After seeing the Lego Mindstorm on my son’s Christmas wish list for the second year in a row, my wife and I finally agreed to take the plunge. Anyone under the age of about 50 probably has memories of playing with Legos as a child. I can remember asking for and receiving Legos on just about every Christmas and birthday. Today, my children are no different, and I’m glad to see that they have an interest in playing with Legos as I think they remain one of the better toys out there for kids today.
The Mindstorm is no ordinary box of Legos. It takes snapping-blocks-together to a whole new level. Like all Legos, you build different structures (in this case robotic vehicles). However, with the Mindstorm, you also receive several electronic sensors, motors, a programmable central processing unit (CPU), and a PC-based development tool for writing and downloading new programs into the Mindstorm CPU…whoa. In a country where we are seeing continued declining interest in math and science, seeing my son’s interest in building and programming robots makes me happy. This, in large part, is why we agreed to part with $270 to purchase the Mindstorm.
As we played with the Mindstorm Christmas night, we built our first robot using the provided instructions and then quickly loaded the software onto my laptop so that we could start programming the robot to move and make sounds. As we got farther along, we quickly came up with all sorts of cool ways to use the included sensors (there are sensors for measuring distances, color recognition, touch detection, and sound detection). If you’re wondering just how much you can do with all this, check out some of the cool YouTube videos of various Mindstorm creations (ok, sure this is pretty geeky, but geeks are the new cool, right?).
And then it occured to me why the Mindstorm is so cool: Not only do you get to create something with your hands (a robot), you also get to create something with your mind (a program). As I type this, my son and nephew are busily working on creating a color-sorting robot. I can’t wait to see what else my son will create in the coming days, weeks, and months.