fredag 5 december 2008

Fan created website, nxtprograms.com, provides out of the box fun


There are many websites about LEGO MINDSTORMS create by fans. One recent site, nxtprograms.com caught our attention becase its creator, Dave Parker, has developed a colletion of models and buidling instructions for MINDSTORMS NXT that you can make right out of the box! He also includes programs and a tutorial on how to photograph your robot. The MINDSTORMS team interviewed Dave to learn more about him.



What you do?


I am a Software Engineer. Actually, nowadays I am a part time Software Engineer, part time Volunteer Teacher, and part time Dad.



Where you are from?


I grew up near San Jose, California (USA). Now I live in Meadow Vista, California, a little town in the Sierra Foothills halfway between Sacramento and Tahoe.



What is your experience with LEGO MINDSTORMS?


My mother actually got me one of the first LEGO MINDSTORMS (RCX) kits as a gift when they first came out in 1998, which was a fun and unusual gift, since I was well into my full time engineering career at that point. That provided a lot of fun tinkering in my spare time. Now, for the last 4 years I have taught a before-school LEGO Robotics Club at the local middle school using the RCX kit, and coached an FLL (F.I.R.S.T. LEGO League) team after school. The FLL team switched to using the NXT kit two seasons ago, and that is where I first got experience with the NXT. After patiently watching my FLL team build and program the NXT kit for two years, I finally gave in and bought one for myself last summer.



Why you set up your website?


I work with a lot of kids ages 9-13 in the Robotics Club and Robotics Team at our school, and they love it, and a good number of them go on to either get a MINDSTORMS kit of their own as a gift, or to try to convince their parents to get them one. I then get a lot of questions from both kids and parents asking about ideas for things to do with the kit. Parents who haven’t bought one yet are interested in examples of what you can do with the kit, most kids who get one need some help getting started with the building or programming, and all kids are interested in more ideas for what you can do with it.



What's hard about building and programming?


The hardest part about building or programming is getting started, and almost everyone needs some help with that. Starting with just a bin of parts or a blank programming page is a very hard thing to do. But I have noticed that if you give somebody a design to start with, they are amazingly good at modifying it to do different and interesting things. So the idea of my web site was to offer several fun projects that first of all give you lots of fun things to do with your cool NXT gift, then to offer ideas and challenges for modifications.



Learning programming is also a big challenge for younger kids, since it is so abstract. I have found that most kids (and adults really) learn programming better by example than by trying to teach the individual programming concepts lesson-style. There are several good resources for learning NXT-G programming concepts out there, so I decided to take a different approach and just offer complete programs that people can look at and learn from. Even though several of the programs on my site are very complex by kids’ standards, they can actually understand and learn from at least parts of them by looking at the completed program and reading the comments.



How long it takes you to make one of your models?


Of course it varies a lot, and some of the simple ones are really quick, but one of the more complex models on my site might take me about 10 hours of mechanical design and 1 hour of programming. I will fiddle with a ”proof of concept” for an hour or so to convince myself that the idea is possible. Then I build a first version to see if I can make it all work with the standard NXT parts, then refine the design to try to make a second version that is a little simpler or a little stronger, for example. I’m a programmer by training, so the programming is then the easy part for me.



What is the favorite model you have made so far?


The Machine Gun is probably the most popular model with my users so far, and that one is fun because it works a little better than you expect it to in some ways. It doesn’t shoot very far or very accurately, but the rapid fire is surprisingly quick, so that gives you a fun surprise when you use it. My personal favorite so far is probably the Claw Car with Game Controller, because that one starts to push the limits of what kind of simple motion control you can do with just the standard NXT kit.



You use photos for your building instructions, do you ever use LDD? Why or why not?


After experimenting a bit with both, I decided to use photos for two main reasons. First, although you can create detailed building instructions with LDD (LEGO Digital Designer), I decided that it would be faster for me with the camera. Once you get the camera setup ready, you can get through the steps pretty quickly by simply taking pictures as you take the finished model apart. The pictures in reverse order then become your building instructions. I also think it is a little more efficient for the users of the instructions. I can get more done in each of my steps than automatically generated instructions could do without getting too hard to follow, or taking too long to create.



