Thursday, August 30, 2012

Does the MINDSTORMS servo fits?

These are beliefs and wishes I and some others (I guess) have for long...

Looking at videos like those below (they are not even about major breakthroughs) it makes me believe we need a totally different set of servo motors for LEGO MINDSTORMS. It could be one, two new motors, but not much more for sure.
Relative to the actual status, I mean diversity, different characteristics (e.g. connectivity) and essentially different form factors (more compact, output shaft orientation diversity, double sided output, assembling options, etc).

And some more [1, 2, 3], among many others you could certainly find.


There are so many other types of models we should afford to create easily, and LEGO seems wasting such a great opportunity for long.
If not within the MINDSTORMS range of products, at least it is my belief we should aim for an upper level or different grade robotics line from LEGO.
You may say this wouldn't be in line with LEGO targets and business goals, but on the other hand the possibilities allowed by the LEGO beams and liftarms (or LEGO Technic in general) are really demanding for more. The possibilities are endless!
Backlash of LEGO plastic gears will remain an issue I know! And of course I'm not suggesting the usage of metallic gears...

If we think about humanoid robots currently in the market, we have seen very specialized offers and we are of course talking about a different league (performance and cost wise). Just one single servo for commercially available robots, can go from a few tenths to nearly 500 euros for the most sophisticated and performant ones.
However some of these principles should also apply to LEGO MINDSTORMS in a more contained scale. We might no get the same level of performance because LEGO structures are built of plastics, but we should have comparable level of functions and size, despite at lower speeds and mechanical accuracy (outside of the motors).

Below you can see a few images from the actual LMS and LPF servos


And here also similar motors, for different type of applications (RC Hobby and Robotics)

Take a look inside an advanced robotics servo.


I know that many things have been accomplished with current NXT servos, but almost always based on continuous circular movements of the motor, associated with linkages, beams, etc.
Many times this demands more creative mechanical and linkage solutions (which is good from certain POV), but also less scalable towards more complex and autonomous robots (which is not so good).

Besides a continuous running servo, I believe we also need more conventional hobby/robotics like servos, up to 90º, 180º or even 360º for different sort of applications. And this is where different and more convenient servo form factors will come into scene. I'd even ask for double sided shaft outputs (as we have seen in the last PF servo motor) with convenient form factors, which is not the case from the current NXT servo.
Such change would also open possibilities for more complex ways of designing and programing robots, beyond the LEGO MINDSTORMS target group/ages. But possibilities are never too much and someone is gonna use them for sure...

Despite Gaute having mentioned there are conflicting demands to address, I still dream with a day where LPF and LMS active elements get seamless integrated and compatible...


And what about daisy chain motor linkages? This is also a must, for cabling simplicity sake!
It would even allow the development of a smaller NXT brick, with fewer physical interfaces.


In resume... LEGO please gives us:
  • Still dual head servos with next generation NXT.
  • Convenient and compact form factor servos, with more versatile assembling options (additional pinhole connectivity points like in new PF motors).
  • Variants on output shaft direction, or possibility to conveniently attach motors to each other with different orientations.
  • Servo daisy chain connectivity for power and control lines.
  • Seamless integration between some LPF and LMS active elements.

It doesn't hurt to challenge the LEGO MINDSTORMS engineers... and it is still free to ask.

What do you think?
(just aiming to raise the discussion and create space for your thoughts)



PS: I've used mostly videos and images from Robotis.com (a robotics solutions manufacturer) as examples, but I could certainly have used some others in alternative or as a complement as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

And there they are, just one day after!...

Pictures from the Grand Prix Racer (42000) and Wreckage Crawler (42006) have popped today on Brickshelf.
I won’t be posting them here besides they are small images from the respective boxes side, and thus not having the controversial watermarks. But as a LEGO Technic fan, I'm sure you will easily find them.

By now it seems that LEGO finally exhausted (or almost if not completely) the four digit references as already expected for some time, and started to use five digits in the references of mainstream sets.

42000 - The Grand Prix Racer is a large sized F1 car or alike (57cm long) and shows a nice combination of red/white panels, for a change.

8386 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:10 from 2004 was 47cm long and the 2006 version (8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8) was 61cm long. With a 57cm length, the new F1 makes me wonder which tires does it really includes. We can’t be sure because of the low quality image available, however the tires' side wall appears to be larger than more commonly found low profile LEGO tires for such large rims.
Can it be that it brings again the large tires from 8674, or something smaller like 8386 wheels with 8146 Nitro Muscle rear tires? That would be a great return for such actually rare tires.

