One of the greatest hobbies as a kid was playing with my Lego bricks. My very first set came one Christmas, and it was a beautiful kit which you could either build a forklift with or an F1 car. The great thing is that it also came with a special motor and battery pack, so you could follow the instructions to turn your brick creation into a working model. I spent many hours on that set building all kinds of crazy contraptions – even an attempt at a helicopter – before eventually growing out of it and passing the kit on to my younger cousins.
But this weekend my childhood joy was rekindled, as I sat down to play with the Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 set. No longer just a toy, the Lego Mindstorms line introduces some fantastic new concepts that will satisfy both children and adults.
What’s in the Box
Certainly what makes the Mindstorms series different is the inclusion of a programmable ‘brain’, which allows you to create a set simple programs that rely on input from the user as well as sensors on your model. The core set contains one EV3 brick, which is what controls everything and can be programmed any number of ways. You also get a rechargeable battery pack, three motors, and five sensors (gyro, ultrasonic, color, touch, and servo). Each of these sensors can be connected to the EV3 using an included special cable that looks very much like an Ethernet one. And of course you have a huge variety of Lego pieces in the box with which to let your imagination go wild.
Out of the box you can create four models with the core set – a gyro robot, a color sorter, a robotic arm, and even a puppy. If you purchase the expansion set, these can be expanded to include a tank, a robotic monster, a stair climbing robot, and elephant, an assembly line, and even a remote control to control other EV3 creations. The expansion set does add some exciting possibilities, but plenty of great projects can be done with the core set alone.
Building a model
All of this sounds incredibly exciting, however you’ll need to do a bit of prep work. The set comes with a software that you’ll need to install on your PC in order to unlock the various instructions for each model you want to build. The interface is very easy to use, and presents each set of instructions in a step-by-step method, so you can’t go wrong. Once you’ve built your model, you then connect it to your PC and download an appropriate program to it. Then simply disconnect the EV3 from your PC, turn it on, and run your program. My initial attempt to build the Gyro Bot took a bit longer than I expected, since I had initially connected a piece that was of the incorrect length and couldn’t connect another piece to it much later on. But once I sorted that out and built the model correctly, it was great to see the Gyro Bot start up and maintain balance.
Software and Programming
The bundled Lego Mindstorms software is packed full of tutorials, so there’s plenty of hand-holding every step of the way. Programming your EV3 is a simple process of selecting a sensor brick and dragging it on to your workspace. You can then link together logic statements or calculations, and perform actions accordingly. It’s worth mentioning that while the initial tutorial programs are helpful, they don’t very clearly explain each step or what exactly you’re programming, so while it’s a simple case of drag and drop, you may need to spend a bit more time deciding first what you want your EV3 to do, and then how exactly it’s going to do it. But when you do figure it out, the results are great, and truly the amount of things you can build becomes limitless. As an added bonus, you can also access the Mindstorms app from an iOS device, making it a very versatile kit indeed.
The Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 set is certainly a far cry from the simple Lego set that I played with in my youth, but it’s an amazing tool to teach young children and teenagers about programming logic as well as building models. This kit is specifically geared towards the teacher / student environment, and will certainly get young minds working hard to come up with unique models and programs. While some time needs to be spent to full understand the programming section, there’s no doubt that anyone with a sharp mind will be quick to grasp the basic concepts and build their own models in no time.