12 June 2020

LEGO® MINDSTORMS® 51515 Robot Inventor: reveal and interview

Posted by Admin
The new LEGO® MINDSTORMS® has just been revealed, however we were lucky enough to be 'present' at the digital launch event at LEGO Fan Media Days a couple of weeks ago. Lena Dixen, Head of Product and Marketing Development and Dan Meehan, Creative Design Lead talked us through set 51515 Robot Inventor and answered a few questions from the LEGO fan media present. It has 949 pieces and will be available "sometime in early Q4 2020", priced £329.99/ US$359.99/ €359.99.

Lena Dixen:
"We're very excited about the launch we're here to talk about today. We want to share with you, up front, that we had planned for this awesome new product to be ready to go on sale in August this year. Unfortunately we've experienced some unavoidable delays in product development and as a result, we've decided to delay the launch until later in 2020.

"Here it is: the latest addition to the much loved LEGO MINDSTORMS. The new Robot Inventor 51515 unleashes a new world of creative coding possibilities that we believe provides the ultimate playful learning experience. Builders can create and code one of the set's five personality-packed models, or build and bring to life anything they can imagine.

"We first launched LEGO Mindstorms 22 years ago to help children develop science and technology skills in a fun and playful way. In 1998 not many people were talking about STEM learning. But our third generation owner Kjeld Kirk strongly believed that these skills would increase in importance in the future. So he worked closely with MIT to develop the LEGO Group's first STEM learning toy. Since then we've stayed true to those ambitions, ensuring we continue to inspire children to develop confidence in coding and robotics in a fun and playful way.

"Seven in ten parents say STEM skills are essential for a child's future success, and the World Economic Forum estimates that the job opportunities related to data and AI are to increase by almost 60% in the next two years alone. This latest evolution of LEGO Mindstorms continues this commitment to helping children develop STEM skills in a fun and playful way. Now I'll let Dan show you more details."

Dan Meehan:
"I’m the creative lead on this product. With this new Mindstorms, we've been rebooting the brand to make a brand new experience that's more exciting and more accessible for more kids and adults than ever before. In developing the product, we look back at what has made Mindstorms great for all these years. Why do kids and adults love the product and continue to build and code amazing creations, where have previous Mindstorms generations and products done well, and where could we improve and enhance the experience? And very quickly in our journey we settled on two things that were super important: one was robotics, and the other was open creativity. And this is what we have to share with you today.

"The new LEGO Mindstorms Robot Inventor is a five-in-one set that offers some awesome building and coding experiences, as well as a large number of extra elements for free building and creativity. We have brand new LPF 2.0 components first debuted in SPIKE Prime that make it easier than ever to build LEGO robots. We have a new hub with LEDs and a rechargeable battery, we have new sensors, we have four of the angular medium motors, compared to three with both EV3 and Boost. We have an app that offers both bot-based Scratch coding and text based Python coding. The app also has a remote control builder, so you can create a custom RC experience on your phone, tablet or computer. Or, if you have a PS4 or Xbox One controller, you can also control the app by Bluetooth with one of those controllers, and honestly, when we put this in the hands of kids and have been testing this product, their PlayStation controller, the app builder and the robots are just so much fun together – we really can't wait for people to enjoy this. And finally we have nearly 60% more elements than the previous Mindstorms, so there's a lot of bricks there to build with.

"The five models you can build are Blast, Charlie, Gelo, Tricky Gelo and M.V.P..

"Blast is the classic Mindstorms humanoid robot, but upgraded to be the best we've ever made. For Blast, Gelo and Charlie there's a huge number of props and accessories you can build. For Blast there's the blasters, a hammer, a claw, there's shooting targets, there's things to hit, there's things to pick up, there's things to move around, there's a fist... all sorts of extras here.

"Next up we have Charlie: the cute robot buddy full of character, full of personality. With Charlie, we have a drum kit, a ski board which is cross between a ski and a skateboard, there's a little shopping trolley, mini robots, some extensions to the drum kit to add blasters to it... and then, loads of bricks left over! To build whatever you want to do.

"Next up is Gelo, this is a quadruped Ed robotic dog inspired by the real-life robotic dogs you're seeing on the internet. And this is a really fun build, and it's only possible thanks to the brand new Angular motors and their unique building possibilities.

