Thursday, July 29, 2010

TBs TechTalk 03 - Interview with Blakbird

I recently interviewed Eric Albrecht (a.k.a. Blakbird) for Hispabrick Magazine. We talked about a number of things and I'd like to share part of the interview with you here on TBs . You can read the rest of the interview in Hispabrick Magazine 008.



Name: Eric Albrecht (aka Blakbird)

Age: 38

Occupation: Aerospace Engineer

Nationality: USA


Jetro: How did the idea of creating Technicopedia come about?

Eric: I started buying Technic sets in the late 1990's. I quickly bought all I could find on the store shelves and found that I was not sated and still wanted more. I knew almost nothing of the AFOL community at the time, but I found Lugnet and was able to search the set database there to see what other Technic sets existed. Based on nothing but the small images available there, I made a list of the other sets I wanted to acquire. At the time, I used mostly eBay to start collecting those sets from around the world. As I went along, I found that many of the sets were not what I expected from the picture, and were almost always better. This led me to expand my wanted list gradually until it included
everything...


Jetro: How many Technic sets do you own?

Eric: The short answer is "all of them".

The longer answer is more complicated. According to my Lugnet set list I own 287 sets although not every one of those is Technic. The other complication is what you consider to be a Technic set. I always considered the Expert Builder series to be on the list, but what about all the supplemental sets? From a collectibility standpoint I want to get all of them, but most of them aren't very interesting from the point of view of functionality since they are just extra parts. Later years get even more confusing because the Technic logo was put on various other products such as Star Wars, Racers, and some of the first Bionicle sets. I have all of the Star Wars Technic sets and all of the Racers that I personally consider to be Technic whether they actually have the logo on them or not. I consider Bionicle a wholly different
product than Technic and I no longer have any of those. I also don't consider Mindstorms to be Technic even though it uses Technic pieces. These are my own decisions and other people no doubt have different opinions.


Jetro: Which one was most difficult to get?

Eric: There were several times during my collecting when there was a "Holy Grail" that I just couldn't find and focused all of my energy. In the early days I did not know about Bricklink (or it didn't exist yet) and I was doing all my searching on eBay. I remember that I had an active search open for the 8862 Backhoe loader for 6 months before I was able to find a copy that was almost complete. Even then it was missing one of the big rear wheels (24x43). It turns out that particular part only exists in yellow in this one set so I thought I had no hope of replacing it. It sat on my shelf with no rear wheel for over 2 years until I found Bricklink. I now have 2 copies of this set but still don't have a box.

The 858 Auto Engines were also extremely difficult to find, even on Bricklink. This set cost more money per part than any other set I have even though none of the parts are very unusual.


Jetro: Asking you for your all-time favourite Technic set would probably be asking for the impossible, but could you narrow it down to maybe 5 or so? 

Eric: You're right, that is a very difficult request! Since I have so many, I tend to favor sets which are unusual or special in some way. I love all of the Auto Chassis sets although 8880 is my favorite. 8480 is near the top of the list because of its tremendous functions, beautiful looks, and unique subject. Both Control Centers (8094 and 8485) are incredibly clever and unusual as is the 8479 Barcode Multi Set. I can't neglect the 8868 Airtech Claw Rig with its pneumatic compressor. All 3 of the big F1 cars (8458, 8461, 8674) are magnificent and have incredible tires. Among the newer sets, I really like the 8421 Mobile Crane and the 8265 Wheel Loader.

That's more than 5 isn't it?


Jetro: What mechanism would you like to see in an official LEGO set?

Eric: The dual functions passing through a turntable I mentioned above is something which AFOLs had used for several years and many people were waiting for in an official set. Now that it has been done, another long time request is an electrically operated pneumatic valve.


Jetro: In one word, Liftarm or Technic Brick?

Eric: Technic Brick is two words. I like them both and both have their optimum uses. Liftarms are better for trusses and linkages, bricks are better for rigid structure and chassis. I hope the old bricks never go away completely.


Jetro: What is the secret to your fabulous renders?

Eric: I've only been rendering for 1.5 years. There's no secret that I could describe in this space except that it is all about lighting.

Just a few years ago, it was quite complicated to get a model converted from LDraw to POV-Ray. These days, if you have Travis Cobbs' LDView and Lutz Uhlmann's LGEO library (both of which are free), getting a very good quality render is trivially simple. Just export from LDView and the result is very, very good.

I take it a few steps farther by changing the part color definition, replacing the default point lights with area lights, and using a high dynamic range light probe with radiosity. You can read about most of that in Koyan's excellent tutorial on Brickshelf. Occasionally I do even more and add trees, mountains, clouds, etc. I spent a lot of time experimenting with different types of and numbers of lights to get what I thought was an optimum result.