Functions seem to be: steering, rear wing tilt adjustment and removable cover of the engine. Whether it has front and rear suspension remains to be seen. 8674 had suspension and 8386 did not - this ones lays some where in the middle of both.

It doesn't seem associated with any real Formula car maker as we can't see any stickers on it, however it looks like the F3000 car from the Finnish driver, Valtteri Bottas. The use of the 'Grand Prix' name for the model also sounds like a strong association with a powerfull and well known name, from the motorized racing sports.

Taken the example of previous sets it also doesn’t seem to be a model suited for optional motorization, via official building instructions.


42006 - The Wreckage Crawler, or whatever its official name will be, is yellow and somehow similar in functions and size, to the 8294 Excavator from 2008, when the Linear Actuators were introduced for the first time. Although this time we get two large and one small Linear Acturators.
It seems to feature a different tool, more adequate to handle wreckage, and unlike its ancestor it features several of the actual Technic panels, which were not yet available at that time, giving it a more closed look.

Also it seems to be one of the largest Technic sets for the next half and likely to offer optional motorization for its own functions like 8294 also did. We will have to wait and see!

Looking forward for more images/info.

What's in the menu for the 1H13?

It is about one month now, that someone posted at EB, some hints about what the 1H13 LEGO Technic sets gonna be.


- New crawler with arm for handling wreckage, yellow, like the excavator, just smaller and without motors but with 3 linear actuators (2 big, 1 small).
- New F1 car, but it seems a F3000 for its own size. Red and white. Saw without stickers.
- New Motocross with new cross tires and 4 black suspensions (soft I guess), orange.
- New loader (front + back, very small).

This sets are coming in the first 6 months of 2013.

If this proves to be true as several sources seem to indicate (and such rumors don't use to disappoint) we should start to see images from these in a matter of weeks, not moths.

From the list above they seem ordered from the larger set to smallest set.

In the last few years we had always 5 new sets in January, 1 in March and sometimes also 1 extra set exclusive of one or another big retailer, hence this list seems somehow short (4 sets against a pattern of 6-7 sets). But has the source says to have seen it from the dealers catalog (some big account seeing the new products at a regional LEGO office is also a possibility I would not put aside), maybe this shortage has to due with the fact that not every country gets all the sets in the line (country of the catalog seen is unknown so I can't conform this theory).


Looking again at the sets list, I would dare to comment,
  • Crawler: If it is the larger set it looks to me, something like this. There are several other possibilities ofc.
  • F1 or F3000 car: I doesn't make sense to be a big model in the first half, so I'd put any 1:8 F1 car aside (like 8674 from 2006, or older 8461, 8458). It would mean very large tires which we never see in the 1H.
    I would bet in something more likely, like the 1:10 8386 from 2004, or even smaller like older F1 LEGO Technic F1 cars.
    After all we didn't get a Technic F1 since 2006, so 7 years is more than enough to make us expect to see LEGO releasing a new model.
    IMO it only means that something bigger should be on the way.
  • Motocross: It sounds something like 8291 Dirt Bike from 2008. The last one was still released with the old Technic panels, and new cross tires is also something that makes sense (probably to fit with the latest bike wheels).
    Orange color is also inline with what we have seen from LEGO Technic models in the past couple of years and also it seems a good fit.
  • Loader: Maybe it this time we will get a tiny Backhoe, still missing in the tinies collection.
    Keep waiting a new backhoe flagship that succeeds the 8455...

Just some of my divagations...
What else comes along with these, we remain to see.



Edit:
See the update on this topic here, with new information that popped just one day after this post.

Last Update: 2012.Sep.05 19:45 CET

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Week TechVideo, 2012 #34 - TBs tribute to Neil Armstrong

When it comes the day where I wake-up in the morning and see three new videos on YouTube worth mentioning, it is the time to realize I'll never cope with my large backlog of videos queuing to post in this section...

Thus from now on I'll start sharing most of them at TBs companion page on Facebook, whether they have been featured in other places or not (EB, MocPages, Blogs, etc) and then only a few will get into this TBs section (one per week as usual and without specific criteria).
A few will also get into TBs Video Wall playlist at YouTube (again, without any specific or very clear criteria).



