Lego Mindstorms - Can they play together?
July 4, 2009 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I recently obtained an older version of the Lego Mindstorms kit. It is the Robotics Invention System (RIS) and I think dated back to 1998. I would like to use Mindstorms to introduce my son to robotics and programming. He is already a huge fan of legos and building various structures and vehicles.

Is this version of Mindstorms (RIS) too old/dated to start with? Most of the books I have been finding deal with the newer NXT version of Mindstorms. Would I be better off purchasing the newer NXT system? Could the older RIS and newer NXT systems work together?

Might people have suggestions on books that might help us get started with Mindstorms in general? I am a software developer by profession but I do not have any experience with Robotics, Mindstorms and the languages Mindstorm uses.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by DerekTheGeek to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No, the RIS is just fine, and there is a lot on the internet and in books that relates to that, including all the MIT materials. It's also very interchangeable with the newer NXT, in that almost everything except the actual CPU brick and cables are completely interchangeable. Learning with the RIS and then moving "up" to the NXT is a good path, and there's really no wasted parts.

In fact for many applications a few of the "old" style parts (those gray motors, for example) are preferred to the new RIS versions. They're smaller and have more torque, if I remember right.

The wiring is different, but there are adapter cables to use old with new and new with old. I'd let him start with the RIS and when he hits a wall (it only has two inputs? I can only drive three motors?) then he's ready to move up to the NXT... and he can bring all his old parts and gear trains and wheel assemblies and whatnot along.

The biggest change from RIS to NXT is probably not the controller or motors or sensors themselves (they just click together, after all) but the lego-wide trend from regular bricks to "studless" constructions using those liftarms and beams and rivets rather than snap-together blocks. If your boy is familiar with 'Technic' lego then he'll be fine, but it's a whole different kind of planning and building: its like sideways-Lego.

The most annoying part of both RIS and NXT for him (and for you, I bet) will be the stupid visual programming language. If you can hack it out and replace the firmware with NQC or one of the other 'real' languages from the get-go, you will be better off. The NXT also has a lame visual programming language that is near useless and needs to be replaced with one of the open source alternatives, and if you do it right off the bat, you'll probably be happier.

Well, build the models in the kit instructions first, I guess. Those need original firmware.

(I taught a course once.)
posted by rokusan at 8:31 AM on July 4, 2009

I also probably have some old RIS books you can have... assuming I can find them. MeMail me a mailing address.
posted by rokusan at 8:32 AM on July 4, 2009

I have a complete RIS set that I'd be happy to send for the cost of postage. MeMail me if interested.
posted by djb at 9:34 AM on July 4, 2009

as rokusan is referring to,
there are also alternative ways to program the mindstorms systems to the standard interface that lego provide.

mindstorms is a great toy.
posted by compound eye at 11:32 PM on July 4, 2009

if you're interested in programming the Mindstorm pieces using .Net, Aforge.Net actually provides some functionality.
posted by cofie at 1:46 AM on July 5, 2009

Thank you very much everyone! I feel I have more information and have an idea of where to start. I did install the Mindstorms software but it eventually crashed during the tutorial (repeatedly). It was meant for Windows 95 and my machine is XP (computability mode didn't help). I also found that one of the two motors is seized. So I think we will work with what we have with an eye on the NXT system in the near future. Thanks for all the help!
posted by DerekTheGeek at 6:47 PM on July 7, 2009

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