One little secret I'll reveal is that there is virtually no such thing as white light. By default, POV-Ray uses white lights, but in the real world virtually no light source produces every part of the visible light spectrum. I always reduce the blue on my lights by 10% to give a slightly yellow tint which seems much more natural.


Jetro: In November 2009 you and two other AFOLs (Fernando “Conchas” Correia and Paul “Sariel” Kmiec) started participating in the LEGO Technic Blog. So far, what do you think of the experience? Have you received any feedback?

Eric: That was a big surprise to me and has been a very positive experience. LEGO is one of the best companies in the world at community outreach, and Monica with the Technic team has been truly inspiring with which to collaborate. It is exciting to be able to reach the audience that the Technic site allows, and it is humbling to realize that a large company like LEGO is willing to let non-employees contribute in such a public way. I even got a Christmas card from the whole LEGO Technic team!


You can read the rest of the interview (and much, much more!! ) in Hispabrick Magazine 008.



Enjoy the reading!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Week TechVideo, 2010 #28 - Pinball

Atr user, posted this week at Eurobricks a Pinball machine he made based on NXT.
Is is not the first working Pinball machine machine made with LEGO, but I still liked it a lot.

In the author's words: "Pinball machine uses one NXT Brick, 4 touch sensors (3 of them are attached to one port) and 2 light sensors. Program is written in Java (LeJOS). After pressing orange button the ball is given and a new game is started. Every game has three balls total. If the ball is lost within 10 seconds after start, the ball is returned without losing one."



Even there is a description about how the points are collected.
Scoring points:
- losing ball after 10 seconds - 50 points
- hitting both Red and Green Bumpers - 100 points
- hitting one of the Yellow Bumpers - 200 points
- getting ball to the Black Hole - 300 points

Black Hole opens up every 500 points, then player has 20 second to get the ball into it. If 5 seconds is left Black Hole's light starts flashing.

It is really awesome and worthwhile to see! It looks the playing experience is also really nice.

You may look for additional photos from Atr Brickshelf folder.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

TBs TechTalk 02 - Chating with the LEGO Technic lead team

Some time ago I was in Billund to attend the 'LEGO Idea Conference' and managed to meet the LEGO Technic leadership team. Monica Pederson as the product line Marketing Manager and Ricco Krog the Technic Design Lead.



While it was an excellent opportunity for a nice and interesting conversation, we also had the kick-off for an interview to present here at TBs , sometime later in our "TBs Tech Talk" section.

...and that time arrived today.

Meanwhile Monica left this position, to take a new challenge inside TLG, and got replaced by a new colleague. Guess we will know more about him, his background and ideas, soon via the LEGO Technic Blog.





Hi Monica, Ricco,


Let me first thank for the opportunity to meet you and have accepted for a short conversation in Billund, the last time I was there in April.

Now a few questions with you, to share with all the LEGO Technic fans community. 


TBs: Hi Monica, we know that before working as the Marketing Manager for the LEGO Technic Product Line, you had an equivalent role at DUPLO®.

Probably unless you have moved to MINDSTORMS, hardly you could have made a bigger change within LEGO range of products.

How did it happen? Can you tell us about any other functions you may have had inside TLG before? 

Monica: In the LEGO group we encourage people to move around and try different things. This way you learn all the time and can use this knowledge to continuously improve the way we work. The “Marketing Function” in LEGO in general is the same no matter which product line you work for, and we can hence move around and try out new things – all of which have different challenges. When I moved to LEGO Technic I was very happy to try something completely different from a product perspective.
Before I started in the Product and Marketing Development I worked as a Resource Manager in the In-house Agency at LEGO.



TBs: Working with all those skilled Technic designers around, do you play with the Technic bricks? Do you sometimes build any of the new Technic models yourself? 

Monica: Sometimes I build a model when the building instructions are being finalized, and sometimes not until the products have launched, but at some point or another I build all LEGO Technic models that are launching a given year. I really enjoy “getting my hands dirty” and try to build each model, this way I feel I always know all the models. 


TBs: Fans perceive there is an alternate pattern on the release of the largest Technic set year after year. It looks one year TLG releases a real large flagship and the year after another large but not so iconic LEGO Technic set, is released.

Are we perceiving it right? If so, there is a commercial or any other reason for following such market strategy? 

Monica / Ricco: The perception of LEGO Technic only providing major flagships every second year seems to only be a perception among the AFOL community. In LEGO Technic we have no such strategy. When we look at future flagships, we have to look into several aspects:

1. The rest of the assortment (products from previous years still in the assortment, and recent products that have just left the market)
2. The size has to make sense from a model perspective
3. Overall strategic directions from the Leadership Team
4. Feasibility – can it be done by our Designers within the frames we have at our disposal (new elements, profitability, time etc.)
5. Model iconicness – do the kids recognize the model, if not, we cannot use it 


So we do not look at it from a major - or not a major flagship perspective, as there are so many other elements at play. I can assure you that we will take all the above aspects into consideration for future flagships as well and there will be no “not major” flagship years (at least from our perspective).  


