Lego's New Robotics Set Will Teach Your Child How to Code
Lego announced a new building set at CES, with a focus on introducing young children to the basics of programming. Lego Boost combines building blocks with sensors, motors and app control to let kids build a variety of robots that can respond to stimulii.
The Boost kit is controlled by the Move Hub, a special Lego brick with a tilt sensor and a selection of connections for the included motors and visual/color sensor. The Move hub communicates with a smartphone or tablet running the Boost app, which determines how the hub and its connected devices behave. The kit and app provide instructions for building five different robotics projects, including a Short Circuit-like robot, a cat, a vehicle, a guitar and even a 3D printer.
Learn to code
The robot, cat and vehicle all seem like fairly standard projects for electronic building block kits like Boost, and versions have been seen in Lego's more complex Mindstorms robotics kits. The guitar shows off unique potential with the visual/color sensor, responding to colored bricks on the fret to signal the connected mobile device to produce different tones. The 3D printer is even more unique, assembling its own Lego creations using a simple conveyor belt and hopper assembly.
Boost creations are programmed using a variety of interconnecting blocks in the Boost app. The system is similar to Lego Mindstorms programming, but with a simpler interface targeting younger users. It still provides logic functions for use with input from the kit's sensors and output from the motors and the connected mobile device's speaker. Users can code their own robots to work any way they want in Creative Canvas mode, providing access to the programming tools outside of the five premade projects.
Mindstorms's little brother
Boost is not a replacement for Lego Mindstorms, which has been the company's flagship robotics platform for several years. The Move Hub is solely a transmitter and receiver device, offloading all programming and processing to the connected tablet and app.
Instead of running code itself, it simply sends input out over the app and triggers its motors when the app tells it to. The Mindstorms EV3 Brick is a programmable microcomputer on its own, able to retain and execute code directly without a connected device. Mindstorms is a more expensive and more powerful system, with more sensor and motor modules, and Lego has stated it will remain part of the company's offerings alongside Boost.
I saw Lego Boost in action, and it has a lot of potential as a robotics kit in the same vein as Mindstorms. The robotics components in Boost show some engineering advancements that could also help produce a new fourth generation of Mindstorms. The Move Hub and motor and sensor modules are smaller than the Mindstorms equivalents, and while the Move Hub doesn't have its own processor for directly running code, it's still an advanced wireless receiver and transmitter with sensors and connections for motors, which means the next Mindstorms processing brick could be much smaller than the chunky one used with Mindstorms EV3. Lego hasn't announced specific plans for any upgraded Mindstorms sets, but Boost hints at some welcome changes.
Lego plans to ship Boost in the second half of 2017, with a $159.99 retail price. The kit includes the Move Hub, a distance/color sensor, a motor and 843 Lego bricks.