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Lego Mindstorms In a Nutshell

Lego Mindstorms is a collection of very different components that work together to allow easy building and programming of robots. The kit contains more than 700 Lego parts—everything from classic Lego bricks to gears and pulleys. The largest brick in the kit is called the RCX brick, a small computer with an Hitachi H8 microcontroller running at 16 MHz with 32Kb of RAM (see Figure 15). The processor controls a small LCD, a speaker, three output ports for motors, and three input ports for sensors. The kit also contains five special parts just for the RCX brick: two motors, two touch sensors, and a light sensor.

Figure 15 The RCX brick.

Although the kit is extremely complete, and will give hundreds of hours' worth of experimentation, users often want to "go outside the box." Thankfully, there is a wide range of expansion kits and additional components available, such as a temperature sensor or a rotation sensor that can be used to measure wheel movement. Many users with a slightly technical bent have created additional sensors that are capable of measuring almost anything.

Programs for the robot are created on a desktop computer and then uploaded to the RCX brick. The RIS kit comes with a small IR Tower, which connects to either a USB port or the serial port. This tower is capable of transmitting code to the RCX brick through infrared signals rather than cumbersome wires. The kit also comes with an easy-to-use programming environment, but it isn't capable of creating very complex programs. To create truly powerful programs, an alternate language must be used, such as leJOS.

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