"Next up we have Tricky, one of the smaller robots in the set. It's a really fun build it's really quick to get started. And it's also a modular build so the actual base unit is a very simple driving base and then we have extensions that that you can build. Tricky can play basketball, bowling, crazy golf, soccer, and even be converted into a drawing robot as well. So there's a huge amount of modularity and customisation with the robots.

"The final model is MVP, and that stands for the modular vehicle platform. And again, this is all about making a custom creation or making your own spin on what the model is this one is configured as a crane. So there's all sorts of extra things you can build with MVP, we have the crane but then we also have a buggy configuration, which is for the basic introduction to RC coding; we have a turret shooter so you can actually control and use the sensor to detect people and fire the darts; and then a brick eater, which is a really cool truck that go can pick up bricks and spit them out again.

"One of the really cool things is, you know, these are the great models but that's only half the story: we have an app that has over 50 activities to provide the ultimate playful learning and coding experience for young creators, empowering them to build their confidence in a fun and exciting way with both Scratch and Python in the app. There's something for those new to coding robotics and also something for more experienced fans. The remote control coding experience is also something really fun.

"And we're really looking forward to seeing what fans can build with this set. It's been great fun developing these models, testing them, refining them, and basically trying to get as much as we can out of this as a Mindstorms experience. During the development we've also worked with a small group of fans. And I just like to share one piece of feedback I've got recently because they've been building with an early sample of the set. The message said, "I've been building with the bricks for a few weekends now. And what an epic collection it is, I just wanted to say, well done making this a real robot toolkit." When I received that, as a LEGO designer, as an AFOL, as a Mindstorms fan, it brought a huge smile to my face. We can't wait to see what fans, old and new, create with it."

Lena Dixen:
"The way children play is constantly changing; we're increasingly seeing children playing with one hand in the physical world and one hand in the digital world, and they move seamlessly across both. We call this fluid play. We recognised this shift with the introduction of LEGO Mindstorms all those years ago. With this new Mindstorms Robot Inventor, we're refining our range of products that give children the chance to play in the way they want to fluidly in creating the real world before coding digitally. We hope that by again uniting these two play worlds, we continue to inspire children to create and develop key skills through play for the years to come. Now there's a little bit of time to ask questions if you have any?"

Is it compatible with EV3?

Dan: So, we now move to the LPF 2.0 platform so this is has the same interface as Boost, Control+ and Powered Up components but the hardware isn't backwards compatible with EV3.

Does the hub differ from the one in SPIKE Prime?

Dan: It's in colour 107 teal, but no it is the same platform, so we're building on the the LPF 2.0 components that were first debuted with SPIKE Prime.

Did you say the drum kit has blasters?

Dan: Yes, the drum kit does have blasters, it's for the big finale! We also have a kick drum if you drive the robot forward. And you can only imagine how much fun the designers have had making these robots, and also making the accessories and I think that's a big thing that in the past when you build a big Mindstorms robot or a Boost robot, you didn't have many elements left over, and we really wanted to make sure that you had a lot left to build whatever you wanted, and you can see how crazy the designers have got!

What new elements can we expect?

Dan: We have a lot of new Technic elements in in teal, we have the beautiful new Technic building plates in teal and a lot of new elements. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted the mouthpiece here on Charlie. Now, maybe you'll be able to build a white Land Rover, because it's the same piece recoloured.

Can you build all five models at the same time?

Dan: It's a five in one, so it's one at a time. So, Blast: it's using all four motors, using all the sensors and it's using four of the six wheels that are in the set. So with Blast you have enough pieces left over to build all the accessories but you can't build another model which also contains four motors on the hub.

What and how many sensors are there?

Dan: The hub now has an integrated gyro sensor. We have a color sensor and the ultrasonic sensor.

No force sensor?

Dan: Yep that's correct. We had it early on in our product exploration, we found we used it very little in the play. It was something we were weighing up; should we have an extra motor or should we have a fourth sensor? And very very quickly we said we'd much rather have four motors in the set, than a fourth sensor, because we could use the tap of the hub or the buttons on the hub. We often use the color sensor as a button as well, because it's very good at detecting a finger and a touch.

Can I use the PS four controller?

