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Mindstorms: Not Just a Kid’s Toy

Grownups are gleefully turning smart Lego bricks into autonomous gadgets

16 min read
Photo: JEAN-MARC GIBOUX/LIAISON AGENCY INC.
Photo: JEAN-MARC GIBOUX/LIAISON AGENCY INC.

Robotic roller-coasters...mobile intelligent cat toys...a robotic disk jockey...an autonomous self-propelled video camera...a tiny mobile image scanner that builds up pictures by crawling millimeter by millimeter across a page: all these are gadgets produced by an R&D organization that few know even exists.

The inventors are not part of a big research university or at some forward-looking computer company, but a loosely knit group of engineers who build gizmos out of Lego bricks. Developed by the Billund-based Danish toy company, some bricks contain microcomputer-controlled sensors and motors, and all are components of a three-year-old product called Lego Mindstorms.

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Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

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Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

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This Gift Will Help Your Aspiring Engineer Learn Technology

Know someone that is hard to shop for? We have the perfect gift for you.

4 min read