As for this week...I should confess I had a different model in mind, but upon the notice that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has passed away this Saturday I went to look for something appropriate to post here.

And then I remembered about Grohl's nicely done LEGO Technic astronaut.



Remembering about Neil's famous sentence when he set foot on the moon... That's a big loss for his family, a giant loss for mankind who lost a kind man! - RIP Neil


You can find further pictures from the highlighted creation, at grohl666's Brickshelf folder.



Disclaimer:
Please avoid sending requests to post specific models on this TBs section.
We understand some of you would enjoy to see your creations featured here, but please understand  that because only one video gets highlighted per week, it is impossible to accommodate all the great MOCs continuously build by the Technic builders out there. They simply won't fit all and that's also not the purpose of this blog (see the header statement).
Many of your MOCs are scanned anyway and listed for later publication when they do not fit immediately. However some remain in the backlog queue just for too long and eventually loose the relevance or the publication opportunity window. As a rule of thumb, we also avoid publishing MOCs that have been featured by their authors or other fans at some other great web places dedicated to the Technic community out there. It doesn't mean that occasionally some won't get published here anyway.

Thanks for your understanding!

Friday, August 24, 2012

2H2012 LEGO Technic animations

The CG animations for the 2H12 Technic sets, can be seen at technic.LEGO.com website since yesterday, and I put them here together for you to see.
Nice animations from LEGO as usual.



9398 - 4x4 Crawler




9396 - Helicopter




9393 - Tractor



In case you're planning to order some LEGO from shop.LEGO.com, maybe you can consider to use one of the LEGO ads in this page. The easy way to order the LEGO sets of your preference and simultaneously support this blog.

LEGO TECHNIC New for 2012



Authenticity, Functionality and Challenging Building!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

TBs TechPoll 32 (Results) - 2012, 2nd Quarter - Favorite week TechVideos

TBs poll for '2012, 2nd Quarter Favorite week TechVideos' is now closed with near 200 votes.
Poll objective was to let you choose your favorite videos, from those highlighted every week here at TBs 'Week TechVideo' category, during the 2nd quarter of 2012.




Results were quite clear and Sheepo's Defender took the lead, while it increases its chances on LEGO CUUSOO at a moderate pace. Akiyuky genious was rewarded second and Nico's Crawler came just after.


#1- "Week TechVideo, 2012 #20 - Land Rover Defender 110", by Sheepo





#2 - "Week TechVideo, 2012 #19 - Internals of Basket Shooter module", by Akiyuky





#3 - "Week TechVideo, 2012 #25 - Nico's Crawler", by Nico71




Congratulations to the producers of the most popular videos among those featured here at TBs , during the 2nd quarter of 2012!

Monday, August 20, 2012

TBs TechTalk 06 - LEGO Technic Building Instructions

Hi Jeppe,

In order to prepare this interview, we asked the LEGO Technic fans community and TBs readers to raise their own questions and concerns.
The input was overwhelming and this made it a bit difficult to summarize all into a manageable set of questions…
But finally here they are!




TBs: From the first Designers Bios pages at technic.LEGO.com, we learned that you were the responsible to produce the BI for LEGO Technic sets.
However later we realized that you also design your own new sets, like it was the case of 8069 Backhoe, and more recently it seems you have also assumed a team management role.
Did you work alone to produce BI for all the Technic assortment those past years, or there were also some other BI designers working with you?
How did it happen with you, when you moved from BI design to sets design?

JJ: Well, I have moved around a bit the last 5-6years. I started out in the Technic department as a Building Instruction Developer - currently the BI team in Technic consist of four people. Later I transferred to the design team in LEGO Technic and recently I became the Design Manager of LEGO Technic. I guess a combination of circumstances, development of skills and my own motivation has led me through this path. Have enjoyed and are enjoying every moment of it!


TBs: The images from the new models we see at the early box mockups, look like CAD renders. Is the artwork on production boxes also based on CAD models, or are they taken from photos of the real models even if digitally reworked afterwards?

JJ: So far almost all the boxes we have done have been based on real-life photos.


TBs: There is some curiosity regarding the tools you use to produce your 3D models and renderings. It is known that TLG uses Autodesk Maya but is there anything else you can disclose about this?
Are the BI also produced with the support of Maya tools suite, or there are some other tools being used in the process?
When building each model in CAD do you simply use Maya parts library, or do you use also any other software which automatically applies constraints (similar to LDD and SR3D) - e.g. do you make use of Maya API to prevent bricks from overlapping?

