Archive for July, 2011

The LEGO MINDSTORMS Space Shuttle is gearing up for NIWeek and to get ready for the event, I have developed a new debug interface. Originally designed for me to keep track of all the motors and sensors during an event, this interface serves as Mission Control for the LMS Shuttle. It provides the ability to stop a program should the conditions get too dangerous as well as view real time data off each NXT. The “guts” of this interface have been around for a while but I decided to clean up the UI for NIWeek.

I plan to continue to develop this screen by adding the ability to switch from remote control to autonomous mode and add some manual drive features.

This Monday kicks off NIWeek 2011 in Austin, Texas. Over 3000 engineers, scientists and hobbyists will descend on the Austin Convention Center. This year features some amazing projects (including the LEGO MINDSTORMS Space Shuttle). With a market that ranges from LEGO MINDSTORMS to the CERN Large Hadron Collider, National Instruments products are used in some truly amazing ways.  I will be posting live from the keynotes, expo floor and Graphical System Design Achievement Awards. Hopefully you can catch a glimpse of where technology is going and how we are getting there. Stay tuned for more information. NIWeek is a lot of fun!

If you want to get involved via facebook or twitter, use “#niweek” and check out for more details!

Dare I say a late Christmas in July? Today the mailman brought me two new toys that I have been looking forward to getting my hands on.The gentlemen over at and sent me a rather nice gift. First up is the Teemino. As you may know, I recently got a DRIOD cell phone. I have been wanting to play with the ADK for a while now, but never had any hardware. The Teemino is an ADK board made by  I have a few projects in mind for this board, but I want to start simple (just blinking a light). Check back for more updates with this board.

The next item probably deserves a whole post in itself. The NXShield is an Arduino shield that replicates (most) of the NXT. The shield has not 3, but 4 motor ports and 4 sensor ports. It fits the Arduino Uno or similar form factor. (It actually wont fit the Arduino Mega or Teemino due to a power jack on the board.) The motors and sensors are controlled via I2C. Furthermore, since it is Arduino, you could stack in an xBee shield (or other custom shield) and make a modular robot. Maybe make a NXT to NXShield communication using a Dexter Industries NXTBee? Or we could even mix in that GPS Bee I posted about. With the Arduino platform, the possibilities are endless!

Now just adding a motor port is awesome, but the NXShield has 6 servo motor headers. This means it can really drive just about anything. It would seem the Arduino is now the limiting factor in the system, but what did I say about fitting Arduino form devices??? Well the NXShield does in fact work with Maple (and a few other Arduino boards). Currently the libraries are only for the Arduino, but I plan to do some porting to make it all work together. I will be sure to post my library on the files page as well as some code examples.

Speaking of porting, there is another platform this could work with. By now you have to be wondering when I am going to mention National Instruments or LEGO. Well fear not! National Instruments released a LabVIEW for Arduino toolkit. It has support for I2C (as well as GPIO and SPI). See where I am going yet? You could actually use the NXShield with an Arduino running LabVIEW. Expect some VIs and code examples to get you started there as well.

So WOW! What a day and what an opportunity! I cant wait to get started!

I finally got around to posting the video to youtube. There is some Oscar quality acting by Scott and myself. You should check it out.(Please note: I do not sleep, dance or reenact Dragon Ball Z at work. However, there is a slinky on Scott’s desk that I do sometimes play with. And no, I do not work in marketing.)

Our project did very well. The actual robot is being displayed/demoed today at NI for the final round of judging. The video includes a brief overview of how we build the physical bot and the software (both with Vision Module and without) is posted on the files page.


Posted: July 26, 2011 in Engineering, News
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Everyone has heard of the xBee, but the guys over at Seeed Studio have taken the concept to a new level. Leveraging the 20 pin Bee package used by Digi, this GPS is really easy to use. After some tinkering the GPS was able to find me. Using it with my xBee Arduino shield, I was able to talk to the bee over UART. Since power and data pins match the xBee, most Arduino shields work beautifully. Check out the pic below. I plan to interface it with the Maple and share my libraries. This cheap (45USD) GPS is great for people who are new to using embedded GPS systems.