TBs: Hi Ricco, you have joined TLG in '96, the year when the Technic Shuttle was released. Have you been within Technic Product Line since then, or did you have other jobs inside TLG before? 

Ricco: I have worked as a designer on many different product lines, from LEGO DUPLO to LEGO Technic. I joined LEGO Technic in 2007 as a Design Manager. Before LEGO Technic I was one of the designers behind the Power Functions system and elements. 


TBs: As the creative lead for the Technic products, you are responsible with your team to decide which new models and parts, TLG will release in the market.

Is it a difficult process? Do you maintain a long term roadmap from which you pick the potential next year releases? 

Ricco: Every year has different challenges and some years are more difficult than others. We do not have a big matrix that we pick models from. But every year when we start working on new strategies for the next launches, we have a big board with the current assortment so we make sure the new assortment is made up of new and differentiated models. We build about 40 concept models every year. These models are tested with kids and from these tests we pick the next year models. 


TBs: How challenging it is to conciliate the designers proposals to develop new models, with the market requirements?

There might be some models which never got your approval, or is not under your decision role? 

Monica: Often the development process starts the other way around. I - together with Ricco and Søren (the Project Manager) - sit down and lay out the overall plans for LEGO Technic. We then decide on certain assortment structure based on the strategic challenges we have ahead of us. All this work is then transferred into “concept model briefs” and the Designers will build approx. 40 different concept models matching different sizes and prices. Like Ricco mentions we test these models with kids, and only after these results do we decide which models should go to market. 


TBs: Which was the first Technic model with which you got involved? What have you done for it? 

Ricco: I designed some of the elements for LEGO Roboriders which at that time were considered as LEGO Technic products. 


TBs: Which is your favorite Technic set ever? And the most useful Technic part? 

Ricco: I think the 8275 remote controlled Bulldozer is a milestone in the development of the LEGO Technic product line, as it was the first model to use the Power Functions system. When it comes to the most useful LEGO Technic part it gets very hard to choose a specific element, as they are all needed to be able to design the models. If I had to choose it would be the gears, without them it would not be possible to create the functions that characterize the LEGO Technic product line.


TBs: LEGO SYSTEM and Technic are extremely well designed and powerful building systems. What does impress you most, in terms of Technic building system capabilities?

Ricco: Stability and functionality. LEGO Technic models are more sturdy than the LEGO system models, you can play a bit more roughly with them. LEGO Technic offers more functionality than many LEGO System models.


TBs: As an adult, what would be for you the perfect size for a LEGO Technic set?

Ricco: We are constantly doing a lot of concept models in different sizes, it looks like biggest models like the 8258 Crane Truck is about the limit for a LEGO Technic model, if they get much bigger some of the elements will not be strong enough to carry the model.


TBs: This year we made a quite successful challenge at TBs with your great support. Shortly after you have decided to start a series of challenges at Technic.LEGO.com towards the Technic youngster builders, where the AFOLs somehow ended involved either.

Can you make a balance on how this initiative as developed so far? Does it have fulfilled your expectations and objectives? The Technic AFOLs are demanding to play a stronger role in this. Do you have plans to answer this demand in the future?

Monica: Let me first state that the LEGO Technic Challenge that is currently running on the LEGO Technic website was developed at the same time as our models were developed, so it had been in the pipeline for quite some time before the TBs reverse challenge.

The purpose of the building competition was to get kids to free build with LEGO Technic – to get them to see what they can do with LEGO Technic. But we also wanted to set some limitations, most of the model should be built with LEGO Technic elements and it should be within a certain theme.

Admittedly, we do not have as many kids entries as we could have hoped for, but that could be due to many different reasons e.g. that the LEGO Technic challenge is not being communicated actively off-line as other LEGO initiatives sometimes are. We are however very happy to see all the entries as they all mean that someone has been spending time digging into their LEGO Technic elements to create something unique.

But of course we also acknowledge the many adult entries that we see. The same goes for them, that it is a pleasure to see how LEGO Technic takes up a place in their “spare time” activities and that they also spend time to create that “one model” to try to win the competition.

Knowing that there were a lot of questions regarding the kids’ vs. adults’ entries and the general reaction in the AFOL community, we will of course make sure to take that into consideration if any future competition initiatives will be made.


TBs: Monica, we know now that you are moving to work at a different LEGO product line. Do you want to tell us something about your experience working with LEGO Technic?

Monica: It has been a pleasure working for LEGO Technic. The team of Designers and Building Instruction Developers are extremely dedicated to making high quality models and building experiences and I have been very impressed with their commitment to LEGO Technic. But it has also been very exciting getting to work with the adult fan community, to follow your discussion and reactions to our models. It is extremely rare that a company can get so immediate and true reactions to their products – but we can! And that has been a great experience as well. I wish you all well – and will still be following you on-line.