But honestly the main reason I use a camera instead of LDD is that it is more fun for me. Being a Software Engineer, I work in front of the computer a lot during the day, so I welcome a reason to get away from the computer and spend my time with the real LEGOs!



We noticed that you use the MINDSTORMS NXT set without any extra parts. Do you have a reason for this?


So far I have limited myself to the parts in the standard retail NXT kit and the NXT-G programming system for two reasons. First, I want the projects to be as widely accessible as possible, and you can’t make any assumptions about what other parts people have (or could find even if they might have them). But also, I think limiting myself on parts actually helps me produce finished projects. If I had as many LEGOs as my kids do, I would never finish anything. There would always be a way to make it better, or more interesting, or something else to try, and the choices of what to start working on next would also be staggering. I would have a lot of fun starting and working on projects, but rarely get to the point of feeling ”finished” with one. Right now, I design projects based on what I think is even possible to do at all, and when I am halfway through a project and considering something to add or a way to solve something, I can look at my remaining parts, and I can decide pretty quickly whether to even consider that idea.



Where do you get your inspiration for building robots?


It helps to try to think like a kid, and so I get ideas by watching and listening to the kids in my robotics classes, and my own kids are a big source of ideas -- not just with LEGOs and other building activitites, but other things that interest them such as sports, games, music, art, etc. I also look at other toys for inspiration.



I have a list of ideas that I add to every time I think of something, and I am working my way through that list and adding to it along the way. Trying to be diverse in the projects, rather than going deep into any particular area helps a lot too. Then you can just look around at the world and see mechanical ideas everywhere. Some are very simple, but simple is good for my purposes. Take a look at your kitchen, for example, there’s something I haven’t looked at yet. Toaster? Blender? Dishwasher? I haven’t given any of these any thought yet, but that’s an example of how an idea starts.



What are your plans for your nxt great robot?


I never really know which idea I will try to tackle next. I have several complex ideas that I will try at some point, but I also try to mix in simple and unusual things that are not like traditional robots. You’ll just have to keep checking back to the web site and see what happens!



See Dave Parker's Website:

nxtprograms.comThere are many websites about LEGO MINDSTORMS create by fans. One recent site, nxtprograms.com caught our attention becase its creator, Dave Parker, has developed a colletion of models and buidling instructions for MINDSTORMS NXT that you can make right out of the box! He also includes programs and a tutorial on how to photograph your robot. The MINDSTORMS team interviewed Dave to learn more about him.



What you do?


I am a Software Engineer. Actually, nowadays I am a part time Software Engineer, part time Volunteer Teacher, and part time Dad.



Where you are from?


I grew up near San Jose, California (USA). Now I live in Meadow Vista, California, a little town in the Sierra Foothills halfway between Sacramento and Tahoe.



What is your experience with LEGO MINDSTORMS?


My mother actually got me one of the first LEGO MINDSTORMS (RCX) kits as a gift when they first came out in 1998, which was a fun and unusual gift, since I was well into my full time engineering career at that point. That provided a lot of fun tinkering in my spare time. Now, for the last 4 years I have taught a before-school LEGO Robotics Club at the local middle school using the RCX kit, and coached an FLL (F.I.R.S.T. LEGO League) team after school. The FLL team switched to using the NXT kit two seasons ago, and that is where I first got experience with the NXT. After patiently watching my FLL team build and program the NXT kit for two years, I finally gave in and bought one for myself last summer.



Why you set up your website?


I work with a lot of kids ages 9-13 in the Robotics Club and Robotics Team at our school, and they love it, and a good number of them go on to either get a MINDSTORMS kit of their own as a gift, or to try to convince their parents to get them one. I then get a lot of questions from both kids and parents asking about ideas for things to do with the kit. Parents who haven’t bought one yet are interested in examples of what you can do with the kit, most kids who get one need some help getting started with the building or programming, and all kids are interested in more ideas for what you can do with it.



What's hard about building and programming?


The hardest part about building or programming is getting started, and almost everyone needs some help with that. Starting with just a bin of parts or a blank programming page is a very hard thing to do. But I have noticed that if you give somebody a design to start with, they are amazingly good at modifying it to do different and interesting things. So the idea of my web site was to offer several fun projects that first of all give you lots of fun things to do with your cool NXT gift, then to offer ideas and challenges for modifications.



