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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Can the Artemis Moon Mission Revive the Glamour of Big Tech?

It’s no wonder the tech centibillionaires are building rockets

3 min read
An image of an astronaut having moon soil fall from his hand.

NASA's planned Artemis lunar exploration mission could help burnish the image of big tech.

NASA

Today, the phrase “big tech” typically resonates negatively. It conjures up disturbing aspects of social media and the rise of megacorporations that seem beyond the reach of the law. And yet decades ago, big tech was typically associated with the glamor of motion: of speed, of power, and the thrill of exploring new frontiers.

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This bright idea revolutionized lighthouses and saved lives

3 min read
 A Fresnel lens at the Seguin Island Light Station in Maine.

The Fresnel lens used in the Seguin Island Light Station in Georgetown, Maine.

Edwin Remsberg/AP

Ships today use satellite-based radio navigation, GPS, and other tools to prevent accidents. But back at the beginning of the 19th century, lighthouses guided ships away from rocky shores using an oil lamp placed between a concave mirror and a glass lens to produce a beam of light.

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4 min read