TBs: And about what you are going to do next?

Monica: I will have to investigate much more about vehicles in the future as I will be moving to the LEGO Racers. I have some very exciting things in the pipeline and cannot wait to get much more involved in that product line.


It was been fantastic to have you working close with the Technic fans community. Monica, we wish you the best success for you in the next challenge in your career, and for Ricco that he won't loose any bit of inspiration leading the designers team to delight us with ever better and interesting models.

Thank you both!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TBs TechPoll 20 - 2010, 1st Half - Favorite week TechVideos

Because of extra work with my LUG events in the past months, it looks I missed to post the usual TechVideos poll for the 1st Quarter...
But we are never too late, so I decided to wait for the 2nd quarter and do poll for the whole 1st half instead.

In the next two weeks, you can vote your favorite video(s), among those highlighted during the 1st half this year (2010, 1H) under the 'Week TechVideo' tag.


Bellow it is the list with the videos posted within this period:


A big list to recall, this time...
As usual, you can vote for more than one video.


Notes:
- This video poll does not aim to select the best MOC, but rather well done videos featuring a LEGO Technic model, a nice video reportage from a certain Technic subject as part of an AFOL event, or
some cool/innovative thing with interest for the Technic fans community.
- These are videos that somehow caught my eye at some point, thus based on a personal choice, and do not intend in any way to be considered as the best representatives from the work done by the Technic fans.
- Please notice, this is a poll taken for the fun. The authors of the videos here featured are not rewarded, independently of the rank position they will achieve.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week TechVideo, 2010 #27 - Boats

This week I'm going to highlight two videos on the same subject, but from different builders already featured here before..

They're about boats... Yes, LEGO Technic boats running at water!
It is however, not the first time we highlight boats here at .

One speedboat from Milan Reindl (grohl) with two M-motors, and two other motorized floating devices from Peer Kreuger (Mahjqa).

  


Enjoy the summer, in the lake!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

B-Model instructions for 2H2010 Technic sets, already available online

After some initial link errors when I first noticed them online, the 2H10 B-model building instructions are now available for download at Technic.LEGO.com.

All but the 8051 Motorbike, for now.


Below you have the direct links for the several zipfiles with the building instructions booklets, for each model.



    • 8052 (Container Truck) B-model, features a Tipper Trailer. Building instructions are downloadable in 3 files.
      Book 1/3
      Book 2/3
      Book 3/3








        For those lucky ones which can already order the 2H10 models, here you have something more to spend your spare time...

        Happy building!


        Edit:
        The still missing B-model instructions was meanwhile made available by TLG, at their website.


          • 8051 (Motorbike) B-model, features a Chopper. Building instructions are downloadable in 1 file.
            Book 1/1







          Last Update: 2010.Aug.03 20:31 CET

          Friday, July 9, 2010

          The LEGO Group Wants to Hear From You! - July 2010




          The LEGO Group Wants to Hear From You!

          As Adult or Teenage Fans of LEGO, you bring an important perspective to the LEGO Group. We respect your creativity and passion for the LEGO brand.

          Since December 2008, we have done quarterly online surveys to learn more about the needs and wishes of global AFOL (defined as ages 20+) and TFOL (defined as ages 13-19) communities. For your information, we have listed the key findings from the latest survey in April 2010 below. Now we ask you to take the survey again. It include some of the same questions, but also a set of new questions for you.

          Please  take a few moments to complete this short online survey to let us know your  opinion about the LEGO Group.

          You might notice that the link  refers to the LEGO Kids Inner Circle; this is because Satmetrix, which  hosts that site, is also supporting our efforts to track AFOL/TFOL  opinions. Rest assured that this survey is for AFOL’s and TFOLs only.

          Here are some of the key findings from the first quarter 2010 survey:

          • The survey was completed by 3.750 AFOLs and TFOLs. 33% of respondents were TFOLs, 67% was AFOLs. When asked about likeliness to recommend LEGO products and services to friends and family, AFOLs are (consistent with the previous surveys) more likely to recommend than TFOLs. Several TFOLs this time expressed disappointment with the discontinuation of the Bionicle line. When asked what the LEGO Group can do to improve willingness to recommend, most frequent answers center around request for more complex/modular sets, re-release of classic sets, teen/adult focused section on LEGO.com and better pricing.
          • In this survey we asked some questions specifically about online behavior. Interestingly we found that both AFOLs and TFOLs are more creative and conversational than average online population. They are very active on forums, blogs and social network sites, but not using Twitter much. Putting the data into the Forrester Social Technographics Ladder, we got the following results: 
          • Around 40% of AFOLs/TFOLs fit the categories of Creators and Conversationalists (average for US online population is around 30%). We compare to US online population just because we do not have comparable numbers for e.g. Europe or Asia. 
          • Around 70% of AFOLs/TFOLs fit the category of “Critics” (average for US online population is less than 40%). Surprising?