JJ: Depending on how far we are in the development process we use several different 3D software packages and DTP (Desktop Publishing) software packages. The most important one is a 3D tool that LEGO has developed especially for our own purpose. In this tool we build the 3D LEGO model, do the building instructions and make animations of the models.


TBs: 3D renderings are used for box art, ads, promotional images and videos, and of course also contained in the final BI.
Who has the task to build the models within the CAD software, and at what point in the design process does it begins?

JJ: It is the Building Instruction team who builds our models in 3D. Typically it happens when the design of the model is done, but on some models it also makes sense to use a preliminary 3D model during our design phase.



TBs: Here we got the most questions, comments, suggestions and even complaints…
Old sets instructions had a lot fewer steps and many more parts were used at each step or BI page (numerous examples can be listed here). For many, this was a lot more fun and challenging!
Then suddenly tenths of pages turned into hundreds at larger sets. Mirrored sub-assemblies got repeated, etc. Why did this change so dramatically?
Do you think kids today prefer it this way? Would they give-up building more easily or won't understand the instructions if done otherwise?
Also target ages of similar sets have not decreased (on the contrary) and after all Technic an SYSTEM sets might have different audiences.
Furthermore how does this fit with your corporate environmental responsibility, besides having eliminated paper instructions for B-models in between?

JJ: A big part of both designing a model and making the Building Instructions is to make sure that a certain age group of kids can build the models. We do a lot of testing with kids to make sure that we are giving them just the help they need during the build - relative to their age. That is also about how many elements we can add to the model per step/page in the instructions. The Technic models have also become much more complex and contains more elements than some of the older models - thus requiring more pages to make the full building experience as satisfying as possible. The example of the mirrored sub-assembly is actually a good one. There is no doubt that kids wouldn't understand an instruction based on "build X2, but one mirrored". We are learning all the time and we always strive to use our newest insights to improve the building and play experience of our models. In regards to our environmental responsibility, we take that very seriously and always try to use as little paper as possible without compromising the building experience.


TBs: Is it correct to think it was a consequence of changing the building paradigm from studed beams (upwards building) to studless design (from inside to outside building), that made instructions to grow significantly? Or in other words, has studless construction made instructions more difficult to create, or has it directly increased the number of stages?
If you were to design new instructions for an old set like 8880, what would you do differently now?
Would there be more steps? More modules? Would the build order change?

JJ: I don't think the change from studded beams to stud-less beams as such made instructions grow in size. I think the new way of building with studless beams have given us the possibility to build more authentic looking models with functions that also are more realistic. At the same time the number of elements in the sets has also grown over the years. That fact and the fact of new insights as mentioned earlier is some of the factors that has had an impact on the sizes of the instructions. It is very difficult to answer the questions about re-doing the instructions of 8880 without actually trying it out form start to finish. I think some of it would come out very different and some it would be very much the same.

Old 8880 Supercar building instructions sample page, with relative high count of parts added per building step.


TBs: What process goes in to determining the instruction steps and build order? Who decides the build order in instructions and how is it decided?
How much input and collaboration or influence, is there from the Designer of each set on the BI creation process?
Who decides if a step should be divided in several sub-steps?

JJ: See other answers.


TBs: It was written somewhere that you separate a model by hand, to make steps and then make them digitally. How do you know where to begin and what should come next?
Is it true that you make the instructions by building each step and placing them over long tables, so that for instance in case of a 100 steps set you would have 100 progressive partial buildings?

JJ: Yes it is true that part of the development of the building instructions involves breaking the model down in physical steps and laying them out on long tables. The building experience is also a very big part of the design of the model - this work is done in cooperation between the designer and the building instruction developer - by that the starting point of the build is defined during that work. In some Technic models you have to follow a very specific order to be able to build them at all. The locking of the structures during the build is one of the things that smoetimes makes it impossible to follow a different order. But a lot of the different sub-assemblies can typically be done in many different ways. To make sure that it works out in the end we simply need to build it through again and again!


TBs: Do you use to change the models, so that they get easier to assemble? Or did you ever had to change a design because suitable instructions could not be made?
Also, to what extent are the set design and instructions design linked? I.e. when designing the model itself (not the instructions), how much thought does go to the building process and are concessions done to make the building process easier? Or are set design and instruction design separate, to ensure an optimal set design?

