Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week TechVideo, 2011 #08 - LEGO Zeppelin

Sandra Almeida (Cassiebsg) is a Portuguese AFOL, living in Denmark. As could it not be, she participated in the '2011 LEGOWORLD Copenhagen, DK' and sent us this nice video (among a thousand others...) from the LEGO Technic/MINDSTORMS Zeeplin flying around.

There were a few similar models hovering...
I've seen two different models, as you can realize from the video and photo below.

I tried my self a similar contraption a few months ago and tested it at the last Hispabrick, in Barcelona. The new 89509 blades from LEGO Education 9688, Renewable Energey Add-on Set were quite promising... However I didn't had the idea to use such helium balloons and of course it didn't lift off!...

But it was quite funny to observe at least a very small vertical impulsion and getting the proto-heli spinning around.
Definitely far from the required to defeat all the weight from the structure, motors and propellers. Even hanging the tethered batteries by hand (video still to produce...).

Some observations though...
  • Higher gear rations produce more rotational speed, hence more impulsion, but the inertia is also too high and the current drawn makes the PF rechargeable battery to cut-off after a few seconds or to slow down considerably, to be more precise.
  • Propellers with 3 or 4 blades also perform better, because of exactly the same effect (high speed RC motors were used, like those in the air powered car from Barman). 
  • A tail rotor is required to prevent the heli to spin, but adds a lot of weight and zero contribution to vertical impulsion.
    To have it balanced without a tail rotor, we would need the same blades but with the opposite pitch, in order to build counter-rotating propellers (LEGO, please!...).
    It is something possible to achieve with the actual blades and some angled connectors, but unfortunately this means extra weight, less performance and a too complicated design.

Not yet time of having a model made entirely of LEGO, able to fly autonomously.

Marc-Andre Bazergui (bazmarc) [1, 2], Canadian, member of QUELUG, member of MCP4 group and known for his MINDSTORMS models, left us a comment with another video he produced, featuring the Zeppelin (Blimp) flying over, at LW2011DK.
The video also features a small interview with the authors (Kenneth Madsen and Lasse Lauesen) where they explain the basics of their project and where we got to know the software was made in Java, there is an NXT made remote control, to flight the blimp and one on-board camera which produced fantastic aerial images from the event.
From Marc's comments we also learned that "the NXT moves on the rail only to adjust the initial balance (if one balloon has more helium, move NXT to counterbalance etc..) Also very important is that to make the RC motor efficient, Lasse had to design his own motor controller".

See the magnificent video bellow and look later for further info about this project, at the authors website

Last Update: 2011.Mar.01 08:30 CET

Saturday, February 26, 2011

8070 Building Instructions, available online

We used to get the B-models building instructions at and main models at the standard Customer Service page.
It looks the BIs for the main models have beeing added also on the Technic website and now e can also download them for the new LEGO Technic 8070, Supercar.

Below you have the direct links to download all the instruction books,

As usual, have an happy building!

Friday, February 25, 2011

TBs TechTalk 05 - with Nathanaël Kuipers (Part II)

[Part I]

Lets proceed to the last part of the TBs interview, with Nathanaël Kuipers.

TBs: How do you see the Technic builders community from today? Do you agree it has developed significantly in the recent years?
In your opinion what has most contributed to this development? A wider set of parts available, the easier online contact and the ability to share creations with each other?...

NK: Online communities have made the world so much smaller these days. A decade ago Technic seemed to be a niche market for only a selective group of people. Nowadays it's much easier to find like minded people all over the world. Sharing creations online has inspired many, both young and old, to start building too. As a result Technic has seen a big increase in users and the platform has become much more mainstream these days.
That Technic LEGO has evolved over the years, giving us more possibilities, has likely contributed to this growth as well, even though the learning curve for building MOCs is steeper compared to the older Technic platform.

TBs: If one dreams to become a LEGO Technic Designer, based on your experience, what would you recommend him to do?

NK: A good start is to have a degree in industrial design and arts/ engineering. Building a lot will help too. The trickiest part however is to get noticed by the right people, which requires some luck. To increase your chances, display your own creations at exhibitions, and share them online with high quality pictures and/or movies. And last but not least, try to stand out and be different by creating your own style and speciality.