Learning programming is also a big challenge for younger kids, since it is so abstract. I have found that most kids (and adults really) learn programming better by example than by trying to teach the individual programming concepts lesson-style. There are several good resources for learning NXT-G programming concepts out there, so I decided to take a different approach and just offer complete programs that people can look at and learn from. Even though several of the programs on my site are very complex by kids’ standards, they can actually understand and learn from at least parts of them by looking at the completed program and reading the comments.



How long it takes you to make one of your models?


Of course it varies a lot, and some of the simple ones are really quick, but one of the more complex models on my site might take me about 10 hours of mechanical design and 1 hour of programming. I will fiddle with a ”proof of concept” for an hour or so to convince myself that the idea is possible. Then I build a first version to see if I can make it all work with the standard NXT parts, then refine the design to try to make a second version that is a little simpler or a little stronger, for example. I’m a programmer by training, so the programming is then the easy part for me.



What is the favorite model you have made so far?


The Machine Gun is probably the most popular model with my users so far, and that one is fun because it works a little better than you expect it to in some ways. It doesn’t shoot very far or very accurately, but the rapid fire is surprisingly quick, so that gives you a fun surprise when you use it. My personal favorite so far is probably the Claw Car with Game Controller, because that one starts to push the limits of what kind of simple motion control you can do with just the standard NXT kit.



You use photos for your building instructions, do you ever use LDD? Why or why not?


After experimenting a bit with both, I decided to use photos for two main reasons. First, although you can create detailed building instructions with LDD (LEGO Digital Designer), I decided that it would be faster for me with the camera. Once you get the camera setup ready, you can get through the steps pretty quickly by simply taking pictures as you take the finished model apart. The pictures in reverse order then become your building instructions. I also think it is a little more efficient for the users of the instructions. I can get more done in each of my steps than automatically generated instructions could do without getting too hard to follow, or taking too long to create.



But honestly the main reason I use a camera instead of LDD is that it is more fun for me. Being a Software Engineer, I work in front of the computer a lot during the day, so I welcome a reason to get away from the computer and spend my time with the real LEGOs!



We noticed that you use the MINDSTORMS NXT set without any extra parts. Do you have a reason for this?


So far I have limited myself to the parts in the standard retail NXT kit and the NXT-G programming system for two reasons. First, I want the projects to be as widely accessible as possible, and you can’t make any assumptions about what other parts people have (or could find even if they might have them). But also, I think limiting myself on parts actually helps me produce finished projects. If I had as many LEGOs as my kids do, I would never finish anything. There would always be a way to make it better, or more interesting, or something else to try, and the choices of what to start working on next would also be staggering. I would have a lot of fun starting and working on projects, but rarely get to the point of feeling ”finished” with one. Right now, I design projects based on what I think is even possible to do at all, and when I am halfway through a project and considering something to add or a way to solve something, I can look at my remaining parts, and I can decide pretty quickly whether to even consider that idea.



Where do you get your inspiration for building robots?


It helps to try to think like a kid, and so I get ideas by watching and listening to the kids in my robotics classes, and my own kids are a big source of ideas -- not just with LEGOs and other building activitites, but other things that interest them such as sports, games, music, art, etc. I also look at other toys for inspiration.



I have a list of ideas that I add to every time I think of something, and I am working my way through that list and adding to it along the way. Trying to be diverse in the projects, rather than going deep into any particular area helps a lot too. Then you can just look around at the world and see mechanical ideas everywhere. Some are very simple, but simple is good for my purposes. Take a look at your kitchen, for example, there’s something I haven’t looked at yet. Toaster? Blender? Dishwasher? I haven’t given any of these any thought yet, but that’s an example of how an idea starts.



What are your plans for your nxt great robot?


I never really know which idea I will try to tackle next. I have several complex ideas that I will try at some point, but I also try to mix in simple and unusual things that are not like traditional robots. You’ll just have to keep checking back to the web site and see what happens!



See Dave Parker's Website:

nxtprograms.com



Published by
Published by xFruits
Original source : http://mindstorms.lego.com/news/#65647...

Inga kommentarer:

Stock Ticker

Google Finance Market Summary