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Legos, Robots, and Education
The basic underlying concept of the Lego - build it yourself – actually fits quite well with most practical robotics development. See, unless your project has been underway for several years, has reached Kickstarter-ready status, or is swimming in government, major university, or massive global corporation cash (e.g., commercial drones, industrial robotics, ASIMO, Robonaut, ATLAS, HRP, HUBO, etc.), robotics research is an almost intrinsically small-group, bootstrapped DIY endeavor. Early-stage work begins with a design (or freestyle!), then the collection and assembly of workable off-the-shelf parts or building/machining them by hand, then doing something about a power source, software, etc., etc., carefully incorporating all variables, and then maybe: voilà – robot! Maybe even some YouTube fame.
Something like that, anyway. Oh, but here’s the thing: chances are you won’t see such opportunities early-on in life. Broadly speaking, the status quo of hands-on robotics education and experimentation is somewhat exclusive to the ranks of higher education. Historically (if that term even works in robotics), budding engineers – who might not even know that’s what they are or can be – just haven’t had easy access to affordable, practical robotics development education.
Communities based around a single, seemingly humble line of products, Lego MINDSTORMS, are stepping in to fill this gap; whether or not Lego set out to become this force of change is irrelevant – they have. Sure, there are plenty of non-Lego, non-giant-global toy corporation build-your-own-robot kits on the market, but none of them can match Lego MINDSTORMS’ combination of price (approximately U.S. $350 for the upcoming EV3), brand familiarity, open-source & intuitive programmability, sophistication, and a supportive, collaborative global network of developers and makers.
It’s fair to say that if the so-called Robotics Revolution/Resurgence/Renaissance is actually underway, then the Lego Group is supplying a considerable portion of humanity’s basic training. Continue reading »