Archive for July, 2011

NXT-G Block Update

Posted: July 15, 2011 in News
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As posted on Mindboards, I have been working on more complete blocks for the NXTBee and RS485. I am happy to report that I have made a lot of progress last night, but have some UI bugs to work through. My goal is to get them posted at a reasonable time tonight (I will write a blog post when they are all up).

In the mean time, if you have found any bugs with the current files posted, please send me an email or post a comment below. I would like to try an update everything in one go tonight!

Happy Friday!

As most of you know, I work at National Instruments! Besides being an awesome place to work, sometimes they like to do internal competitions. This summer the challenge is to create something using the NI myDAQ. NI ran a similar challenge last year and some of the results can be seen in the myDAQ Zone.

I teamed up with another intern, Scott, and we decided to make a robot. Working under a $25 budget, we decided to engineer a robot from some spare parts most people have at home. Using a L293, some duct tape, LEGO wheels (you knew I was going to slip LEGO in somewhere), a hobby motor and gear box, and a box. Using some super glue we stuck most of the parts together. As you can see from the picture we even used a soda can (we recycle at NI) to act as a skid.

We wanted to keep this project “college themed” we “dead bug” soldered the wires to the L293. To keep the myDAQ safe, we put it inside the box. However we still wanted to use the myDAQ and cut a hole in the side to we can still use the DMM. The project uses only 4 digital I/O ports to interface with the L293. The myDAQ uses USB power. To get around this, we have a small battery box to provide the current needed to the motors. Building instructions and pictures will be posted after the competition is complete.

Since the project isn’t due for a few more days, Scott and I plan to add some lights and additional sensors. The myDAQ has the full power of LabVIEW and as a result we can do some cool things. For example, our robot will have a web interface and use my netbook’s camera to navigate. Using the LabVIEW web publishing tool, other employees at NI will be able to log on and control the bot!

Check back later for a video and more pictures! This project has been a blast! For more information on the myDAQ and LabVIEW, check out

LEGO Club decided to do a rather nice piece on the shuttle. The theme of the LEGO Club’s website this month is the end of the shuttle era.

The July 8th launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis marked the 135th and final launch of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. As a tribute, Marc, John and myself created a LEGO MINDSTORMS model. The model went public on April 12, 2011: the 30th anniversary of start of the shuttle program and the 50th anniversary of human space flight.

LEGO Club contacted me a few months ago for some stats and pictures from the construction and first few events. They included theses images as well as a nice write up on the shuttle in their article. You can find the article here!

I am happy to announce new RS485 LabVIEW VIs and an official NXTBeeNXT-G block. After a few months of work and lots of testing, I am happy to report I have closed out all remaining bugs. The files are available now on the Files page and a new RS485 block (rev B) will be posted later this week as well as new blocks that have support for Boolean and numeric input.

Special thanks to Dexter Industries for providing the NXTBees, everyone who beta tested the blocks, and Mr. John Hansen for all his help! Included in LabVIEW download are sample VIs and there sample NXT-G code posted in the download area.

Remember that slower data speeds (and the NXTBee all together) required John Hansen’s Enhanced Firmware.  The Enhanced Firmware will still let you run NXT-G and LabVIEW code but adds support for these lower speeds. In addition, using RS485 allows you to connect to an NXT running any other firmware (Standard, RobotC, Lejos). Just make sure your speeds match! If you have any questions, email me or post below!

MCP Disney Meetup

Posted: July 9, 2011 in News
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Joe Meno, Brian Davis and myself all met up at Walt Disney World! Brian was only to spend a bit of time, but Joe and I spent the day visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After some Rockin’ Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith I met up with my mother to celebrate her 28th wedding anniversary. Joe met up with Will Gorman (MCP from Orlando) for dinner. What a great way to end a weekend!

The picture is from Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom after I met up with my mother. More pics to come later!

Tony Antonelli (Pilot STS 119 and 132) stopped by and added to the signatures from Cady Coleman (Mission Specialist STS 73 and 93 and Expedition 26/27 crew)! Tony stuck around for almost two hours answering questions, building, and signing autographs. After a successful launch, how better to celebrate then with an astronaut!

The LMS Shuttle is truly an interactive monument to all the hard work and dedication of the crews of the Space Shuttle Program. I invite all astronauts to sign a panel and leave your mark on this robot.

