Diggin' the NXT

A month or two ago, I got a LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit. Since then, I've learned how to use the NXC programming environment (a free multitasking
language based on C). Also in the last few months, I've learned the basics of programming Atmel chips, including the cool Orangutan board.
But I've got to say, the more I use the NXT, the more I like it. LEGO really makes it easy and fast to try out new mechanical designs (good thing, too -- my last design was junk; it couldn't turn worth a darn). The NXT controller does the same for programming, especially with the NXC environment. Full multithreading, a nice big LCD display that's easy to use, a digitized sound player, buttons, nice tools for managing memory on the thing -- it's all here. I know you can do similar things on other controllers, using FreeRTOS for example, but the NXT actually makes it easy.
At first it seems a bit short on I/O, with just three motor outputs (which also double as encoder inputs) and four other sensor inputs. But it supports I2C, which suggests that you could chain all sorts of third-party I2C devices onto it. I haven't explored this much yet, except for using the LEGO sonar sensor, which is an I2C device (and was a snap to use). I don't have any other I2C devices yet. But if so, it's going to be hard to justify mucking about with any other controller, for a long while at least.
The main drawback of course is that it's not cheap; an NXT by itself runs a bit under $100. So I still have an interest in sub-$50 robots, and generally sprinkling Atmel chips around like popcorn in larger bots. (Hmm, I wonder if I could get them to speak I2C, to make them slave units to the NXT?) But for daily robot hacking, the NXT is likely to be my controller of choice now.
Just wanted to share my excitement with you all.
Best, - Joe
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