Lego Mindstorms no kids' toy

It might look like nothing more than Lego plastic, but anyone who buys the $249 kit can create fully functional robots. Photos: Building blocks for bots

LAS VEGAS--Soren Lund was making a lot of friends.

He and hundreds of others were on hand for the "digital experience," a one-night extravaganza of companies like Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Panasonic hawking their devices and products at the Bellagio resort in conjunction with this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here .

Lund was promoting Lego's , a sophisticated and open-ended robot development kit masquerading as a kid's toy.

Every couple of minutes, someone would stop by the Lego table, stare briefly and realize they were looking at fully functional robots that happened to be made out of Lego bricks and pieces.

But behind the plastic was a programmable controller that allows anyone who buys the $249 kit--expected to hit the market in August--to create any of an infinite number of possible robots. And though Lund's simple two-legged, walking machine--he said it had long been thought that such a robot was too difficult to create--was impressive, his reactive scorpion may well have been more so.

The Mindstorms robots are built with four sensors: Ultrasonics that function as eyes, as well as those that react to light, sound or touch. Further, the robots are Bluetooth-enabled, meaning they can be controlled by, and can control, any Bluetooth device.

Lund demonstrated, for example, how with his Bluetooth phone, he could direct the movement of one of the robots. Then he showed how the robot was programmed so that when it moved and bumped into something, it would send a signal to his phone directing it to snap a digital photograph.

He also showed off the other sensors by waving his hand in front of a scorpion robot, which then swiped its stinger at him. But when he put his hand further out in front of the scorpion and moved it slowly toward the toy, the scorpion retreated warily.

On its box, Mindstorms NXT is said to be aimed at children 10 and older. But it's obvious Lego is hoping the toy will actually appeal to adults. Lund made that clear by explaining how the company is having a competition to look for the 100 best Mindstorms developers.

Mindstorms

"We have to make it intuitive enough for kids to play and get going," Lund said. "But we know adults want to play. It has to be sophisticated enough for adults to get into it."

The idea with the developer's challenge is that those chosen--after submitting an application through Lego's Web site--will join what Lego is calling the Mindstorms User Panel. Those picked will get to participate in the creation of Mindstorms products and will get a four-month head start on the rest of the Mindstorms community at getting to play with the product.

Lego will announce the challenge winners Feb. 5, Lund said. Until then, would-be developers will have to use their imaginations--or play with the rest of their Lego toys.

 

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