LEGO Mindstorms pair elementary block based programming (e.g., something that looks like Scratch) with sophisticated building materials. The Mindstorms system interfaces with LEGO Technic building materials. These are a more robust material than the traditional LEGO brick, although traditional bricks and Technics may be combined and used together.
As a generalization, Mindstorms can be understood as modular and programmable systems that allow users to design, build and program computer-driven machines.
New Mindstorms users will begin programming with LEGO Education’s downloadable Mindstorms EV3 software. If you outgrow that graphical user interface (GUI), you can program Mindstorms in other languages, such as Java or Python.
What is in a Mindstorms Ev3 Kit?
Mindstorms kits include many Technic pieces for building or construction. Most of these pieces can be sorted into:
- miscellaneous small pegs, connectors, etc.
Ev3 kits include
- two large motors
- one smaller motor, known as a “medium motor”.
The larger motors produce more torque and the medium motor is capable of higher rotations per minute, but at a lower torque. You can find a lot of data about Mindstorms motors (including on early editions of the product) here.
Kits also include a variety of sensors. Educational kits include
- two touch sensors
- color sensor
- ultrasonic sensor
- gyro sensor.
Retail or home versions of the EV3 include (instead of an ultrasonic sensor) an infrared sensor and beacon — which can be used as a remote control — but these not included in educational kits.
Finally, Mindstorms kits include a computer shaped like a brick, often called “the brick”. In this site I will often refer to it as “EV3 brick”. Some children call this the brain or the mind of the robot; others call it the heart. As you become familiar with the role that it plays in relation to the other parts of a Mindstorms kit, I encourage you to consider which name is most appropriate. Quite simply, the computer receives inputs from sensors, and responds – based on your programming – by instructing the motors to rotate, wait, start, stop, repeat, and so on. The EV3 brick includes:
- four ports for motors (and these ports are letters A, B, C, D), and
- four ports for sensors (and these ports are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4).
Connector cables (specifically, RJ12 data cables) connect motors and sensors to the computer’s ports.
As a roboticist, it’s your job to instruct the robot in a language that the robot understands. This means that you might describe conditions under which a motor should start, stop, or wait. At first, you’ll use the LEGO programming software to create these sets of instructions. Later, you can use more sophisticated languages and software to create instructions for your robots.
What is a Robot?
My Mindstorms classes begin with the questions “What is a robot?” “What is a machine?” “What is a computer?” “What is a self?” I am particularly interested in how we distinguish between a computer and a robot, and how we find our own selves to be similar and dissimilar to robots, computers, and machines.
When you observe someone using a “smartphone”, ask yourself “Is the phone a robot or a computer?” “What is happening in the mind of the person using the phone?”