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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Engineers Are Working on a Solar Microgrid to Outlast Lunar Nights

Future lunar bases will need power for mining and astronaut survival

4 min read
A rendering of a lunar base. In the foreground are rows of solar panels and behind them are two astronauts standing in front of a glass dome with plants inside.
P. Carril/ESA

The next time humans land on the moon, they intend to stay awhile. For the Artemis program, NASA and its collaborators want to build a sustained presence on the moon, which includes setting up a base where astronauts can live and work.

One of the crucial elements for a functioning lunar base is a power supply. Sandia National Laboratories, a research and development lab that specializes in building microgrids for military bases, is teaming up with NASA to design one that will work on the moon.

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Trilobite-Inspired Camera Boasts Huge Depth of Field

New camera relies on “metalenses” that could be fabricated using a standard CMOS foundry

3 min read
Black and white image showing different white box shapes in rows

Scanning electron microscope image of the titanium oxide nanopillars that make up the metalens. The scale is 500 nanometers (nm).

NIST

Inspired by the eyes of extinct trilobites, researchers have created a miniature camera with a record-setting depth of field—the distance over which a camera can produce sharp images in a single photo. Their new study reveals that with the aid of artificial intelligence, their device can simultaneously image objects as near as 3 centimeters and as far away as 1.7 kilometers.

Five hundred million years ago, the oceans teemed with horseshoe-crab-like trilobites. Among the most successful of all early animals, these armored invertebrates lived on Earth for roughly 270 million years before going extinct.

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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