The all new EV3! Will it live up to its name?

LEGO have released the all new EV3 Mindstorms Kit after 2 generations of the set earlier, the RCX and the NXT. Trying to solve some of the old issues with the Mindstorms kit and trying to improve its functioning, will the new LEGO EV3 be able to work out some of those problems, and will the new features of the EV3 be handy in education?

First, the RCX came out, although the LEGO parts were easy to handle, the programming language was a bit difficult especially with 9 year old kids trying to make something fun out of the kit. The worst part was in the accuracy of the robot once built; we remember trying to build the robot in FLL 2006 Season and whenever the robot had 3 things to do, it would try something new on its own at each try. It was never capable of doing anything twice one after the other, because of the battery power and the external rotation sensor that always had mistakes in counting its own movement.

LEGO realized the problem, and they came out with a new set in 2009, which they called the NXT Mindstorms 2.0. With new building parts that dropped the old stud bricks and only granted it modest access to the Mindstorms set compared to its predecessor,  and introduced the new technic pins for better assembly and stability. LEGO added an extra port to for the sensors, while kept the motor ports of the same number as that for the RCX. The new programming interface was more easy to use, with what programmers like to call “drag and drop”. Although the software looked simple and a bit childish for kids age 15 trying to work on the Mindstorms kit, it was capable of setting any order that the NXT was able to comprehend into a bloc, that all you had to do was drag it from the function’s palette and dropping it at the assembly line of your working area.

The NXT is capable of doing so many great stuff, but it wasn’t compatible with what every person using Mindstorms wanted to have. The NXT was being programmed using NXT-G and ROBOTC, but others wanted it to be RC controlled. Others thought of having an app for it, and was only developed for android systems and not specifically by LEGO people (You can find a list of those apps here). Many problems later on started to rise while using the Mindstorms NXT, and some of those that we have seen most are the wheels problem, others were in the motor ratios, as 3 motors weren’t providing the same power at the same time and especially in FLL practices as many teams still face this issue even with a new out of the box Mindstorms kit. Others complained of the memory and other found it really irritating that they couldn’t build more designs because of the limited quantity of parts, and that’s when we always referred to the 9695 Resource Set for extra parts and new set of wheels.

The new Mindstorms EV3 is out now only in LEGO retail, while the LEGO Education has halted its launching of the EV3 set till mid-2013. For some educators, using EV3 have started in their classrooms, to go on with the STEM concept that they launched with the 2 earlier versions of the Mindstorms (RCX and NXT); so far everybody seems happy with the new remodeling of the product.

EV3 stands for evolution. This evolution has hit the 2 main elements of the kit use, which is the design and programming. The software has been given a new appearance and new tools, but not new orders as the old software is capable of doing everything you need. Users can add images and draw on the new software, which is pretty handy when trying to imagine the track of the robot’s movement. The new workbook tool makes the software more classroom user friendly, teachers and students can share their work through workbooks by adding videos, images and links to their workbooks, which facilitates the assessment by their teachers as the students set their work to one place without the need to refer to other documents for checking their assignments; this tool is there to fix the profile issue in the older software. As for the online connection, it seems that LEGO is looking to benefit from the students’ interests, opinions and creativity in using the software for later development; for that, updates, sharing and support can be done in one click on the new software. We have to admit that the appearance looks much nicer, more modern and compatible with the shape of the EV3 brick. What remains vague at this time, is whether the students will be able to incorporate the use of a wide range of sensors compatible with NXT earlier and now the EV3, but not compatible with the earlier version of the software, on the new one, as easily as using a sensor that comes with the kit, such as the angle sensor or the deviation sensor not manufactured by LEGO.

The new shape of the EV3 is definitely better. A bigger screen (178×128) for you to look at easily without the need to goggle, but remains monochrome, which is a draw back. The new design has also integrated new spaces for the user to fix the brick to their robot in a better and a more stable way. EV3 dazzled us with changes, which definitely shows the evolution LEGO have been talking about; a new processor RAM, which LEGO has multiplied by a thousand, to reach 64MB instead of 64KB, 4 motor ports for you to use 1 extra motor instead of 3 motor ports in the NXT, an SD card slot for you to add up the memory to 32GB if needed instead of the 128KB that the NXT had, as for the USB communication speed, EV3 packs a 480Mbit/s port compared to the 12Mbit the NXT had. As a plus, LEGO has made sure that all NXT servo motors and sensors are compatible with the all new EV3, don’t throw those away, you can add them to your new collection if you decide on getting one. Talk about evolution, you have to talk about multiplying your numbers by thousands and hundreds for LEGO, but not for the price tag, they are here to educate and they want learning to be for all, so they only added couple of bucks to the price, which is nothing compared to the effort they have been putting to get something out on the market as EV3.

For the design of the EV3, LEGO has hit the market with new design capabilities, we did not like the aggressiveness of the new designs that has been promoted, with the shooting going on and on with different models, but we were definitely amazed by the snake model and its movement; all we  thought of the humanoid trying to moon walk when we saw the snake moving around. New sensors available such as the Gyro sensor instead of the sound sensor while the color sensor is promised to be in the kit instead of the light sensor. However, the 2 touch sensors are still produced, which is not preferable for the FLL teams especially as they rather use 2 light sensors or 2 color sensors instead.

All in all, it seems that the Mindstorms EV3 looks great and works great as well and promises to live up to its name. We will be keeping this post updated on the coming releases by LEGO on the EV3 changes and we will sure post our opinion once we get our hands on one, meanwhile stay posted and send us your feedback.

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