Video: Robots and Tinkering

Here are the items I reviewed on TVNZ this morning. Click the image for the video.

Video robots Lego

Item: “Klutz” Science Books
Price:Various (generally $30-$40)
Rating: 4 / 5

Info: If you have a budding young scientist who is perhaps a bit too junior to be holding a soldering iron, books like the Klutz range are a great intro. The books come with a bunch of items on the front cover, from which you can build cars, boats or other mechanical contraptions. While doing so, the book will tell you about how batteries work, or perhaps how solar power and motors work. Sometimes they are a little expensive, but if you can grab one on special, put it away for a rainy weekend or holiday.

Item: Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0
Price: $499 – Available in September from Toyworld and Lego stockists
Rating: 4 / 5

Info: Mindstorms NXT 2.0 is the third iteration of Lego’s robotics kitset, and the second version of their NXT range. They’ve pretty much perfected the kit this time around. The addition of a colour sensor and a range of coloured balls creates huge scope for building interactive robots. The provided software is fantastically easy to use, and the kit robots are great fun to play with. You don’t need to know a line of code to make the robots behave, yet you’ll find the process will teach budding developers all about loops and parameters, and also a good deal of debugging and testing.
The box says “10+”, but a savvy six year old will enjoy building the robots with help, and a 10 year old should be able to code some basic behaviour. Of course most 35 year old kids will also hugely enjoy the kit.
My only complaint would be the price, with $500 making this close to the most expensive Lego set money can buy.

Item: Arduino Duemilanove Starter Kit
Price: $99.95
Rating: 5 / 5

Info: When you run out of things that the Lego Mindstorms robots can do, switch over to “real” programming on an Arduino. The Duemilanove is a great starter board, with heaps of inputs and outputs. If you know some very basic programming concepts, you can have a bunch of lights flashing within minutes. Then grab some components and let your imagination run wild. How about a plant pot that posts to Facebook when it needs watering, or a completely autonomous radio control plane? All do-able with an Arduino and some extra bits.

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