          Very interesting findings, so we follow up with some more questions about online behavior in this 2nd quarter survey.



          Thank you,
          The LEGO Community Team

          Thursday, July 8, 2010

          TBs TechReview 10 – 8043, Motorized Excavator

          Set reference: 8043
          Set name: Motorized Excavator
          Theme: TECHNIC
          Release date: 2010.Jul (shop.LEGO.com) / 2010.Aug (Retail market)

          Number of parts: 1123 (some spare parts added into the box)

          Model under review:
          Main model
          Weight: 1.285g (without batteries and remote)
          Approximate set dimensions:
          Width
          - 18,0cm (7.1")
          Height
          - 39,5cm (15.6") fully retracted digging arm
          - 44,0cm (17.3") extended/raised digging arm and bucket
          - 21,0cm (8.3") extended/lowered digging arm and bucket
          Length
          - 38,5cm (15.2") fully retracted digging arm
          - 52,0cm (20.5") extended/raised digging arm and bucket
          - 63,0cm (24.8") extended/lowered digging arm and bucket
          Underground reach limit
          - 7,0cm (2.8")
          Approximate box dimensions:
          Height - 9,0cm (3.5")
          Width - 57,5cm (22.6")
          Length - 47,5cm (18.7")

          Stickers: Yes
          Building instructions: 3 booklets (84, 84 and 48 pages), with 99 major building steps.
          B-model: Tracked Loader (instructions available for online download only)

          Recommended for ages: 12 - 16
          Building difficulty level: High
          Estimated building time: 4 - 6 hours
          From proficient to average builders. Of course it could last for days if your are not used to build with LEGO Technic...

          Price range: 139,99GBP
          Price per part: -

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





          TBs made its first review for a 2H2010 LEGO Technic set. And which better set to review, then the most waited Technic set of the year?
          The large scale and fully motorized Excavator. Epic!


          The package and contents

          Lets start with the usal photos from the box.
          The main model and respective functions at the front. Please notice the box artwork differs slightly depending whether you take the US or the European version.



          On the backside you will find the image from the B-model (a motorized tracked front-loader) and the indication that the respective instructions will be available online only, as usual.



          The box keeps the traditional design from the large Technic sets boxes, with two seals at the bottom-front and a flip-up cover. You must rip or cut the side perforated ears, despite I managed to take everything out of mine, without damaging the box...
          The cover flips-up in two levels, where the first just unveils extra images about the main model and the six main functions featured by the model.



          As for the contents, you may also see them below.
          A total of 9 not numbered bags, with the parts, plus the large bucket and the 4 PF motors, the battery box and 2 IR remotes, each in its individual bag. As usual some bags have other smaller bags inside for the tiny parts, like Technic pins and so.



          The box also includes the instructions booklets and the sticker sheet.
          It is usual to hear complains about damaged manuals or sticker sheet, when you open the box. An old problem with easy solutions that LEGO seems not interested in solving, as the involved costs may not worth the number of reported cases through the Customer Service. However this time I got something I've heard reported before but though to be extremely unlikely. One of the stickers peeled-off from the sticker sheet and arrived attached at the cover from one of the manuals. Fortunately it was not really damaged and because the manual are like glossy, it was quite easy to recover it. Otherwise the excellent LEGO Customer Service, was just at the distance of a call...

          Yeah... I've put the slippery sticker, back in its place first...


          The building instructions are divided in three books for the main model and they are nearly A4 sized. They have respectively 84, 84 and 48 pages each and include 99 major building steps for the main model.
          I've found no errors in these, which does'nt mean there aren't any. It wouldn't be the first time I've build right, with small mistakes in the instructions...
          .
          At the end of the third book you will find an inventory of included parts into this set (spares not accounted), which is now also a standard and could be very useful.
          Lets take a look, as I think they are not yet available anywhere else.




          All this, for...
          ...well, expected retail prices will differ across countries as usual. For the moment the unique official price available from shop.LEGO.com is 139,99GBP for the UK, but my expectation is that it should not go too far from the 165-170€ range, at most of the other European countries.
          LEGO prices have been increasing, this is not new! However and despite an high price-per-part we must realize this is a set which includes a good bunch of  PF elements (4x M-motors, 2x IR Remotes, 2x IR Receivers and one Battery Box) only comparable to the 8275 Bulldozer in the recent years, when the PF system was first introduced to the market.

          Next step consisted to open the bags, dispose the parts over the table, and start to build.