JJ: See above.


TBs: How many revisions are there for instructions? In what way is the difficulty of the building process tested? And what is the level of difficulty you aim for?

JJ: When developing the instructions we go through many revisions, depending on the size and complexity of the model. Part of the work with building instructions involves testing with kids in different age groups to make sure that we hit the right level of difficulty - we always aim for the age mark on the specific model (eg. 10-16).


TBs: Is there any difference in making instructions for a main model, compared to a B-model? Which ones?

JJ: No, basically not. We put the same amount of work and care in to the development of both A- and B-model instructions.


TBs: How the number of BI books are decided?
Why do the small Technic sets often have several booklets to build the main model, instead of one single booklet?
Often the instructions appear not breakdown in a very logical way, split up into as many as five separate books in some cases (even for the B-model online only instructions) and the latest booklet is sometimes considerably smaller then the other ones.

JJ: Well, we try to do it in a logical way, but at the same time we are also bound by other factors, e.g. the standards of printing technology (like that the number of pages have to be dividable by 4 (as we print on four-page sheets.) and how we can handle it in production.


TBs: Also in 2011 you have experimented to release instructions without the small slits between axle holes on Technic beams (8109). And you generalized this in 2012.
Some feel it ugly and looking like Meccano... They even fear that you do that to real beams, which I doubt for obvious reasons.
Now that CAD tools would deal with extra detail more and more easily, why did you take such simplification? Apparently just to improve readability!? Do you think it is worth as an improvement or that was real need for that?

JJ: Yes, after extensive testing with kids we decided to remove the slits in the building instructions as it didn't add anything to the building experience - but it did make it more readable and easier for the kids to see what is going on in the steps. By that it improves the building experience for the kids. And fear not, we do not have any plans about doing that to the real beams!

An example of older instructions with the slits in Technic beams on the left and the current simplified representation on the right.
Indeed the new style looks cleaner, besides less realistic.


TBs: Thanks a lot for your time! It was really great to know more about the process how the building instructions for the LEGO Technic sets are prepared.

JJ: You are welcome!





Some other questions sent were left unanswered for a couple of reasons. Below I'm listing those questions for your information.


TBs: Will we ever be able to tell apart black from dark gray any better? This is often very hard to distinguish even with good lightening conditions while building.
Sometimes builders experience some frustration when they have to replace parts in the middle of a model, because they have used the wrong color several steps behind...
Black and dark grey could be better distinguished by having the black parts with a white or grey outline. Like in LDD 4.2 can the outlines of black parts be highlighted in white or grey, to make them easier to see when there are numerous black parts joined together?

TBs: Now that B-model instructions have became available only in digital format and that doing the same for the main models might not be the best idea… but since both became available in digital, have you ever considered taking it a step further and turn them available also in LDD format or similar?
Thus one can actually rotate the model and choose the best 3D perspective for each step, in case of doubt. The instructions could also be adjustable to the level of expertise of the builder, by including more/less details about beam lengths for instance, bigger/smaller steps, etc.
Just an idea rolling out...

TBs: In 2011 you started to release very poor quality building instructions online. Their resolution was noticeably very low!
This has improved again in 2012, but why did you take the decision to produce such low quality instructions before?

TBs: Some from old school remember and miss the old Technic Idea Books like 8888. :)
What do you think that have changed meanwhile, so that LEGO doesn't invest anymore developing and commercializing these? Bet you're plenty of original ideas in your drawers that could see the light in such Idea Books.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Week TechVideo, 2012 #33 - The Carver

The Carver is a tilting three-wheeled vehicle using an automatic balancing technology to balance the passenger compartment under all conditions. The Carver vehicle combines aspects of a motorcycle and a car, both in appearance and design and was produced by Carver Europe in the Netherlands.

Vmln8 a builder from New Zeland made a nice LEGO version with Technic parts, months ago, quite successfully as you can see from his video below.



Look at the solution used to implement the steering and dynamic cornering behavior for this kind of motorcycle. In fact a car/motorcycle hybrid.

You can find further pictures at Vmln8's flickr account and even building instructions from Rebrickable.

Unfortunately such vehicles are not in production since 2009, as they turned unprofitable due to the lack of demand at the high prices they were sold.
But you can still see a couple of nice videos from a real Carver in action, on a test drive by Richard Hammond and another by Jeremy Clarkson for the BBC TopGear show.

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