End of Mindstorms?

This week LEGO announced a massive $237 million pre-tax loss, its
biggest ever, and a continuation of its string of losses since 1998.
Company president Kristiansen is quoted as saying "Now we go back to the
core products, the Lego bricks," and he's sacked five out of his 14 top
managers. As the Mindstorms sets have had stagnant (even negative) sales
over the last 18-24 months, the speculation is that LEGO will
discontinue the product line.
Too, LEGO faces increased competition from other toy makers who are
moving into the "stackable brick" market. LEGO lost its important court
case against the parent cpompany of MEGA BLOKS, and now several toy
makers, notably Hasbro, have come out with "LEGO compatible" toy sets,
at prices 50% or more off a comparable LEGO set.
It'll be interesting to see if LEGO does indeed hold on to Mindstorms,
and if it does, if they can manage new development to keep it fresh.
Their Spybotics line was a failure, and the core Mindstorms set hasn't
changed much since its introduction more than five years ago. A small
private company that loses this much money year after year can't afford
a lot of R&D for new products, especially products containing
electronics (the liability risks alone are huge).
It might also be interesting to see if LEGO sells the Mindstorms line.
Knowing what I know of the LEGO company mindset, this seems unlikely,
but you never know.
-- Gordon
Author: Constructing Robot Bases,
Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
Reply to
Gordon McComb
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Hi Gordon,
I'll be real sorry to see 'Lego Mindstorms' die. I just bought a set for my granddaughter (age 7) and don't know of any other product like it that can introduce a child to robotics, electronics and programming.
How long can the 'First Lego League' last without new Mindstorms?
I've worked in electronics, industrial automation, robotics, computers and programming for 40 years. I believe that electronics, computers and robotics have become such an integral part of society, that without a good understanding of engineering our children will be at a marked disadvantage.
I guess I'm just out of sync, too old, over the hill. Don't push technology push service jobs.
Would you like fries with your order?
What a bummer. :
Jay
---------------------------------------------------------------------------- "I'm pullin' for you; we're all in this together", Red Green ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- . .
Reply to
happyhobit
What's a negative sale?
BTW I'm on the Lego catalogue mailing list and for the first time since their release Mindstorms didn't appear in the latest catalogue. (Not the full catalogue, I'm just talking about the 30 or so page thing they regularly send out.) -- Torque
Reply to
Torquemada
I think he means profit. Either that, or customers hate the stuff so much they're demanding not only to return the product, but to be refunded more than they originally paid, in compensation - not completely implausible, in the ridiculously litigious world we live in.
Doesn't affect me, though - I prefer Meccano to Lego anyway. Pity they don't do the parts in aluminium, though - steel is too heavy for a lot of stuff. I remember my first attempt to build Gordon's Walkerbot using Meccano girders - it was so incredibly heavy, the motors couldn't shift it a millimetre (or 1/32", or whatever), and the gears spun on their axles and carved nasty grooves into them with the grubscrews.
Tom
Reply to
Tom McEwan
Oh, I see.
> Hi Torque, > > Stagnant means no growth in sales volume. Negative would be a drop in > sales volume. > > Jay > > > -------------------------------------------------------------------------- -- > "I'm pullin' for you; we're all in this together", Red Green > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reply to
Tom McEwan
Hi Torque,
Stagnant means no growth in sales volume. Negative would be a drop in sales volume.
Jay
---------------------------------------------------------------------------- "I'm pullin' for you; we're all in this together", Red Green ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reply to
happyhobit
Not exactly. In this case negative sales are returns through the channel. That is, returns not from customers, but from retailers. They are returning unsold merchandise. A negative sale usually results in a credit for other merchandise, so it's not like LEGO is returning money. LEGO still makes a "sale" (on the replacement product) but makes no money.
Mind you, this isn't necessarily what's happening, but it's just a suspicion.
-- Gordon Author: Constructing Robot Bases, Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
Reply to
Gordon McComb
is it just me... or aren't Lego kits just way too expensive? $200 for the Mindstorms, $100 for star wars stuff... etc. I just can't see how plastic costs that much. I'd love to get more legos but I just can't afford it.
My 2 cents.
Reply to
Jack Snodgrass
I tend to feel that they were too expensive. Mainly, you have to buy two Mindstorms sets, then get the addon kits (some of which they sold out of) in order to do anything more serious with them. Plus they only have six I/O ports for doing stuff with. Terribly limited. Then they have such high prices for everything. Spybots failed due to the high cost, $59.95 each and you needed to get all 5 kits, made it pretty expensive. Of course Fry's has it at 50% off too. Thank God Fry's had some great clearances on this stuff last summer. 50%-60% off. Then they let it sit for the past several years with no real improvements. I think they should have had at least 16 I/O ports that one can use. Then it would become quite popular. But that's the business marketing folks again. No inkling of what people are wanting to do with these machines. Just sit back and wonder why sales are drying up. Obviously they never went around and asked people what they wanted to do with these things. Legos is like FAO Swartz and Toys R Us, they failed to see what the market was doing, they just sat there sucking on the cash cow, until it starts to dry up. Then they panic when it's all past and done.
