Children of the mindstorm

LEGO Group presents together with the intelligent toy developed with computer lab

"Intelligent like a brick" The Financial Times titled her report on the new Lego products. The pun comes from that the Lego stones in English "Bricks" to be named. But how smart must be a toy that we start to worry about him? And rises the intelligence of the children in the same MAB as their toys with chips are considered?

Computer and microprocessors have conquered the nursery. Toys can interact with children, talk to them. And the children should even learn something with them. Since 1984, the LEGO Group and the Media Lab have been working on research projects to develop new toy concepts. First results of the LEGO co-operation are currently viewed in an exhibition in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Chicago Museum. Here, children can vomiting LEGO athletes with each other or control a robot vehicle with small cameras and computers on the surface of a Marsmodel via a software.

At a press conference on 27.1.98 In London, the associated product series were presented, the "Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System" and the "LEGO TECHNIC CYBERMASTER". Mindstorms and CyberMasters are on the market in the fall of this year, both at a price of around 200 – 23o.- U.S. dollar. (Mindstorms, however, first appears only in an English-language version, a German catch – and thus a German cybercommunity on the web – is only for 1999.To)

Children of the Mindstorm

Lego DCX chip with sensors (Photo: LEGO)

Heartstuck of the product lines is the DCX, an 8-bit chip that is installed in a compact LEGO brick. A construction box like "Mindstorms" Provides other parts such as greerarms and raders, but also different sensors for sound, light and warm, which can be coupled with the central chip in almost any number of variations. By means of a visual programming interface, which was specially developed for children and how a visual puzzle works, the DCX can be entered and different functions and behaviors – depending on the hardware configuration. If the finished program is then transferred via infrared to the chip, the robot – or whatever it has also become – complete autonomously from computer remote control can act.

Borders are the imagination "Mindstorms" Almost no set, but are highly in the stucco costs of existing sensor and laser technology. Cybermaster is, on the other hand, as an extension to the existing LEGO Technic, a trace of conventional designed and comes along with a CD-ROM where a colorful 3D world is located, Lego Technic City. Animated characters explain the children as two robots, "Crusher" and "Stinger", put together and use. The scope for own variations is relatively low, the robots are remotely controlled via a two-way channel from the computer. The interesting thing is the combination of computer game and conventional legotechnology. The virtual playmates in Joes Garage show the children as they can handle the individual components creatively.

Children of the Mindstorm

"Crusher", The robot from Lego Technik CyberMaster. (Photo: Patrick Barth for the LEGO Group)

Dr. Seymour Papert, Professor (Emeritus) AM with, was Mastermind behind these developments. He is a pioneer of learning research with computers and has already started working in the early sixties in this area. His programming language logo is applied to over a thousand schools to teach children programming. For papert, it is not primarily about the fact that the children gain technological knowledge and skills, but they make experiences in the project managment in the joint work with intelligent robots. However, this paper criticized the product printer in London at the end of January, define it in our educational system most. The new toys should allow children, above all, unbiased access to technology. Project-related, children can be interested in areas of science and technology, areas for which they had never interested in and those who had thought they have always appeared to them like a book with seven seals.

For adults, many technological achievements are already a self-consumancy, but children are always the question of how their technical environment works at all: Why does a ture go automatically? Where does the autopilot of an airplane actually know where the journey should go? How to automatically read in the cash register of a supermarket? "If you pay the children, that a computer "by simply" is programmed to do certain things, programming becomes advisable for the children", says Lego Manager Christian Majgaard. And Mitchel Resnick, Associate Professor for Learning Research on MEDIA LAB believes that children are best to learn when they themselves design their own theories on the functioning of the world and they can try them in their own inventions.