TBs: Is it mainly a men job? Or did you use to see women as LEGO Designers during your stay at TLG?

NK: The Technic designers at TLG are all male. In most other themes it's the same story. Yes, there are luckily also a few female designers at TLG, but they definitely form a minority. I have to add that to compensate this a lot of women are working in other areas of the development process, who are equally important. This way there is a good balance between the sexes within the company.

TBs: What do you feel, when you see that the models you have developed almost a decade ago as an AFOL, still raise lots of interest among the community?
So that they are still a subject for new stunning renders, and recently your Supercar from '04, still motivated a fan to invest huge time on producing the respective building instructions!
It is remarkable, if we stop to think how the parts and building techniques have evolved since then.

NK: It is indeed remarkable, especially considering that those models were my first Technic MOCs. I find it hard to believe that even today there's still a decent interest for them. Looking back, I personally wouldn't rate them higher than average; they have many flaws and are built inefficiently. For me it was at TLG when I started to learn what real building was about.
However, this doesn't take away the fact that I feel very fortunate that those older models are still much appreciated!

Notice this is not the same Nathanaël's Supercar as referred above and shown in the first part of this interview, but his GT Sport also based on 8458 and 8466.

TBs: As we often assist also with other renowned builders, when the builder and his models surpass a certain popularity level, praise and criticism accompany them along.
Your modular concept for cars (Concept and Concept 4x4) was no exception! Some give big praises, others say there is no innovation in it, at all.
Would you like to explain us, which were your aims when you developed these models, your sense of accomplishment and how do you think we all can benefit from them?

NK: One thing I have learned over the years is that we can not criticize someone else's work if we do not know what the original intention of the designer, or in this case builder, was. Of course we all have our preferences, but if someone's model doesn't match my expectations, instead of expressing being underwhelmed, I'd rather not comment.

But I can understand that certain people think that the Conceptcar is not innovative when you look at the functions. Innovative functions however was never my intention with this project. What I was trying to achieve was a re-imagination of the classic 8448 supercar, but with contemporary design, and exploitation of modularity.
Just like with real cars, modules can be (ex)changed with personal customisation. This was actually the reason why I specifically chose not to introduce all kind of new functions, and only present a basic platform to work from, just like with set 8448. The 4x4 version I presented shows one other example of what is possible, but what can be achieved in the end is all up to the imagination of the individual. That's the power of LEGO; if you don't like things, you can add or change something and make it your own!
After I presented this model, I have seen several other esteemed Technic builders starting to create similar modular supercars as well, so in that respect I think the Conceptcar was innovative and a trendsetter.

Anyway, I believe I accomplished my personal goal; I have designed for myself a decent substitute for the supercar I never had. What other people may think is up to them, but I'm still pleased with the result.

The Concept Car in its three variants: Gullwing Doors, Roadster and Convertible, along with the 4x4 Concept.

TBs: Which was the Technic model that challenged you most to develop, as a LEGO Technic Designer?

NK: Actually every model was a challenge, and presented its own unique problems. I think I struggled most with the earlier projects, because I was still inexperienced and had a lot of things to learn. First I needed to get used to how to build according to TLG standards, and then get a better understanding of what children at different ages can, and can not do. In that respect set 8271 Front Loader caused a lot of problems. With such a tight budget on small models it was already difficult to come up with an attractive concept with interesting functions. But then to find a way to present such a model so that an 8-year old can replicate it is a real brain teaser!
Of course there was a similar situation when I designed set 8261 Rally Truck, but due to more experience and the nature of the model this was a lot less problematic. I believe that this one should also give the consumer a much better experience.
However my personal favourite of the official Technic models I designed is set 8292 Cherry Picker, because it feels like I was able to make it my own without too much interference and compromise.

TBs: You designed your first Technic sets for the 2007 assortment. The same year when the LPF was first introduced with the 8275, Motorized Bulldozer. The last major breakthrough, for the LEGO Technic theme.
Guess they were exciting times for you and your Designer colleagues, to be able to take part of this advancement, while everyone else out there was not even able to anticipate it. Can you describe the internal excitement in these times?