          The new parts

          Despite some parts in new colors (black sprockets, new panels never released in yellow before), this is not a set plenty of new parts.
          It just includes the new connector shown in the photo below, which is not much different from an extension of the previously available 48496 with a different connection interface and thus a bit more versatile.



          It looks to be a very useful part for transmissions where the rotating axle changes to a perpendicular and used 6 times within this set.


          The part assortment

          A set with just a few studed or SYSTEM parts and another yellow machine. However I must say the color chosen is a perfect fit for the model itself (despite IMHO the orange could be also an excellent alternative... ).

          It includes an high number of gears (71 in total) and specially a set of less common parts like '16 tooth with clutch' (6542) gears, driving rings (6539) and driving ring extensions (32187) heavily used in gearboxes, thus a good source for those in the need of them.
          But it is also a good source for those needing a variety of other specialized parts like: panels, connectors, u-joints, treads, frames, linear actuators, PF elements, etc...

          With this set, color coding for parts like: gears, pins and axles continues as a trend of the actual Technic theme. Even the 'axle 3 with stud' (6587) kept the recently adopted Dark Tan color coding.

          I'm also relative well surprised, with the number of times that recently release parts (2009-2010) are consistently being used with new sets (26x 87083, axle 4 with stop; 10x 87082, pin long with friction and center pin hole; new frames and panels, etc...).
          It suggests these were parts really needed, to fill a gap into the LEGO Technic building system.


          The set

          Well... I'm quite suspicious to speak as many of you should know this is simply my favorite type of machine, that for long I'd liked to see released as a LEGO Technic official flagship, in a large scale and fully remote controlled.
          A wish come true!

          The model features 6 motorized main functions (3 for the main structure and another 3 for the arm), and one supplementary motorized function:
          • Drive forward/backward
          • Turn left/right
          • Slewing superstructure
          • Articulated boom
          • Articulated dipper
          • Articulated bucket
          • Remote controlled selection for the set of working functions

          LEGO Technic designers have used a smart setup with 4 motors, in a 2x3 + 1 functions arrangement.
          One motor drives a switch-box which then makes the remaining motors to alternate simultaneously between two sets of three functions. The three functions from the excavator structure or the three functions from the arm.

          This was the most discussed secret, when the first images started to appear. Soon advanced as the most probable hypothesis and later unveiled/confirmed when the first review of the model popped-up.

          All together resulted into a fantastic set, but lets see it more in detail ahead.


          Building experience

          As usual for these kind of models, the building process starts with the drivetrain.
          It is a symmetrical structure, simultaneously strong an light as you may see from the on the right side (taken after the model was complete).



          A nice feature for a model with this scale, could have been the usage of independent pendular bogies, for the inner wheels supporting the tracks. It would add realism when crossing small obstacles or terrain elevations.
          However the the M-motors used to power the drivetrain maybe already stretched too much, to be thinking about obstacles... and someone commented here that real Excavators don't work like that.

          Well... after one hour of fun, it was going like this.



          Having been introduced for the first time into an official model (8258) the last year, it is the second time in a row that Clutch Gears and Transmission Driving Ring elements were used to pass two motions through a turntable. You need it to achieve the ability to continuously rotate the superstructure, having all the motors placed in the upper part but still driving functions in the drivetrain (making the two tracks move in this case).

          The photos below show how much it looks like what Jennifer Clark did in its Excavator [1]. Could I have finished this review, without mention such mythic Excavator...



          The build instructions proceed with the superstructure (or the turret), where core of this model resides. It includes a sophisticated switchbox which controls the 2x3 functions switching as mentioned above, but it is where the four PF M-motors also fit, the two IR Receivers, the battery box and all the built-in cables required to operate everything.
          It is an extremely compact LEGO Technic masterpiece, occupying the least possible space and where at a first glance, every single stud is occupied with something useful.



          This is not an easy mechanism to understand in words or from this kind of photos. You must try it and play a bit (preferably before attaching other parts and get the model complete), to fully understand how it works.
          Basically there is a set of driving rings (3 in the present case) which are simultaneously actuated by a common shaft, to switch among the output axles which are going to drive the selected set of functions working at each time.

          This is where I found something strange. At step 35, page 79 (still in the first booklet), there is a shaft with a knob wheel used to turn the changeover catches and move all the driving rings on the switchbox from one side to the other. Surprisingly the shaft attaches to the frame with an axle/pin with friction, whereas the frictionless version might be expected.



          Ahead as we will see, this made me wonder even more, but it turned to be not doing any difference.
          Once it looks to have really no functional impact in this case, despite a part being subject to extra wear, I tried to find an explanation for its use here. Even thought that maybe for inventory purposes TLG was trying to avoid the introduction of an extra element being used just once in this model (assuming it makes sense such thinking...). But that's not the case either, once one (just one) frictionless axle/pin is used in the whole model, but not here...
          There might be reasons of course, which are behind my knowledge on how to build models, and make parts selection.


