Thursday, February 23, 2006

NXT Mindstorms Retail vs. Educational Software

In a previous blog article, I discussed the difference between the retail and education version of the Lego Mindstorms NXT set on the hardware side, where the rechargeable battery, and the fact that the NXT Brick can run of a wall socket, appear to be the biggest differentiators.

The Lego Mindstorms Education site mentions that:
Bluetooth enables the NXT brick to communicate wirelessly to all devices with Bluetooth capabilities. Exclusive to the MINDSTORMS Education NXT software, Bluetooth also enables the computer to communicate to several NXT devices at the same time.
Oddly enough, this information is provided in the hardware section. It seems like the a pure software function to me. Besides that, it also does not make any sense to me that Lego would want to exclude this from the retail version. By leaving it in the retail version, they would stimulate people to buy a second set. Anyway, it is inevitable that this functionality, as well as Bluetooth mesh networking for NXT robots, will be created by Lego Mindstorms retail users, if it is not provided out of the box.

The Challenges, previously seen in pictures, are touted on the Education site as the "Robot Educator". It is unclear whether they will also be part of the retail version.

Lego appears to be pretty sure of its shipping date, since it no longer uses "fall 2006" as launch date, but explicitely publishes "August 2006". It also appears that the Educational version will be available at the same time as the Retail version (which makes sense: just before school starts).

Another quote from the Lego Education website, on the First Lego League:
FLL anticipates no game-related advantage or disadvantage to using either the new or the existing technology in the 2006 FLL Challenge. The 2006 FLL Challenge will be designed to support both the existing and new MINDSTORMS Education NXT technology. FLL is in the process of evaluating a migration plan to introduce the new technology into FLL Challenges in future years.
This is a surprising statement. Given that Lego itself writes that it will now be much easier to have robots drive straight, and control the robot in general, I am not sure how you could design a Challenge where the NXT robot has no advantage.

Finally, if you were thinking of registering for the First Lego League, the Education site indicates that now may be a good time. You will be offered additional bricks, on top of what is already in the Lego Mindstorms NXT for Schools.
This specially priced set is available exclusively to FLL teams through the FLL registration process. The FLL Robot Set will include the MINDSTORMS Education NXT base set plus a selection of additional building elements, an additional touch sensor, software, a rechargeable battery system, an FLL team site license, and a storage container. As with the existing registration process, teams may purchase one (1) FLL Robot Set per paid FLL team registration.
But I'm a bit confused by this statement. I thought the items mentioned were actually part of the Lego Mindstorms Education NXT set?


At February 23, 2006 11:21 AM , Blogger Koshdukai Yordarth said...

I hope LEGO thought of a way to control the "ilegal" use of Bluetooth during the events.

I mean, my team (if I had one) would be rather disapointed by knowing that the other team "helped" the bot in real-time through Bluetooth (by remotly interfering in the guidance or actions, etc). :/

At February 23, 2006 11:32 AM , Anonymous Filip said...

Right! Wow.

It will take some hitech for them to check that. Perhaps the people in control of the robot (as well as any of their devices other than the NXT Brick) should simply not be allowed within Bluetooth range of the robots.

There better also not be a firmware built-in Bluetooth backdoor by which you can remotely override a NXT robot or turn it off. Otherwise, some robots might suddenly be turned off by some sneaky other robots.

But on the other hand, there are fun and educational social challenges that can be set up for NXT that would encourage inter-robot Bluetooth to have them work together.


At February 23, 2006 2:59 PM , Blogger Jim Kelly said...

My guess is that Bluetooth can be turned-off/disabled completely from the Intelligent Brick


Might there possibly be some sort of security built-in with BT that would allow only the device that identifies and connects to control it? Again, I'm not a BT expert, but since it's a protocol (of sorts), I would think there would have to be some sort of hand-shake to confirm where instructions are coming from...


At February 23, 2006 3:22 PM , Blogger Koshdukai Yordarth said...

Yes, BT devices must be paired.
It's possible to use Secure pairing on almost all the services, so a password check had to happen at pairing.

So, secure paring with other BT devices (including other NXT's) must be used. I'm assuming there are a couple of fields in "Bluetooth" sub-menu dedicated to that.

I don't see a problem there, assuming there's no bug to explore any weakness (as usual).

The problem I see is, how can FLL control the ilegal use of BT on FLL events.

I think what Filip was talking about was of a possible backdoor (maybe as a solution to shutdown BT comms centrally of all NXTs on FLL events) also being misused if discovered.

Anyway, as you mention, Jim, yes, BT can usually be turned off (if not in use, it'll consume less batt power), so maybe the FLL judges will check for that BT icon on each bot before each event.

Maybe that's the solution. :)

At February 23, 2006 3:45 PM , Blogger Jim Kelly said...

Well, I'll be assisting at the April 27-29 FLL championship in Atlanta... I'll watch, but I do believe there is some sort of inspection by the referee(s) before each competition to ensure that all designs are legal... NXT will probably add a new task to the ref's list of things to check: Is BT turned off?

At February 23, 2006 3:55 PM , Blogger Koshdukai Yordarth said...

Yup, I think that'll do the trick :)

So... a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem ;)

At February 24, 2006 6:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

They will not be using NXT this year. It will only come into play begining at next years competition.
They will have people disbale the BT....


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