NK: Back then, together with marketing and design lead, I was myself a bit more involved in developing and presenting the strategy of LPF in Technic for the next few years.
Even though the LPF system can be considered the latest breakthrough, these times might not have been quite the excitement one expects. The LPF system was a project that was ongoing simultaneously with the development of the 2007 Technic assortment, and therefore there were a lot of uncertainties during this period. Because the specifications regarding dimensions, torque and speed of the different motors were not yet fully defined and specified, and we had to work with a limited amount of prototypes instead, we had to take in consideration that this could have a big influence on the final performance and construction of a model. In that respect it was also a stressful situation for the designers, hoping that most things would work as anticipated.
To me the real fun of building with LPF only started when we received the final production samples, which, as far as I can remember, was actually not that long before set 8275 became known to the public...

TBs: I've read that you started to work for TLG as a freelancer (always thought they mostly use to hire for Junior Designer positions) and the project you got assigned was the 8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8.
For me this was your best looking model and the one I most enjoyed building and playing.
Was there any particular reason or previous work done, for you to get such a large challenge as a freelance project?

NK: It's nice to hear you appreciate this model a lot. I also do not know why I was asked as a freelancer. Maybe because I came from unfamiliar territory for TLG as a Dutch designer and labelled as fan, and they didn't want to take too much of a risk. Anyway, I later found out that TLG contacted me initially with the idea to help the Technic department with creating alternative models.
However when this Ferrari project came along from the Racers team, and with all the Technic designers assigned to other models, the decision was made to put me to the test and let me try to develop the model, just to see what I was capable of. I wasn't aware of this and just started to work on the assignment they initiated, giving it my best shot...

TBs: The 8674 had two predecessors almost identical (8458 Silver Champion and 8461 Williams F1 Team Racer). Despite the change to studless design, which other objectives were set for the Ferrari? How did you approach the challenge?

NK: Due to the success of the smaller 1:10 Technic F1 Ferrari 8386 TLG wanted to launch a bigger more accurate model with several functions which should represent the Ferrari F1 2005 as close as possible, preferably with detachable nose and bodywork. For the size of this model the reference was the wheel of set 8458. There was no budget for the development of new parts so I had to work with what was available. That meant pretty much using the same suspension mechanism as in set 8458, but converting it to a studless design. The first challenge was therefore to create a decent structure for a frame that could cope with the forces of this kind of suspension.
Through the Racers team I received some exclusive reference material from Ferrari on their Formula 1 car. Unfortunately though I had to do it with pictures, because I would have loved to see the real thing!
So at this stage I started to experiment with the body style, where to put different panels and add certain details. Basically the question was what the main characteristics were of the Ferrari F1 2005. One thing I wasn't allowed to do in the official model was using white elements at certain places, because this could be associated with the tobacco industry, something both TLG and Ferrari wanted to avoid.
Once there was an approval of the authenticity of the model from both internally and Ferrari, it was time to clean up the model and improve the buildability, so it would pass the model review session.
The review went well, but there were some small issues that had to be looked into. As my freelance period was over and my holiday already planned, one of the Technic designer took care of them. So if you compare my version with the final model, small differences can be noticed, even though many are very subtle.

TBs: What do you think about the new panels design? When compared to the previous ones, do you find them more versatile and useful or somehow they also bring new building limitations with them?
Can you imagine how the 8674 would look like now, if these were the panels to use?

NK: To be honest I'm not totally sold yet on the new panels, even though it's difficult to explain why. They definitely have several advantages like more connection points so they are more intuitive to build with, and can be used for constructive purposes as well.
The first generation of panels had too much noise and distraction with big open holes and cylindrical shapes. However the new generation of panels are pretty much the opposite. I think they look a bit too clean and therefore lack character in my opinion. They are also less suggestive in which case the panels end up at almost the same place in similar type of models. (Compare for example panel placement on set 8041 vs 8258 vs 8109 vs 8052) The result of this seems to be a decreasing variety and character of models.
Of course the second generation of panels, like I used in 8674, often end up at similar places as well, but to me those panels can be combined in multiple ways, still giving a nice flow of surfaces. Also I believe they are a bit more refined with subtle accents so they look better on smaller models too.
So summarising: the easier to use new panels offer more possibilities in construction, the older panels more in aesthetics.
I wouldn't know what set 8674 would look like today with the use of new panels. Probably not as curvy, but to be certain I should probably try...