          Now that's when we start to attach the superstructure to the drive train. At this point it is still pending unbalanced to the rear side and causing some stress. But it will become quite well balanced some steps ahead, once we start to attach the digging arm.
          At this point the two parallel Linear Actuators used to sustain and lift the boom, are already attached to the superstructure. The recently made available idle gears are also used in this setup, which makes it easier to drive both Linear Actuators, given the high forces being applied to this articulation supporting the whole digging arm weight. These idle gears should have been one of the most useful parts released in the recent past.



          By the middle of the second instructions booklet, we start assembling the digging arm.
          It is very well designed and allows for a quite realistic range of movements and reach. We know from previous pictures, this was a part of the model that suffered changes till a late design phase of this model, but the result achieved was very good as we will see when talking about the model's playability.

          The arm width may look a bit large for the model scale, but that's needed to make the two drive shafts traveling across the arm and drive both the Linear Actuators used to move the dipper and the bucket.
          Notice that unlike the solution used at the former 8294 (The red excavator), where the bucket moved coupled with the dipper arm, here in this model all the arm movements are fully independent, thus a lot more realistic and funny to play.

          Quite noticeable and unexpected is the usage of the studless Technic frames as central parts of the digging arm, making it to develop around and feeding the two driving shafts through the middle.



          The bucket used in this model looks somehow inappropriate for the scale, as it is quite wide (in fact it is a shovel instead of a bucket as it should be). However we must acknowledge that unless TLG decided for a new mold, there was no other bucket available that would make a better fit in this model.
          So the excavator operator will need to drive with the huge bucket blinding him, when the arm rests in its fully retracted position.
          On the other way, if the B-model planned was always a Loader, then the only part which could be used in both models is the large shovel.


          The two photos below shows how the excavator looks like, just before adding most of the fairing panels all around and after it.



          As we may see in the photo at the right side, there is a double PF IR Remote, to control the six multiplexed functions, via the four motors used.
          The three levers on the left operate the three selected functions, and the rightmost one (marked red) is used to actuate the switch box and select the set of functions available at each time. There is also a red lever on the turret which moves according to the selected functions for visual indication or reference. It is also possible to actuate it manually, despite the resistance applied by the motor where it is attached.


          Nice look on the back side, and smooth surfaces applied.



          The way the battery box is attached into the model is quite smart and makes it very easy to replace batteries.
          There is a pin in the bottom to help fixing it. Once wired and put in place there is a long axle holding the battery box at one side which is locked when the exhaust pipe went over, and a small crank on the other side just for helping to hold it in place.



          It took me about 4h30m to finish it all! Well... that was what I thought...

          Next I almost went crazy, trying to understand why the switching function was not working properly. The switching box was persistently not moving, almost always when the respective red lever on the remote was actuated. Only a few times and if the switching box was manually left in its middle position, it was possible to complete the selection remotely, in one direction.
          That's when I remembered first about the suspect friction pin mentioned above... But after having replaced it, I was to conclude this was not the guilty guy.
          A few other experiments changing the receiver ports or direct power applied to the motor, all leaded into frustration.
          Still no idea about what may have went wrong, since everything was looking properly assembled and it was also not that complex after all.
          Batteries changed... Suspicion if the mechanism would not work properly with 7,2V rechargeable batteries instead of stronger 9V non-rechargeable ones, but no way!
          Not even the motor showed any evidence of start and stall once powered, which made me wonder even more, despite the force required to manually make the gears to move.

          It was only when I decided to disassemble a bit further and tried to exchange the position of two motors, that it suddenly started to work perfectly.
          Unless there is some unlikely and small detail that I didn't figure out, like the one that originated an errata for the building instructions of the 8275 Bulldozer, I suspect of an under-performant (defective) PF M-motor, supplied with my unit, which however works pretty well for the less demanding mechanical functions.

          And finally these are the leftovers, if I didn't miss any of them in the middle of the building steps...



          Functionality and playability

          I wanted to start writing this review, just after finishing to build this model and have solved the initial problems. However the appeal was stronger than me, and didn't resist to play a long time with the excavator, together with my 3yo son...
          And that's it! This is a model plenty of functionality and even more playability, that will delight youngsters and those grown-up.

          It is a large size model, but not too large, and very compact at the same time. Specially if we think about the minimal space used to accommodate all the required elements to perform the intended functions.
          All the functions were extremely well designed and work without flaws, which is not always the case for the large Technic flagships. Large models are prone to certain type of failures, and this has none!


          First you will need 6 AAs for the battery box and then another 6 batteries AAA, for the two IR remotes.