Children of the Mindstorm

Prof. Dr. Seymour Paper from MIT / BOSTON: "If, as in the youngest financial crisis in Asia, the West, so the rich Lander, the IMF, the World Bank etc. $ 100 billion to ‘salvation of financial institutions’ skins can, why can we then do not afford to raise $ 100 billion to ‘salvation of children’." Picture Law: Patrick Barth for the Lego Group

Paper itself works systematically with children who are actually too young for the corresponding technology products. If a separate, personal interest is awakened, things become possible, which were so far unthinkable in conventional learning methods. For example, a seven and eight-year-old girl together have built robot models of a cat and a mouse, which invite themselves to the tracking hunting game via light signals. And a nine-year-old girl built an automatic bird feeder, who ends up the blossom of a connected photo camera every time a bird lands

However, such and other beautiful examples can not be all overviewed that Mindstorms and CyberMaster are quite virile games, at least they are clearly geared to a young audience in their packaging. Flashes swellish the advertising cardboard, on the heavy heavy metal letters "Mindstorms" written. And the rendering of the LEGO Technic City is also a little too much average average priority – somewhere between Super Mario, Toy Stories, Bladerunner and the Future L.A. In Terminator – advised. "Mindstroms" will "Robotic Invention Kit" Protected, both products are arrested in thoughtful martial, metallic screeching combat robots.

This type of image formation is also paper’s not happy. He says that the emphasis of the "robot"-Concept probably considered a commitment to the marketing people and admits frightful:

"I have always found it difficult to understand the thinking of marketing people. They highlight this robot cause because everyone can understand that makes them happy."

He, however, looks at the most diverse usage of new toys:

"In principle, it’s about LEGO stones in which chips and sensors are installed, and you can actually do everything. But we are currently at the very beginning with this toy and I was very sad when the development was stopped at this stand."

Another facet is the web site to Mindstorms. For the children, she is supposed to be a kind of user forum, where they exchange for construction and programming methods, and their models can lead each other for each other. In addition, LEGO learning centers for the new, added drops of demanding toys should give the first of them in Billund, Danemark, where a highest successful Legoland is now already a lego version of a children’s topics. Stagnation in the further development of the principle of intelligent stones should therefore not be bound.

Children of the Mindstorm

Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, director of the Lego Group, with the DCX processor in hand: "Since the tin soldiers, since Pinocchio, children have always had the idea of jumping their toys with which they play every day, from the rule and drove their own life." (Photo: Patrick Barth for the LEGO Group)

Around 100 million in Danish krones, LEGO alone has been able to cost the development work of Mindstorms and Cybermasters so far. The group, which is the only European manufacturer in the top ten of toy manufacturers, liked with the intelligent bricks fit FURS 21. Century. At the latest in 2005, LEGO might be the leading name among all toy manufacturers all over the world. In addition to the computerized plastic tiles, LEGO also relies on electronic entertainment products of the 97 founded company branch Lego Media.

The development of computer toy progresses rapidly. For Seymour Paper, however, are not always important market shares important, but a better access of the children to the technology of the future. More and more young people should get access to this type of toy, the purpose of use should be universal, the user spectrum continuously widen. Toys of the new generation should be available in possibly many countries, possibly also for poor children: "The global situation is so bad that a better learning environment that is undoubtedly created with digital culture (for all the lack of defects) may not only be reserved for a small number of children in some countries." In his view, the countries already privileged in their knowledge capital further improve the learning opportunities for the children of their next generation:

"That sums up the existing gap and I think I do not have to stress extra as well as a gap can be so much, it can conflict and wars."


"Here something has to be done very much. If, as in the youngest financial crisis in Asia, the west, so the rich Lander, the IMF, the World Bank etc. $ 100 billion to ‘salvation of financial institutions’ skins can, why can we then do not afford to raise $ 100 billion to ‘salvation of children’."

A few weeks ago, this was committed to a new, further five-year research project: "Toys of Tomorrow", Together financed by Lego, Hasbro, Mattel and Walt Disney with a quintual initial budget between two and four million US dollars. Further cooperations with toys"R"US, Tomy, Bandai and the international Olympic committee are currently in conversation.

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