TBs: It is about time for a new Technic F1 large car... Either as an hobby, a freelance project or a new position at TLG, maybe this would be a new challenge you would like take!?...
A return as a LEGO Designer, would be something that you would be willing to embrace?

NK: Perhaps now TLG has a deal with Mercedes-Benz regarding the Unimog there could be a possibility for them to develop a Mercedes F1 racer as well. It would indeed be nice to see a fresh one after so many Ferrari's. It's not something I would take on any time soon as a hobby project, but if TLG contacts me to design one again, I wouldn't say no.
Yes, I would like to use and promote LEGO again in a future job, even though this doesn't necessarily imply working for TLG...

Thank you Mr. Kuipers!
Above, the LEGO Technic and Racers sets designed by Nathanaël while he worked for TLG. Most of them were totally designed by him, but there were some cooperation exceptions (those on the right side). Nathanaël made the first concept of the 8272 but didn’t make the materialisation of it (making it buildable and to price target, etc...), which another colleague did. With 8256 it was the opposite; someone else made the first concept and Nathanaël did the materialisation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Markus writes about the LEGO Technic Linear Actuators

LEGO Designer Markus Kossman, writes about the LEGO Technic Linear actuators, at the blog.

Nice cut views!

Read it out, here.

PS: In fact Markus also wrote "So why not just use pneumatic cylinders instead? Well, all actuators are self-locking, which means you can't push the piston in and out by hand.", which if we want to be precise, I can't agree because it doesn't apply to the new mLA. In the case of relative small loads, the piston can in fact be retracted by the action of load, as we can see from this video (from minute 2:30) [1].
Most likely this was a simplification, given the website target group and age.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TBs TechTalk 05 - with Nathanaël Kuipers (Part I)

[Part II]

TBs has arranged an interview with one of the most known Technic builders and former LEGO Technic designer – Nathanaël Kuipers, aka Industrial Designer.

Hi Nathanaël,

Thanks for accepting to do this interview for TBs!
In short this is what we already know about you: 31 years old, born and graduated as Industrial Designer in the Netherlands, now living and working as Product Developer in Sweden. Once you become a LEGO Designer (a dream made true), but after 3 years you decided to give a try to other professional experiences.
One of your interests is to build alternates from a LEGO set, something you keep doing occasionally.
Since 2003/04 your Technic Supercar models set a reference for many Technic builders out there, who follow your work with attention. But you still do, being the Concept and Concept 4x4 your latest references in the subject.

NK: Thank you TBs for the invitation. It's a privilege to be asked for such a well known and respected website. You seem to have done your homework, because all the information is correct. Not sure though if my Technic Supercars set a reference, but if you say so...

TBs: Before becoming a LEGO Designer and as most of us, you certainly have played with LEGO bricks in your childhood. Which memories do you have from your first LEGO set? At which age did you get it? Can you still remember which set it was?

NK: To be honest I can't remember getting my first set, probably because I was too young at just 4 of age. Luckily when I was a bit older my parents could tell me that it was my aunt who had the première of giving me set 625 as my first official LEGO set. Apparently this was very well received, which soon led to an expanded collection. Not much else to say about my first set, except that the excavator arm was a weak part of which several broke. Sorry that I can not mention something a bit more positive, but this is what I can still remember of this set today.

TBs: Once you became a LEGO Designer, you developed several models for the Creator and Technic themes. Can you tell us a bit of your experience there? The joy, the excitements, the frustrations and difficulties, etc…

NK: Of course when TLG contacted me if I was interested to work freelance for them, I was so excited, because it was like a dream coming true. Soon after I started this period they offered me a position, and the first year as an official LEGO designer I was just with my heads in the clouds, so nothing could really bother me.
Yes, sometimes there were situations which were a bit disappointing like a colleague who had to finish a model that I started in a period that I was absent, and afterwards discover that certain design elements were left out, which I thought characterised the model. Something my colleague couldn't have known, nothing we could change, so you accept it and move on.

