Lego® Mindstorms® NXT 2.0 Kit

By Ryan Winters

Description: Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 kit
Experience level: Intermediate
Time required: 3 hours

"I have an electronics project for you." When I hear those words from my boss, I tend to imagine the worst. When I am handed a Lego® Mindstorms® NXT 2.0 kit and told to build something, now we are talking about a completely different project! This is the kind of task that delivers immediate and long-term satisfaction. I have loved playing with Legos since I was a kid, and some of their new designs frequently intrigue me.

Mindstorms Lego® Mindstorms® NXT takes the gears and motors aspect of Lego® Technic® and adds a brain and a bit of sensory perception. It has an ultrasonic sensor to see and measure distance, two touch sensors that allow it to feel, and a color sensor lets the robot detect color and light. There are also three interactive servo motors that ensure the robot moves with accuracy. All of these elements are controlled with the NXT brick that you can configure with software on your computer. Programs and data are easily uploaded and downloaded through a USB cable or Bluetooth connection.

Open the Box

Mindstorms I cannot wait to tear into the box to get started, but I have never played with Legos that came with software, so I decided to read up first. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the parts and make sure everything is there. All the bags are nicely numbered, so it is easy to get started. I also installed the software just to see what it was all about, and that is where I discovered the build instructions for various projects are located on the main page in the Robo Center. I know there are environmental implications with printing all the manuals, but there was something I liked about flipping through the pages to see the next step. This one is just a button click.

If You Build It

Mindstorms The Mindstorms® box comes with one paper guide that gets you up and running with a basic robot in 30 minutes, but I'm looking for more of a challenge. I chose to build the Color Sorting machine because it seems like an interesting way to see what this set is capable of. Plus, I see what looks like a catapult in the diagram, so I am already clicking ‘GO’. This set is just like the Legos of yore, so it is simple to locate the few pieces needed per step, and the steps are always well diagramed, so there should be no mistake what piece goes where. I will note, some pieces are tiny and can be tricky to sort out from a big pile, so it is best to keep the bags separate. Also, a couple pieces are the same shape but a different color. Functionally, there is no difference, but I want everything perfect and to have it look just like it does in the picture.

Mindstorms As always, little pieces are built into segments or modules that are later combined to complete the robot. The first section was to build the basket and ball dispenser. Each section rewards you with a snippet of code that you upload to the NXT to verify you assembled the machine correctly and provides troubleshooting if it does not. The next section is just a few steps, but it introduces the color sensor and enables the dispenser to identify and announce the color of a ball before releasing it.

Next item to be built is the Sorting Tray. Once the tray is complete, I loaded the third program that combines the actions and logic from the previous builds to allow the sorter to identify the color and deposit it into a different compartment of the tray by spinning it around. I got a real kick out of watching it go, and to my surprise, it completed the task flawlessly. Finally, yet most important is the catapult. This segment replaces the sorting tray and runs a separate program. Be sure Motor ‘C’ is in the correct position when changing between sort and launch modes. If it is not, the tray may not line up when sorting or the catapult will not aim correctly.

Take it to the Next Level

Each section of code gives you the option to customize or create your own program. The helpful tutorials can guide you through the steps to organize a program that will interpret what the sensors detect and how to react. Start to finish, the Color Sorter Machine took me about five hours to build, and that includes completely disassembling my Alpha Rex robot for parts. In addition to the variety of included robotic projects and programs, an online community is constantly sharing their robotic designs and programs for anyone to try. If you are really stuck, there are even people out there that can help you. With all of the options available and a creative mind, this kit has endless potential.
This project was assembled by Ryan Winters. Ryan Winters is a Product Manager at Jameco Electronics and a Bay Area, California native. He is mostly self-taught and his hobbies include working on cars and computers, fiddling with electronic gadgets and experimenting with robotics.