At last I have got my LEGO Minstorms NXT 2.0 robotics kit. This is the next generation of LEGO Mindstorms, which is a usual set of LEGO bricks except it includes the intelligent brick – a small microcomputer with a number of inputs and outputs. You can build your robot around it, attach motors to outputs and then easily program it, so it reacts to different inputs received through various sensors such as touch, light, color or ultrasonic sensor.
My first encounter with Mindstorms was in April 2004 with a British Council project called Robotics Mission. I have trained teachers from the participating secondary schools on using the kits, so they could help their students to compete at National Robotics Tournaments. These tournaments were organized inline with FIRST LEGO League (FLL) – a global program, where teams of 9 to 16 years old children compete by building an autonomous LEGO robot to carry out predefined challenge missions in 2.5 minutes and by presenting their innovative ideas about certain real life topic. The topic and the related challenge are announced usually in September every year starting from 1998 and teams have about eight weeks to get ready for competitions.
In Azerbaijan the catch was that the local teams were coupled with their UK peers, working together through the dedicated web forums. So the winner of the National Tournament in Baku was reaching the UK FLL final together with their British teammates. I had a privilege of judging at the first three national tournaments from 2004 to 2006 together with Mike Grocott, Director of Callington Space Centre at the Callington Community College in the UK.
LEGO Mindstorms has a great potential, which can be used for encouraging school children to learn science and technology in a fun way. It is also used at some universities for introducing such topics as robotics, programming or artificial intelligence. Back in 2007 I organized several “Programming for beginners with LEGO robots” workshops at the Caspian Energy Centre for my freshmen Informatics students.