It's a bit of a different story though when you work for about half a year on a model and then the biggest retailers of the market refuse to put it on the shelves, because they are worried it cannibalizes on another model that is launched that same year. Everyone was a bit disillusioned, me in particular, putting my almost fully developed 'baby' on indefinite hold. Soon afterwards it was completely cancelled...

Opposite scenarios are also possible. This happened for example when some colleagues from Creator had presented their conceptual models as alternates for set 4993 Cool Convertible. The idea of a skid loader was so well received that the retailers insisted to have this as a set alternative. The problem however was that this model was shown in a very conceptual state in which certain essential elements were added to give the model its functionality. Because of a very tight budget for this model it was impossible in the end to add these special parts in the set. In a very limited time frame I was asked to come up with a solution that would:
   a. Have a working lifting function
   b. Have a structure that was able to cope with some abuse during play
   c. Be possible to build by the target group of kids
   d. Have the look and feel of the original concept
It's not so difficult to imagine that this was quite a challenge, especially considering the parts inventory I had to work with. My experience with Technic came in quite handy, and was probably the main reason why they put me on this task.

TBs: Alternate models from a set, seems to be one of your most favourite challenges (or should I call it an hobby?). With a few notable exceptions, we don't see many AFOLs doing this.
Thinking on a model to build from a predefined set of parts and leaving the minimum of them unused, while trying to get something recognizable and appealing as the final result, seems to be a pretty difficult task.
How do you use to approach this exercise? Do you consider it a difficult one? Which was the set/alternate that challenged you most, in order to come up with the alternate model? Why?

NK: When I started to build again after my dark-ages I didn't want to mix old with new bricks.  In this period I had to get used to all kind of new parts, so I started to experiment a bit. At the same time I just wanted to see if it was possible to come up with better alternatives than the official ones.
How difficult it is to come up with a good alternative depends greatly on the parts inventory (design and colour), my mood, and the theme of a set, as I prefer to have suitable models. Considering these, the easiest themes for me are vehicle related, the hardest animal. Another challenge is to add relevant functions in an alternate, which was for example the case with my jet alternative from set 4403, or the previously mentioned skid loader.

Respectively alternates for the sets: 4403, 4939, 4506 and 8436

TBs: As we know, some of your first models as an AFOL, specifically in Technic, were made as a combination of two models (8458 Silver Champion and 8466 4x4 Off-Roader). This is also a kind of alternate, but at a larger scale (more than 2.500 parts combined).
We can think about it as a bigger challenge in one way, or a smaller one if we consider you have more parts at hand and a lot more options. That's probably the reason why you made more than one model, out of these two.
The idea, the challenges, the compromises - What do you recall about this MOC?

NK: To me it all started with the legendary set 8448. Even though building with LEGO wasn't one of my activities at the time, I still followed the model developments closely. When I saw this set in the catalogue I was very tempted to buy it, but unfortunately never did. Then when set #8458 came out the year after, I couldn't resist any longer and purchased a copy.
The next step was to design a sportscar with it inspired by set 8448. While the model came out decent, to me it missed the spirit of the real LEGO 'supercars' due to the lack of a gearbox. This was the main reason why I bought set 8466.
My first intention was then to update the sportscar with a gearbox, but in the end it turned out in quite a different design. At this point I also started to discover the online community.

After getting in touch with 2 other talented Technic builders we started talking about what would be the ultimate LEGO 'supercar', and challenged each other to design one. I believed that it was possible to make one using these same 2 sets again. (I didn't have much choice anyway, with the limited amount of Technic I had back then.) Different than the previous times, the building process started with several exploration phases, just to see in which direction I thought the model should go. Once I had a better understanding of the possibilities, the final design had to be a combination of the most interesting ideas. It took about a month before everything came together, and I was able to present the final result. So the 'Supercar' was born then, and seems to hold quite well even today...