They don't have to do a lot, a new Brick with 16 I/O's would be great it's all it needs. The Hitachi MCU has like 48 I/O pins, it can't be hard to modify it for the extra IO ports. But I guess we'll have to wait and see who buys it from Legos, and see if they do anything with it. But like some other companies have done in the past, they'll likely discontinue it, then in a year or so want to sell it thinking it's worth something, and by then no one will be interested. They need to sell it while there is still some interest in it.
Reply to
Earl Bollinger
I've always felt the LEGO stuff was way too much money. For the price of the Mindstorms you can get a much more powerful micro and enough electronic parts and materials to make a much better robot IMO. That's not to say I don't think the Mindstorms are cool, I do just that they're too costly and I/O limited for the money. As far as other LEGO stuff is concerned I get the catalogs and am shocked at the prices of the kits. Makes me wonder if they're targeting kids or adults.
-Dave
----- Original Message ----- From: "Jack Snodgrass" Newsgroups: comp.robotics.misc Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004 6:50 PM Subject: Re: End of Mindstorms?
Reply to
Dave
I've been thinking this for a long time now. I'm 30 and still buy Lego kits (not just technics stuff either), but I have bought very few in the last 2-3 years. Just cost too much.
I bought a MegaBloks space shittle kit on sale at Kmart for $35 (only $50 normally). It had over 2000 pieces, was over 2 feet long and had an electronic command module that would playback NASA communications. The module had 4 sensors so that it could detect which of the payloads you had sitting in the cargo bay and plays back different sounds depending on whats in it. It even came with batteries.
Now, in Legos defense, I have to say that their molding process is much better than MegaBloks resulting in much more accurate parts. But Lego would have been charging like $130-$150 for a kit like this if not more and the better quality parts are not worth near that much price difference. And to be honest, the quality of MegaBloks blocks do not seem to affect the quality of the overall kit. I wonder if MegaBloks will start producing something comparable to Legos technics stuff. The quality of their parts would have a bigger impact in technics type parts I would think.
-C
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Reply to
Hoss
IMO, this is one thing in LEGO's favor that will help them keep their market, though I also think for 80% of the buyers of LEGO kits, the mold fit isn't critical. It is for the serious LEGO builder, though.
LEGO uses ABS plastic, which is denser and heavier, and keeps its dimensional shape better upon cooling. MEGA BLOKS uses polystyrene, common in the plastic kits industry. The sizing of the parts isn't quite as accurate Styrene is also more sensitive to cold flow (creep), which can mean that blocks may get "permanently" stuck together over time.
On the other hand, for what I usually use blocks for (to build robot bases), the slight imperfections in sizing is trivial. I don't mind applying a dab of glue to keep things together. (I'm no purist!) A small dab of hot melt glue fixes the blocks to one another, but will still allow them to be separated if needed.
-- Gordon Author: Constructing Robot Bases, Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
Reply to
Gordon McComb
--Agreed. That, and they never offered improvements to the basic line and they *never* publicized or advertized it in any form that I can find. What did they expect?
Reply to
steamer
[snip]
All:
According to the news story below:
The relevant quote from the article is below:
It [the Lego Company] also developed popular CD-ROM games and its lauded Mindstorms series, high-tech robots that are made of building blocks but can be controlled by personal computers.
As a result, sales rose but profits stagnated because of the higher cost of producing the new products.
The company now plans to stop making the electronics and movie tie-in products and return to its core mission: producing colored plastic building blocks for children.
If the article is correct, the entire MindStorms product line is dead and gone.
We should probably shed a few tears for the MindStorms product line and move on. There are plenty of exciting new robotic products coming to market that will make building robots easier and have more functionality; we should support those products.
I will miss the complete out of the box experience that MindStorms provided, but that just means that there is is a void there waiting to be filled by some inventive person/company.
-Wayne
P.S. To contact me directly, send E-mal to Wayne -at- Gramlich -Dot- Net; the snipped-for-privacy@PacBell.Net is a SPAM trap.
Reply to
Wayne C. Gramlich
Can anyone recommend another products like 'Lego Mindstorms'?
I mean an educational toy for children under age 14.
A system so that a child, with no electrical experience, can build a robot with no soldering.
A system that a child can use to build different types of robots with different functions.