Tony spent 1.5 hours just hanging out with us and building with the kids! What a cool guy!

The shuttle will be appearing later this month at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Stay tuned for exact date and time.

For now, the shuttle is packed up and on its way to Texas for upgrades and bug fixes. Pictures will be uploaded to its facebook page from the trip. Joe Meno also helped me make an exclusive video that should be posted in the next few days! While shooting the video, the shuttle attracted quite a crowd. Lots of pictures and questions. I am glad this project is inspiring others to shoot for the stars!

Arrived at Kennedy this morning to discover an addition to my shuttle. See if you can guess who signed it! (Bonus points for guessing her most notable mission!)


Posted: July 8, 2011 in LEGO, NASA, News
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Today is the final launch of the United States Space Shuttle Program. I am writing this post from the traffic jam outside Kennedy Space Center. Today, beginning at 1 pm the LEGO Build event resumes. Yesterday my shuttle model got a visit from some astronauts. Pictures will be coming throughout the day. If you are in the area (and want to brave the traffic), stop on by!
Joe Meno and Will Gorman have done an amazing job running the shuttle while I was on my way down! Special thanks to Steve Canvin and LEGO for all their work in organizing the event!

A few months ago Dexter Industries released the NXTBee. So far there has only been support of RobotC. Since then I have been working on making the device work in NXT-G. After a few months of a closed beta, I finally have what I hope is a release candidate (RC). Over the next day or so, check the files page or DI’s website for the download.

The block only supports higher speed settings (over 200 kbs). You will need to run a simple program to set the speed. In addition, the block will only work with the enhanced firmware produced by John Hansen. While the RS485 VIs and block will work with the standard firmware, the NXTBee cannot communicate at the speeds that the standard firmware operates. A copy of the most recent enhanced firmware will be included in the download.

I head out to Kennedy Space Center today to see the launch and help run my shuttle, so it might be a day or two before it posts. Finally I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone in the beta for finding those bugs and for Dexter Industries for sending me the sensors.

Back in October 2010 I was in Zwolle, The Netherlands talking with some friends about our NXT LEGO Project. We discussed many ideas, but one stuck out. 2011 was to be the end of the Space Shuttle program; a program that provided much of the technology for LEGO MINDSTORMS. So how to give back? Leveraging our talents, we began to flush out the idea for a BIG model. Come January, we began to work on the LMS Space Shuttle. The project was a team effort by John Brost and me representing America, Marc-Andre Bazergui representing Canada, and The LEGO Group in Billund, Denmark. Over the next 4 months, we constructed the shuttle from about 8,000 parts. Marc-Andre built an amazing robotic arm (fitting since he is Canadian). John build a stand that could rock the 5 kilogram orbiter 30 degrees side to side. I worked on the main orbiter body. With little more than pictures to go by, I build an interactive orbiter.

The shuttle has 11 motors and 12 sensors giving the user control of the arm, flaps, rudder, ailerons, cargo doors, and roll of the orbiter. The forward and rear thrusters also can light up! There are 2 remotes and 4 control NXTs. The NXTs link over Bluetooth and RS485. HiTechnic accelerometers and gyroscopes track the movement of the orbiter to keep the system well in control, while touch, light and ultrasonic sensors ensure the machine will not damage itself. The shuttle debuted on the April 12, 2011: the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle and the 50th anniversary of manned space flight. That following Saturday, the model was on hand at Yuri’s Night at NASA Langley Research Center. Since then, the model has been to FIRST World Championship in St. Louis, Brickworld Chicago, and schools all over the midwest. Currently the model is on display at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of STS-135 and shuttle Atlantis. Following the launch, the shuttle will travel to Texas where it will visit Johnson Space Center and be a featured demo at National Instrument’s NIWeek in August.

Like the real shuttle, the LEGO MINDSTORMS Space Shuttle has spawned some innovations of its own. The most famous of which is the first NXT-G RS485 block. This block (and supporting LabVIEW VIs) are what permits inter-brick communication for the running of orbiter systems. This new technology has already been leveraged by people all over the world for everything from a Masters Thesis to Wall-E 5.

It has been a lot of fun to work on such a large, complex project. I cant wait for the next one!