This is my first purchase from Seeed Studio. The people there were great to work with (shipped me out a second order after the China post office lost the package). They also make a Wifi Bee and Bluetooth Bee. While I am yet to try any of these, it certainly seems like Seeed Studio is innovating and creating cool products. I will be sure to share a library for the Arduino and Maple once I have them polished.

The LEGO Mindstorms Space Shuttle has been busy! With its recent travels all over the US, from St. Louis, to Chicago, to NASA Langley and Kennedy, this model is in need of some upgrades and repair. Since the next big event for the model is NIWeek (August 2-4) in Austin, Texas I have been working to make some of the functions more fluid. As you can see from the picture, the shuttle is in a lot of pieces. However, the missing wing and rudder are actually normal. (For transport the port wing and tail/rudder are removed so it can fit in its box.)

My latest upgrade is adding some more torque to the cargo bay doors so they can close from any angle. Many of us forget that much of physical actions we see the space shuttle do in space cannot be reproduced in the gravity of Earth. Even with LEGO, this model pushes the limits of what is actually possible. The image also gives you a rather good look at what is actually going on inside the nose. Many people dont see the mechanical drive behind each function. For your reference, the motor that is parallel to your line of sight drives the port cargo bay door, the motor horizontal in the image drives the starboard cargo bay door. The two motors that are in the background actually drive the Canadarm. All this fits into the nose of the shuttle and is hidden by the Techinc skin of the model.

Should you be in the Austin area and want  to see the model, there is a special “Texas Day” at NIWeek. See for more information. The next scheduled appearance of shuttle is at Brickworld Fort Wayne in October.

So RS485 has been a hit and I am happy to report 0 reported bugs to date. (At least I have not been made aware of any.) The real question is what to do now. Well I have been working on yet another block! This time the sensor isnt out quite yet. As you know Dexter Industries is developing a wifi sensor (pictured here). Xander has already demonstrated its great power with RobotC. I have been working on a block and I am happy to report that I have an alpha build.

In case you are not a software developer, traditionally and alpha build is a “stable” build for the first round of testing. The code is more or less in good style and should be ready to be put to the test. In contrast, a beta is much more final and should be close to, if not completely, working. Following a beta comes a release candidate. A release candidate or RC build could be the final product should no bugs be found.

A development build is generally hacked together and while it does work, it likely has a lot of bugs. As I said I have an alpha build (so higher quality than a dev build with some light testing). If you have a DI Wifi sensor and would be interested in helping test, please email me at edrocket734ATgmailDOTcom. I use dropbox for sharing my code, so you must also have (or be willing to get) a dropbox account. I will provide further instructions via email to those interested.

Droid Does!

Posted: July 18, 2011 in News
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Today I got a nice package at work! It was my new Droid 3. It is my first android phone. I have already begun to make some apps, but what is more important is that I can interface it with LEGO MINDSTORMS. Expect to see some new projects and applications!

So a few days ago I mentioned that I was working with another NI employee, Scott, to build a robot out of a myDAQ. Now at NI, we are know for our robots. Well today, I am happy to announce we have it working. Mixing some NI DAQ, NI Vision into the great stew that is LabVIEW, I present the “myDAQ in a Robot”.  Using my Lenovo netbook, the robot can move around the room. The netbook runs a small web server that shows the front panel of the VI. A user can log in and drive the robot and see where it is going using the web cam on my netbook. Total construction cost for the robot is under $20 and it runs fairly simple code. Check the files section for a link to download the VI. A video of it driving around my apartment can be found here or watch it below!

I have officially released completed blocks for both RS485 and the DI NXTBee. They are live now on the Files page! Some things to note with these blocks:

  • NXT-G is slower to execute and the LabVIEW VIs run faster.
  • All blocks have been tested with various inputs for each data type. They “should” work.
  • Due to a physical buffer limit, you can only send integers up to 1 byte (255) and text messages up to 128 bytes (127 characters).
  • Speed ranges may change should I get enough requests but these are the most common UART speeds (NXTBee ones are limited by the NXTBee and will not change).
  • If you have any questions, as always either email me or post below. WordPress requires me to moderate your first comment, but after that you are golden. Regardless, I get an email so I will respond!

Have fun!