Dan: In the app we have add ins to the experience. So, PS4 and Xbox One, in testing both are working great. We call it an experimental extension because there's a huge number of combinations of smart devices and phones and computers and Bluetooth. We are having great success with it, it's super fun, and when we give it to kids and put it in their hands, they don't need any instructions. They know how to play already, so it's really cool.

LEGO® MINDSTORMS® set 51515 Robot Inventor has 949 pieces and will be available "sometime in early Q4 2020", priced £329.99/ US$359.99/ €359.99.

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  1. Good interview! I was initially a bit worried about the lack of touch sensors, but thinking about it, the main uses I've had for those in the past (either to detect a button press, resistance on a mechanism, or to detect bumping into objects) could be more or less replaced by the ability of the additional servo motor to detect movement or resistance.

    I wonder what the chances of them adding support for Nintendo's Joy-Con controllers could be in a future update. I don't see why it wouldn't work.

    1. I'll mention that thought when we report back to TLG on this post.

  2. Long time Mindstorms user (educator) comment about features of 51515 (vs EV3):

    -source code is not open
    -no support for 3rd party developers
    -only scratch and python (EV3: some 30 languages, including scratch and python)
    -no data logging (and scientific exercises with wide scale of sensors)
    -no big memory capacity, display, cheap rechargeable AA-batteries or longer cables
    -no communication between units
    -no device monitoring (big problem in FLL)
    -no RGB color sensing
    -not compatible with any Mindstorms devices you already have (RCX/NXT/EV3)

    Maybe this is a good product for kids up to 10 years,
    I'll continue waiting for next true Mindstorms

    1. I'm not super up and up on the history of Mindstorms, but I don't think ANY Mindstorms generations have released the source code before the product has even been made available to buyers. Maybe wait at least until the set is out?

    2. Spike Prime came out five month ago, at begining of 2020 (after long delay). So there have been enough time to publish developer kits if those are coming at all.
      Enthuastic core users of Mindstorms can produse a huge pile of projects and materials in five month, if they are eager to do.
      But there is this if.
      Result of a fast wiew to Github and Google was diplomatically speaking not promising.

  3. My biggest problem is the whole control+ era FORCES you to have a mobile device and use it instead of a regular controler. I have a smartphone, it has a blutooth, but apparently that blutooth isn't good enough. Why don't they just make a standalone controller?!

    1. I guess for Control+ you might have a point, but Mindstorms has almost always required you to have an external device for programming and executing commands. You used to have to do it with a computer and a bulky infrared transmitter. Now you can do it with a wired or wireless connection to the hub.

    2. I just stumbled over this 'interview' and my first concerns were exactly, what you summarized here.
      I'm coaching teams in the WRO contest for a couple of years with quite some national and international
      The only real advantage for the new components I see in their size: they are smaller and easier to assemble than the EV3 parts. Some disadvantages are not really important for the WRO contest. You can only use one hub, so communication between different hubs don't matter. Data logging as provided with Lego's default development environment isn't required as well. But:
      The missing display is a big disadvantage, for you can't monitor variable or sensor / motor values. The biggest disadvantage from my point of view is the reduced number of ports: 6 instead of 8. You need at least two drive motors and two sensors for the obligatory line follower. So only two ports are left to handle the tasks. According to the rules you might use as many motors as you like (which is, if you are using an EV3 system, limited to 4 motors and 4 sensors), but all top teams are going to this limit, because otherwise you will not be able to do your job in the shortest possible time. Spike Prime was admitted to the last years contest already, but I can't remember to having seen one roboter based on this system in last years German finals.
      I doubt that the new system will prevail in the WRO contest, at least as long as Lego doesn't extend the capability of just connecting 6 components to the Spike Prime hub.

  4. Having just bought two Boost sets, and realizing that the lego ecosystem doesn't really interoperate with itself. I like the sensors and motors. There's a lot about the Boost app that's great. It's insane that a tilt sensor from WeDo 2.0 won't work with boost. That means I'm just not going to buy the WeDo 2.0 set for my kids to do STEM learning on.

    It really seems like LEGO in their quest to differentiate from knockoffs is alienating the core user base, and things like proprietary sockets makes me end up looking at products on AliExpress in order to make things work. It's infuriating, especially compared to how amazing LEGO is in other respects.