassis. It might be used to prevent rotating the body continuously in the same direction if there is one or more PF cables (pole-reverser and/or lights) going from the battery box on the drive train to the cab, I think!?

The drive train, has enough space in the bottom, to accommodate a PF battery box and one or two PF M-motors to drive some functions.

The building sequence proceeds to the cab .
This is where the first LA and respective bracket fits. Movement transmission to the LA is accomplished by some 12 and 20 tooth bevel gears.
The transmission mechanism which allows to select between two functions, also fits inside the Excavator body. It uses a red transmission 'driving ring' which turned to be quite common in TECHNIC sets for selectable functions.

For Excavator boom and dipper/bucket manual operation, there is a double bevel gear on the cab backside.
Because the end-to-end mechanisms for both have the exact same gear reduction ratio (1:2,4) and the LAs need about 26,5 revolutions to fully extent/retract, the user just need to perform about 11 complete revolutions on the backside gear, to go from one end to the other (either boom or dipper/bucket).

The third an final step is dedicated to the boom, dipper and bucket arm.
There fits the second LA and respective bracket, where the rotating movement arrives with the two new sized U-joints. As I mentioned before this allows for more compact designs.
Bucket and dipper arm movements are combined together and actuated by the same LA on the top, while boom is actuated by the LA attached to the cab.

Below some images from the set, after completion.

The final part from the building instructions, is dedicated to the 8293 PF Motor Set integration with the main set.
The PF Battery Box goes to the bottom of the drive train. The PF M-Motor fits into the cab after some parts removal (function selection still available from the transmission box) and the PF Pole-Reverser lies behind the cabin (it's used to invert motor direction, without the need to slide the PF Battery Box switch on the bottom, to do the same.

Functionality and playability

This is a medium sized model with a rich set of working functions to play, for its size.
  • A transmission box where it can be chosen between two functions.
  • Realistic movements for the boom, dipper arm and bucket.
  • Brand new functional linear actuators, with lots of other applications.
  • Cab rotation on top of the drive train.
  • Realistic track chains.
  • Integration with PF elements for motorized functions.
  • Possible integration with PF lights, included in 8293 set, despite not documented into the building instructions.
It is in fact a very good and well designed model, which features a set of interesting functionalities.
However also the cab rotation could have been done some other way, than manual. Perhaps it was intentional to increase immediate movement experience in favor of playability, and we have to wait for a larger and remotely controlled Excavator to get a mechanism included here.
Despite the adoption of LA elements instead of the more realistic pneumatics, it is still a very realistic model, and of course a great opportunity to get those. ;)
It could certainly justify hours of amusement for any adolescent or even adults.


The 2nd model suggested by the designers for this set, is a tracked (what else could it be, to fit with parts from the main model ;)) loader or dumper, whatever you would like to call it.

The respective building instructions will be available for download from the LEGO Customer Service building instructions webpage, however still not available at the date when this review is being written.

From what it can be seen from the currently available images for this model, I would say it is a much less interesting or appealing construction. But it would be difficult to compete with the main model. ;)
At least the drive train looks to be identical.

Final thoughts

To conclude I'd like to say despite being a studless model, we don't have a feeling of emptiness, characteristic of many other studless sets. This is in my opinion a very positive aspect and definitly shows that studless models can really take a place in the most conservative TECHNIC fans.

As mentioned above, it would have been also a good idea to include the new black treads in this model. So I decided to give a it a try. ;)

The PF lights despite not considered in the instructions about the integration of the PF Motor Set, is also a good idea. Another try... ;)

The Ratings

as set value for money
for innovation
for set design
for functionality and playability
for quality (no issues with the exemplar received, like missing parts, parts color variation, defects, etc...)

Overall rate: Highly Recommended

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