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
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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 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- . .

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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
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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
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Tom McEwan wrote:

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
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Hi Torque,
Stagnant means no growth in sales volume. Negative would be a drop in sales volume.
Jay
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Oh, I see.

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On Fri, 09 Jan 2004 08:25:55 -0800, Gordon McComb wrote:

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.
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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.

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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 -----
Newsgroups: comp.robotics.misc Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004 6:50 PM Subject: Re: End of Mindstorms?

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"Dave" <blank> wrote in message

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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:

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Gordon:
Thanks for saying nice things about RoboBRiX.
Note that Brian asked for a system that requires no soldering and, alas, RoboBRiX is only available in kit form right now. Hopefully, some time in the future they will be available assembled and tested, but it may take a while to find an outfit willing to build them at a reasonable price.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, RoboBRiX is the new name for the RoboBricks project that Bill Benson and I have been working on for the past 4+ years. They are electronics modules for building robots. In order to make them more avaible, Mondo-tronics (e.g. <http://RobotStore.Com/>) is now licensed to manfucture and market RoboBRiX. While the RoboBRiX web site is still being developed <http://RoboBRiX.Com/ , the best place for information is at my web site at <http://gramlich.net/projects/robobricks/index.html (look under modules.)
To my knowledge, the closest thing to MindStorms(r) is the FischerTechnic(r) system. They tend to be significantly more expensive than Lego. I've never had a chance to play with FischerTechnic.
-Wayne
P.S. To send me E-mail, send it to Wayne -at- Gramlich -dot- Net.
Gordon McComb wrote:
[snip Mindstorms stuff]

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On 10 Jan 2004 17:02:15 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@bryant.edu (Brian Blais) wrote:

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.
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But that is part of what Mindstorms is about. You don't know anything at first. But you start by getting a concept of what small robots are, what they can and can not do and you start learning logic in programming. After that, its pretty open with what you can do with it. Start using BrickOS and making custom sesnors.
I think many robot people take for granted what non robot people know about robots. I got friends that come over and see my robots and don't have a vauge concept of what they really are. All they know is what they see in movies. I think the mindstorms is a great opener into learning about robots.
-C http://hossweb.com
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I taught classes to middle school children using Mindstorms and created a whole series of challenges for them. They began to understand a lot of things, not the least of which was how delicate a Legos robot is. They began to learn about event driven programs and how to make their simple robots perform complex tasks. The key here is that they could get their hands on a simple, relatively cheap kit that allowed them to make many different machines, and that the form ad function of those machines went hand in hand. Also, they wanted more sensors, hardier components, and more instruction space in no time. Some of the things the had to learn were: 1) robots typically have no clue where they are located- getting a manipulator to a specific place or making the robot go somewhere meant having to really think about your goals and the hardware limitations 2) robots are generally not very strong- they had to design their machines for the task at hand, trading off speed and power in most circumstances 3) robots are pretty dumb and rely on what you can foresee and put into code. They had to try to plan their robots' actions and make the code anticipate whatever they would encounter. 4) the robot does not do the thinking for you- you have to be a really practical thinker to make a machine that will do just exactly what you want. In short, they learned not only about robots, but also about planning and logistics, as well as how they themselves think about things. So think of Mindstorms as a sort of catalyst- sure, it has the "toy-like" aspect, but play is how we learn, and by directing the children to certain goals, they had to constantly re-evaluate what exactly they were trying to do. A short list of some of the goals that I set out: First, we had a large board with magnet switches beneath it (reed switches). I made some Legos blocks with magnets imbedded inside epoxy that would snap under their robots. They had to make the robot navigate the board, given only distances and angles, and make each switch close, thus lighting up an indicator. They had to figure out how to make a blind, deaf, senseless box do this job reliably. Second, we had a power tractor contest where their robots had to move large blocks of aluminum. We saw that speed and power were often not compatible with each other. Each robot was of a different design, and each performed the task better or poorer depending on the tracks or wheels, gear ratios, etc. Third, I made a maze on a tabletop with black tape and the robots had to negotiate it in the shortest time. Here, there were optical sensors and fairly complex programs to make the robots stay within the boundaries. As a side note, robots were expected to not fall off the table. Fourth, I made them sweep a rectangular area clean of Styrofoam bits, and the thinking involved was very clear at the outset- every one of them made a wide sweeper for the first try, something that would get it all like a squeegee. But then I restricted the width of the sweepers, meaning that they had to make multiple passes. Now they were forced to consider how to tell their machines when they were to turn and try again, and when they were done. Fifth, I had them send IR messages from bot to bot, but each had to confirm the message it received. now they were learning a little about packet communications, if you will. Each message had to be sent in a definite sequence and had to be acknowledged properly. Sixth, we had a "lunar mission" where their robots had to count marks on the "moon", stop at a boundary, locate the "earth base" and send back the results. Keep in mind that they had to take turns being the lunar bot or the earth base, so they had to write both programs and make everything work in a room with extraneous lighting and other problems. This is a small sampler of what I did with them- I don't want to spill the whole course, as I plan to do it all again soon. We spent a week learning about robotics using Mindstorms and I believe that it was very successful. The positive feedback was enormous and the children (many of them) are now pursuing electronics, robotics, and even physics. I feel that they must have had some sort of interest to start with of course, but this helped to further it and show them that even with a toy, you can learn a lot.
Cheers!
Chip Shults My robotics, space and CGI web page - http://home.cfl.rr.com/aichip
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Brian Blais wrote:

Well, if Lego (or somebody else) sells motors and sensors, I'm sure that a better RCX could be built for around $100 to $200.
For example, for the high end, I could design a board around a Systronix JStamp (http://www.jstamp.com /) with 8 ADC and 8 motor PWM as a 1-shot for around $200, *if* I could get a plastic enclosure with the electrical connections.
I could build a board around a PIC 18F452 for around $100.
The more difficult part would be to write a simple robotics language that would work for beginners. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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Trying to beat the MIT system that Legos used with the Hitachi chip is going to be a real feat of programming. I think MIT spent several years coming up with it, then Legos put in their stuff too. The MIT system has that really amazing multitasking RTOS built in, and it's pretty sophisticated atually. They have that beginning user friendly front end system with the Legos block metaphore for programming. Then the more advanced people could use Mindscripts or NCP to program it as they advance. What it needs is to break out 16 I/O ports so people can plug in more than Six things to it. As it is from all the info going about, everyone was trying to double or triple up sensors on these few outputs that they had. You only had three motors and three sensors for I/O ports. Four motors and 12 I/O ports would make it a pretty neat little gadjet to go do stuff with. Of course with no marketing, and very few stores selling it, it wasn't off to a life at all. They really should have had a super RCX out a couple of years or so ago.
It sorta reminds me of other companies biting the big one with bad everything in their corporate offices. I remember Irving Gould of Commordore Amiga infamy, stating something like, "It doesn't need a faster more powerful CPU, they only play games on it". Then they all stood around in shock and amazement as the Amiga 600 died at the starting gate.
Or the all time classic was with Ed Esber of Asthon-Tate (the DBASE company) infamy as he single handedly destroyed the company. Chase away all the developers and you have no one left to push your product to the users. Next you put out a product that literally doesn't work becauseof all the bugs. Then to top it off Borland paid something like 400 million or so to buy the dead Ashton-Tate company.
I wonder what happened to Lotus 1-2-3? Anyone remember Visicalc anymore?

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Earl Bollinger wrote:

There are *many* RTOSs out there.
The one in the RCX was fair-to-middlin'. IMO.

That would be the thing to do. And it is more of a design issue than a programming issue.

I think that everybody agrees with this.
Perhaps the RoboBrix project will replace this. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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"Dave" <blank> wrote in message

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