The recently announced Mindstorms NXT was on display in the Robotics TechZone at CES, surrounded by other robotics exhibits. A number of NXT sample robots were being demonstrated, but in this installment we’ll focus on some of the key features of the new NXT intelligent brick, which replaces the yellow RCX brick used in earlier versions of Mindstorms.
The NXT unit itself is roughly the same size as the old RCX, but most similarities end there. A pearlescent off-white finish and four control buttons (providing left, right, select and escape menu functions) give the NXT a vaguely iPod-ish appearance. Seven ports – 3 output and 4 input — are used to communicate with sensors and other devices. On the old RCX these ports were covered with brick studs and surrounded the central LCD display; on the new NXT these ports are on the top and bottom edges of the unit and take the form of proprietary 6-wire connectors that resemble (but are incompatible with) RJ11 phone connectors. Next to the output ports is a USB 2.0 connector, and the unit also offers integrated Bluetooth compatibility.
Using the control buttons you can navigate through the NXT menu system, which appears to be more flexible and provides more control options that the old RCX LCD display functionality, which only allowed the user to toggle through and select currently loaded programs. Based on our limited time with the device we think the new menu system should be relatively easy for users familiar with iPods and mobile phones to choose and select program functions and adjust NXT brick options.
In our next installment we’ll take a closer look at the new NXT programming software, which is based on National Instruments LabVIEW software and is both Macintosh (Huzzah!) and Windows compatible. We’ll also check out some of the sample models we saw on display at the show, in addition to an early comp of the NXT product packaging. Check out the official Mindstorms site (http://mindstorms.lego.com) for more information as well.