A system with a graphical programming language, with 'drag and drop', with an I/R link so it doesn't even have to be plugged in to be programmed.
'Lego Mindstorms' isn't everything for everybody but is there any other product that can do this?
I don't defend the company, especially if they choose to drop this product, but what else is there?
Jay
---------------------------------------------------------------------------- "I'm pullin' for you; we're all in this together", Red Green ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reply to
happyhobit
I would like to know what reasonable alternatives there are to Mindstorms. When I say reasonable, what I mean is some robotic system which has a similar flexibility and learning curve as Mindstorms and *no* soldering whatsoever. One of the really nice things that I find about Mindstorms is that you can focus on algorithm and structure stability, and not have to worry about circuitry or complex PC to robot interfaces. You can get someone who has no experience in electronics or construction techniques to build a decent robot within an hour of opening the package. That same person can then go on to build a huge array of very different types of robots, all within a very short time, because the Lego construction is so easy to do, prototyping is trivial.
Is there anything that anyone would recommend?
thanks,
Brian Blais snipped-for-privacy@bryant.edu
That's not to say I
Reply to
Brian Blais
I would like to know what reasonable alternatives there are to Mindstorms. When I say reasonable, what I mean is some robotic system which has a similar flexibility and learning curve as Mindstorms and *no* soldering whatsoever. One of the really nice things that I find about Mindstorms is that you can focus on algorithm and structure stability, and not have to worry about circuitry or complex PC to robot interfaces. You can get someone who has no experience in electronics or construction techniques to build a decent robot within an hour of opening the package. That same person can then go on to build a huge array of very different types of robots, all within a very short time, because the Lego construction is so easy to do, prototyping is trivial.
Is there anything that anyone would recommend?
thanks,
Brian Blais snipped-for-privacy@bryant.edu
That's not to say I
Reply to
Brian Blais
The Parallax BOE bot comes the closest at present. There isn't anything to replace Mindstorms at this time. We'll have to wait and see if someone fills in the void or not. The trick is not to offend Legos if you build a Legos replacement. You may have to pay licensing or royalty fees to Legos. Otherwise someone has to build up a whole new system from scratch. That will take a while. Also it is expensive, so it would take someone big to do it. Humm.....sounds like just the thing for Microsoft to use to get into Robotics. "Bot-Win" or "Win-Bot" just the thing to standardize robotics for everyone. Plus Intel has that new chip they want everyone to start using too. Maybe someone from Microsoft will read this discussion thread.
I am still skeptical of Linux based robots, the only real robots using Linux that I have seen so far were all "static" displays. Come on guys, at least you could have the robot do something for the crowd, even if it only goes to and fro a for little while.
> Can anyone recommend another products like 'Lego Mindstorms'? > > I mean an educational toy for children under age 14. > > A system so that a child, with no electrical experience, can build a robot > with no soldering. > > A system that a child can use to build different types of robots with > different functions. > > A system with a graphical programming language, with 'drag and drop', with > an I/R link so it doesn't even have to be plugged in to be programmed. > > 'Lego Mindstorms' isn't everything for everybody but is there any other > product that can do this? > > I don't defend the company, especially if they choose to drop this product, > but what else is there? > > > Jay > > > -------------------------------------------------------------------------- -- > "I'm pullin' for you; we're all in this together", Red Green > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reply to
Earl Bollinger
First, it's important to note that Mindstorms is not gone, even if/as LEGO discontinues the product. They sold several hundred thousand of them, and anyone wanting to play with an RCX or Scout or Mini-Scout or whatever will have the opportunity to do so for a long, long time to come. Expect these things to be traded via eBay and elsewhere for years.
Plus, while LEGO may not directly continue active development of the Mindstorms line, their Dacta division as well as independent company Pittsco support many vertical market educational applications based on LEGO product. I would expect Mindstorms/RCX support in the Pittsco Robolab line, for example, at least for the next 2-3 years.
There is nothing 100% like Mindstorms, and may not for a long time. We have to remember that while Mindstorms made a great initial splash, its sales lagged in recent years as folks moved on. I think the next product needs to be much more than Mindstorms; I think the public is ready for the next better thing. Otherwise, sales will be lackluster for the newcomer, as well.
As for "building block" systems, RoboBrix look interesting. The latest issue of SERVO magazine has the first of a multi-part article on these boards. They're electronics only, and you still need to add the hardware, but I think they are a step in the right direction.
-- Gordon Author: Constructing Robot Bases, Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
Brian Blais wrote:
Reply to
Gordon McComb
What is the kid learning besides looking at instructions and snapping together another toy? You probably don't have to have a clue what the parts do, just snap them together and put in the batterys.
Reply to
Si Ballenger

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