Product Review by David Perdue (Author of the book, The Unofficial LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Inventor’s Guide)
I first encountered the MINDSTORMS series in 2001 when I bought the Robotics Invention System 1.5 out of curiosity. Since then, I’ve purchased and used numerous MINDSTORMS sets, written two MINDSTORMS books, developed and taught a LEGO robotics course, and given LEGO presentations. So when I heard that LEGO was releasing the NXT 2.0 set in summer/fall 2009, I was curious to discover how LEGO would improve its flagship product. After finally getting my hands on a 2.0 set, I’ve been busy building, programming, and analyzing the kit’s features. And I think this is the best MINDSTORMS set to date.
The original NXT set released in 2006 (I’ll call it the “1.0 set”) enjoyed enormous success but still had some shortcomings. The NXT 2.0 set addresses some of those flaws and really is everything the 1.0 set should have been. As a robotics kit, the NXT 2.0 set mainly involves building and programming, so I’ll take a look at how the kit performs in each of these areas.
First, the building experience is fun and challenging while offering some exciting new additions. For the electronic elements, the NXT microcomputer and servo motors remain the same in both design and quantity; however, the selection of sensors has changed. There are now two touch sensors, an ultrasonic (distance) sensor, and the color sensor. The new color sensor boasts three functionalities. It can detect colors (6 basic colors), measure light intensity, and act as a lamp (emitting a red, blue, or green light). Unlike the 1.0 set, there is no light sensor or sound sensor: the new color sensor can function as a light sensor, and LEGO apparently thought that having two touch sensors would be more useful than having one touch sensor and one sound sensor as in the 1.0 set. I agree.
The building elements are, once again, studless LEGO TECHINC pieces rather than traditional bricks. The 1.0 set included a few TECHNIC bricks, but these are gone in the 2.0 set, which focuses entirely on studless construction. Overall, there is still a good selection of beams, pegs, and axles (including a new #9 length axle) as well as the addition of two small rubber bands. Also fun is the special ball shooter equipment along with 12 small, brightly colored balls.
There are only a few gears included, though. Whereas the 1.0 set included a fairly good variety and quantity of gears, the 2.0 set includes only a handful of double bevel gears and a single 12t bevel gear. This is a bit disappointing but also understandable. People like to add lots of gears to their robots to make them look cool, but lots of gears introduce lots of friction. The 2.0 kit’s sample robot designs demonstrate how to connect pieces directly to motors rather than using gears to transmit the motion. This works fine and takes a little bit of getting used to, but I would still encourage new LEGO users to expand their collection of gears after purchasing the 2.0 set.
As for the programming, the 2.0 version of the included NXT-G software offers some welcome new features. A remote control, sound editor, image editor, new programming blocks, improved performance, and other features make programming a more enjoyable experience. Performance is noticeably better than in the 1.0 version but can still be sluggish.
The software includes a number of fun challenges spread across four robot designs: Shooterbot, Robogator, Color Sorter, and Alpha Rex. The sample robots are durable and work well, although some of the instructions for using Color Sorter were a bit confusing. The new version of Alpha-Rex is a truly fascinating robot: in addition to being a fun “advanced” model to build, new users can learn a lot from its incredibly compact and elegant design.
The NXT 2.0 set is leading the MINDSTORMS series in the right direction. I like what I see in this set, and I believe LEGO has a winner on its hands. The 2.0 set is more expensive than the 1.0 set–by $30–but I believe the improvements and added functionality justify the extra cost. In sum, the NXT 2.0 set is a great toolset for any robotics enthusiast and a must-have for MINDSTORMS fans.
Want to check out what the Mindstorms can do…check this out: