Lego Announces Mindstorms EV3, a More 'Hackable' Robotics Kit

Lego Mindstorms EV3

One of the best robotics kits is now even better. Lego is unveiling its new Mindstorms EV3 kit today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas. Check out the new features.

As in the previous set, the Mindstorms NXT, the EV3 comes with hundreds of Lego bricks, plus four motors and five sensors, including a new infrared unit that can be used as robotic eyes or to allow a robot to follow a remote control.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Mindstorms kit, and Lego really wanted to make the product more exciting to "an audience of children who have grown up with technology." So the company set out to redesign the kit by making it, among other things, "more hackable," to use Lego's own words.

One of the biggest upgrades is the EV3 programmable brick, the heart of every Mindstorms project. The brick has been revamped internally and externally. The central processor is an ARM 9 chip, with 64 MB of RAM and 16 MB of Flash built in for storing programs. A SD-slot allows the memory to be expanded, and there's a better display. 

But the biggest innovation is that Lego made it easier for the EV3 brick to communicate via Bluetooth with Android and iOS apps. That means you can use a smartphone or tablet to control a Mindstorms robot or give it new behaviors.

While the previous version of Mindstorms did offer Bluetooth connectivity, Apple devices wouldn't play with Lego's system. Now, due to the addition of a secure Bluetooth chip, Mindstorms robots can connect to iOS devices for the first time, allowing robots to be controlled from an iPhone or iPad.

Lego Mindstorms EV3

There's also a USB port that allows owners to connect any Wi-Fi dongle. The whole thing runs under a version of the Linux operating system, and Lego promises to open up the system as much as possible to hackers, with the release of detailed documentation and SDKs coming later this year (the only "black box" that will be left in the system is the chip that supports iOS Bluetooth access).

To program your robotic creations, you can enter commands directly into the EV3 brick via its LCD or you can use the easy-to-use PC software provided. The set also includes a program that Lego created with Autodesk that shows step-by-step 3D instructions for various projects.

The EV3 set will include instructions for 17 different robots, including walking humanoids and insect-like creatures. It will sell for $350 and will be available in the second half of this year.

And in addition to the retail version, Lego is launching an educational version as well. The educational version is actually a collection of kits designed for classroom use, and it features some unique components compared to the retail version, such as a gyroscope sensor that allows the construction of self-balancing robots, Segway-style.

The educational version also comes with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for the programmable brick. It's assumed that students will work in pairs in the classroom, so this version starts at $5000 with enough pieces to allow 24 students per class.

Via [ Engadget ]

UPDATED: 8 January 2013, 11:18 a.m. EST More details added; 9 January 2013, 8:09 a.m. EST Video added.

Images: Lego; Stephen Cass/IEEE Spectrum

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