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A Future in Robotics From Playing With Legos?

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

ECPI University -

Just about everyone remembers playing with Legos as a kid (and who could ever forget stepping on one?). While most people dismiss this kind of play as something for children, Lego robotics can be considered a stepping stone to engineering fields, including mechatronics, a branch of electrical engineering technology. Legos are no longer child’s play, robotics is a viable future path!

Robotics is an industry in its stride and a whole new generation is learning the wizardry of problem-solving with Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits. Using a kid-friendly visual programming app and snap-together parts, students and hobbyists are able to walk through the process of designing, programming, and interacting with a robot of their very own. Learn about the evolution of the Lego Robotics bricks and how they are used today.

Fascinating Facts About Lego Robotics

  1. MIT Media Lab provided the original inspiration for Mindstorms when they created a programmable brick known as the RCX (or Robotic Command eXplorers). The first generation Mindstorm bricks were able to communicate with fellow bricks via an infrared interface.

  2. The first visual programming environment used was created by the University of Colorado in 1994 and was known as LEGOsheets because they based it off of AgentSheets – another visual learning atmosphere designed to teach teenagers how to program via game design.

  3. Tufts University also got in on the act, developing the ROBOLAB software used to program the robots, with the National Instruments LabVIEW used as its engine.

  4. NXT was released in 2006 and offered 577 pieces including 3 servo motors, sensors that picked up ultrasonic, sound, touch, and light, connection cables including USB interface, and the NXT Intelligent Brick. This second generation Mindstorms kit included both educational and hobbyist options, and the line continued until 2009.

  5. In 2013, the NXT was replaced by Mindstorms EV3. The name refers to the ‘EV’olution of the product and its 3rd generation status.

  6. To showcase the potential of LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3, two young entrepreneurs were invited to showcase their creations at the Smithsonian Innovation Festival. The products showcased were a braille printer made entirely out of LEGO MINDSTORMS created by 14-year-old Shubham Banerjee and a prototype baseball mudder created by Fulbright alumni Cameron Kruse.

  7. With the introduction of the EV3 Programmer App available on Android and iOS tablets, Lego innovators will be able to create and save dynamic, advanced programs anywhere they happen to be, to interface with the Mindstorm robots they create.

  8. Users of EV3 can participate in a wide range of robotics competitions, including FIRST Lego League and the World Robot Olympiad.

  9. EV3 is the first of the Mindstorm kits to include iOS connectivity and a WiFi dongle that links via USB. It also includes a microSDHC slot.

  10. In addition to the Braille printer and baseball mudder, notable robots created with EV3 include a Guinness World Record-holding Rubik’s cube solver known as CubeStormer III and a digital book reader called Lego Bookreader that digitizes paper books.

  11. The FIRST Lego League presents 1,350 robotics competition events in 80 countries and boasts 29,000 teams running the same number of robots by over 200,000 participants, all using Mindstorm robots.

  12. FIRST Lego League Jr. opens up competition for participants from ages 6 to 9 and the FIRST competition is available for participants in the US and Canada from 9 to 14.

  13. Officially registered FIRST teams can earn a $20,000 prize for winning, while two finalists can earn $5,000.

  14. FIRST participants are, according to FIRST's own impact findings, twice as likely to major in a STEM field: 41% of them major in engineering. Unsurprising, since FIRST robotics participants report being 90% more interested in attending college, 88% more interested in being successful in school, and 90% more likely to take on challenging math or science courses.

  15. Participation in FIRST opens up an impressive array of robotics scholarships, internships, and other opportunities, including an option to intern with SpaceX, NASA, the Department of Defense, Boeing, Apple, and more.

  16. Many FIRST participants go on to degrees in Electronics Engineering, where they can apply their studies to the research and development of robotics in the real world.

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