TBs: While at TLG, you have also designed several alternate models for some Creator sets. We know that in the Technic theme this is usually also done by the designer of the main model, because he's who better knows the part assortment used.
Is it different for other themes? Or did you develop some rare skills that made you the guy to call when it comes to make alternative models?

NK: At TLG it looks like the main themes that have alternates as a key selling point are Technic and Creator. Most other lines have a higher focus on role playing, which also seems to be the trend of today's toys.
Of course the designer of a model has the advantage of knowing the parts inventory best, and therefore likely finds it easier to come up with an interesting alternate too. While this is generally the case, there are always exceptions to the rule. If I can be considered one of them I do not know. The idea of building with a limited parts palette however, is something I have always found quite intriguing.

Nathanaël designed the Truck for set 4939, and the Hovercraft for set 4997.

TBs: Nathanaël, out of curiosity - having you designed so many alternate great alternate models, did you also design all the alternates for your Technic main models?

NK: Unfortunately I only designed the official alternate for 8292.

The skid loader I made for 8271 did not make it in the box, but I was still allowed to publish it later myself.

TBs: Now looking backwards, is it a difficult job, to be a LEGO Designer? Why?

NK: It all depends on what your expectations are, and how easy you adjust and fit in.
Not everyone can cope with all the limitations you have to work within. There are project briefings mentioning target group, budgets, and deadlines; parts and/or colours which are discontinued; models and concepts that never make it to market... Pretty much the usual business one can expect from any commercial company.
Besides job related issues, there is the possible culture and regulation differences someone might experience from Denmark as a country. Also the difficult language and Scandinavian climate could be of influence.

Lets focus now more on your LEGO Technic interests, which is probably also the most appealing topic for our readership at TBs.

TBs: During the creative process, do you use to feel the need of certain never released elements, in order to achieve some type of arrangement more effectively?
Can you describe how such elements would look like?

NK: With the available parts in Technic today there's already a whole lot possible. In the past few years I believe some very useful parts have been added to the portfolio. Not that I really needed  them, because often there are ways to work around things, but they can come in handy and often lead to less complicated solutions.
Sometimes we also do not realise the potential of a part until we start using it. Therefore when new  Technic parts are developed at TLG, a lot of time is spent building with prototypes to evaluate possibilities and limitations. Often the end result is the best compromise between versatile - and intuitive design.
So what is still on my wishlist? One problem that I run into is how to make a strong and simple studless construction for getting the catch of a transmission changeover catch (part 6641) in the centre of a transmission driving ring (part 6539). Because those were both developed during the 'old' Technic brick based era, it always requires half a module offset somewhere in today's structure. I find that quite annoying, so I would like to see a solution that stays 'in system', although I also prefer not to have a system any bigger as it is today.

TBs: From the actual assortment, which is your preferred Technic part? Why?
Do the LEGO designers use to propose new elements, to make their constructions easier and to open new building possibilities? Is there any of the actual parts, that was proposed by you?

NK: Proposals for new parts is an ongoing business which is mainly driven by the designers when they experience certain difficulties developing the models. One part I personally advocated was the T-beam (part 60484), so it should come as no surprise that this one is also among my favourites. Another element I find very useful is joiner 48989, and even though it has some drawbacks, it has served me well on many occasions. The element I'm trying to avoid most is 2 module half beams (part 41677). Put 2 together on a pair of axles and they form a very strong connection, which sounds great, but I find it annoying and difficult to separate them again. To me they are a 'cheap' solution and a quick fix, so if possible I prefer to solve things differently.

TBs: Which are your most favourite Technic sets ever? Some that stands out from the rest!?

NK: Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by cars; the perfect match between aesthetics, engineering and technology. So the logical conclusion is that 'supercars' like 8880, and 8448 are on top of my list.
Actually, besides the cars, Technic was not a theme I was particularly interested in until the millennium shift. That is a pity, because it is only now that I also start to see and appreciate the complexity of sets like 8868 Air Tech Claw Rig and 8480 Space Shuttle. The recently announced set 8110 Unimog looks interesting too and perhaps could be seen as today's counterpart of the Air Tech Claw Rig, considering the technology.

To be continued...

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