          Despite I would advise to use fresh and non-rechargeable batteries to take full advantage of this models functionalities over any surface, it still works pretty well with rechargeable 7,2V accumulators.
          Even it is possible to run three functions simultaneously, without problems at normal conditions, which guarantees by itself a great playability for this model. Specially if we are playing with the digging arm.

          The drivetrain and  the solution to pass two motions (one to control each track) through the turnable, was done in such way that they do not interfere with each other. Well... almost! Only occasionally we will see one track to advance one tread, while the superstructure is turning.
          The drivetrain moves relative slowly but still at an adequate speed if we think how the real excavators work. Comparatively the superstructure rotation is quite faster, which is also in accordance to the way such machines work in real life.

          Probably the drivetrain would demand a bit more power, but it may lead the need of using two XL-motors.
          That would completely change this model: space, gear relations to the digging arm and inability to use all the functions simultaneously due to PF power constraints.
          After all it would be more like a drawback then a positive choice. Thus I'm 100% with the options taken by the designers team.

          Used gear ratios in the way to the drivetrain and to slew the superstructure, also produce a nice visual effect when the tracks are driven in opposite directions making the excavator to turn in place at one direction and the superstructure is rotated in the opposite direction. In the end we can make the drive train to rotate in place, while the superstructure looks standing still.

          The digging arm was the most critical part in this model, to make its operation to look realistic. There a lot of details to pay attention and to try to reproduce in the perfection. The static and dynamic angles, the extension, height and deep reach ranges. The model seemed to have suffered several improvement steps during the design process till a late phase, as mentioned earlier, but the final result is really good and quite realistic given the wide operating arm range achieved.
          Lets see now some photos which show exactly how far it goes.

          Fully extended / Raised digging arm

          Fully extended / Lowered digging arm (reaching an impressive 63cm length)

          Lowered boom / Fully retracted dipper and bucket

          Fully retracted digging arm and bucket
           
          Underground reach limit (up to 7cm below the ground surface)

          Acrobatic skills...

          Operating arm speed is also another very acceptable characteristic of this model. Well done!

          Another thing you will notice is a more than evident digging arm twist, when you are moving the bucket or the dipper and suddenly the respective Linear Actuator reaches one of its course limits. However this a normal consequence from the abrupt deceleration and there is nothing you can do to avoid it, unless to play it very carefully.

          And now a video to show this beauty beast, in action... .

          It is not the type of video I was expecting to produce, but it turned out the the Excavator performance at outdoor/off-road terrain, is not exactly what I was anticipating. Lets say that grass and gears on the drivetrain, are not best friends...



          I think the only thing I'd like to see released now, is a new Excavator with pneumatics controlled with PF miniature electro-valves... And a new supercar, of course!


          B-model

          The 2nd model proposed for this set, is a Tracked Loader.
          Somehow it has some similarities to the landmark 8275 (Bulldozer), but some significant advantages in terms of playability:
          • Can use the 4 motors simultaneously. Something that was not possible with one battery box and two XL-motors, plus two M-motors, according to the PF specifications.
          • The Loader uses 4 Linear Actuators to move the bucket, which were not yet available, when the Bulldozer was released.

          Furthermore we can say that the 8043 seems have a much better or more complete B-model, than what the 8275 had at its time.




          Lets see if I manage to find the mood and the time... to review this one, next time here at TBs .


          Final thoughts

          Rarely I use to apply the stickers into my LEGO sets, but in the present case I was not able to resist.
          The model turns really awesome when they get applied.

          Maybe you already know from previous posts, this is a model designed by Anders Gaasedal.
          But if it was not the case, there will rest no doubt about it, once you take a close look to this model stikers.
          It has been a tradition for already some time, that each designer of a set leaves a personal mark with his creation, like the vehicles registration plates, etc...
          In the present case there are two of them. The "AG" suffix appended to the model number (8043AG) at one sticker, but also Anders' nickname (Goose Valley) at another sticker on the left/front side.



          A positive note about the stickers applied to this model - No STAMP (STicker Accross Multiple Parts).


          Now just a small MOD you may like to do, if you prefer more fairing and less gears at sight (good hint, Tito ).
          One panel, four pins, et voilá!...



          But of course there is a lot of other things you can change as well. This was just the most easy and obvious to do.


          Finally the only thing I've missed in this model...



          Who knows, now that we are getting close to the LEGO Technic theme 35th anniversary, that if TLG won't decide to give us back some nuggets from the old times. Just dropping the idea...


          The Ratings

          This time I have not even the minor doubt!
          This set goes directly to the top of my list of preferred Technic sets ever released. Defeating the 8455 to an honorable 2nd place. They are not that different after all...

             as set value for money
             for innovation
             for set design
             for functionality and playability
             for quality

          Overall rate: Must have!  


          Definitely a must buy, at any price tag. If there were already no other options to buy at a fair price. But of course beeing a new release, there will be plenty of chances to find at good deal prices, sooner or later.

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