Monday, August 28, 2006

HiTechnic Becomes Official Lego Supplier

LEGO announced they have been working this year with HiTechnic to pilot a new 3rd party developer program where HiTechnic will produce a range of LEGO certified sensors for the NXT. Our colleagues from NXTasy captured a video of the announcement.

Lego has set up an official Certification Program to ensure the sensors meet their high standards. As a result, parents, teachers, researchers and every user can be sure that these components will work just as you expect them to (something that is usually harder to do than it would appear).

Getting these components anywhere in the world will be easy too: Lego’s online shop will sell the third party components, and HiTechnic also ships them directly from their own site. The production versions of HiTechnic’s sensors really look and feel like ordinary Lego, which I think is a great plus.

HiTechnic will supply custom brick software to add the sensor blocks to the NXT-G graphical programming environment that comes with the Lego Mindstorms NXT set. So you’ll be able to select their sensor from the sensor palette in you graphical environment, and use its properties directly. In addition, the sensors work well with NBC and RobotC.

The new third-party robot sensors look the same, they act the same, and you buy them in the same place. That's as close to real Lego as you can get. HiTechnic has effectively become a officially supplier for Lego, but instead of working to meet Lego's demands, they get to decide for themselves what to build when. It is only natural that Lego wants to certify that the parts meet their quality standards. A big "thumbs up" for Lego, who's really doing something unique and without precedent here.

Clearly, doing that takes a large investment from companies like HiTechnic (not in the least to mold plastic for their own Lego bricks). They are making a big bet, and congratualations for doing so! I can’t imagine that they go through all that effort to provide just one or two components. Expect a continuous flow of new and improved sensors as time goes by. Robot builders may soon have a wide range of sensors and other components to choose from.

Because of the ease of building robots from Lego Technic bricks, and the amount and diversity of robot parts available, I believe Lego will be(come) the best platform to learn and explore new robot designs. That’s why I believe academic and industrial users will also start to use Lego as their platform to test their research. I hope a lot of them will choose the (re)publish their papers on bNXT, for all of us to use.

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