The LEGO Group has announced the latest iteration of MINDSTORMS, the robotics and coding theme that has not seen an upgrade for seven years. During a special session for Recognised LEGO Fan Media, the LEGO Group’s Senior Vice President Lena Dixen and Senior Design Manager Dan Meehan present 51515 Robot Inventor for the first time.
No release date has yet been announced for the 949 piece set, as it has been delayed from its intended launch. “We want to share with you upfront that we had planned for this awesome new product to go on sale in August this year,” says Lena. “Unfortunately we have experienced some unavoidable delays and decided to delay the launch until later in 2020.”
To set the scene, she mentions the history of LEGO consumer-facing coding products: “We first launched LEGO MINDSTORMS 22 years ago to help children develop science and technology skills in a fun and playful way. Back in 1998 not many people were talking about STEM learning, but our third generation owner, Kjeld Kirk, strongly believed these skills would increase in importance in the future.
“Today more than ever, we believe children need a wide range of different skills to help them succeed in the future, like us, both parents and the World Economic Forum see STEM skills as part of this mix as essential for a child’s future success.”
While information on the topic has been presented in more detail by LEGO Education President Esben Staerk, Lena references two statistics supporting the company’s interest in this area – that 7 in 10 parents say STEM skills are essential for their child’s success and that the World Economics Forum estimates job opportunities related to data and AI will increase by almost 60% in the next two years.
After a preamble that sets the scene for why LEGO MINDSTORMS is more relevant than ever, it is over to Dan to explain the product itself: “We have been rebooting the brand to make a brand new MINDSTORMS experience that is more exciting and more accessible for more kids and adults than ever before.
“In developing the product, we looked 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? What had previous MINDSTORMS generations and products done well, and where could we improve and enhance the experience? Very quickly in our journey we settled on two things that were really important. One was robotics and the other was open creativity.
“We have brand new LPF 2.0 components, which 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 block 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 X-box One controller you can also control the app via Bluetooth with one of those controllers.”
It is a lot to take in, but essentially, the elements and robotics found in the expensive LEGO Education Spike Prime sets are now coming to a consumer home product, presented in an accessible and appropriate way.
Five robots are included in the set, with users able to build one at a time, Dan reveals as he showcases each one. “Blast is the classic MINDSTORMS humanoid robot, but it is upgraded to be the best we have ever made… it’s going to scan the room using the ultrasonic sensor to detect intruders. Next up we have Charlie. Charlie is the cute robot buddy or helper, he is full of character, full of personality, and I think you’ll find a pretty good drummer.
“Next up is Gilo. This is a quadruped robotic dog inspired by the real life robotic dogs you will have seen on the internet and this is a really fun build. It is only possible thanks to the brand new angular motors and their unique building possibilities.
“Tricky is one of the smaller robots in the set, it is a really fun build, it is really quick to get started and it is also a modular build. So the base unit is a very simple driving base and then we have extensions that you can build.
“The final model is MVP and that stands for the modular vehicle platform and this is all about making a custom creation or making your own spin on what the model is.”
He is keen to assure adult fans that they will find something to enjoy in the new set, noting that feedback so far has been positive. “We’re designing this set to be accessible to more kids and adults than ever before, we want to bring more kids into the MINDSTORMS universe, but knowing that existing MINDSTORMS fans, existing AFOLs, also view the kit as something they can really use as a robot toolkit is a huge success for us.”
Before wrapping up, Dan responds to a few questions. Expectedly, he is asked whether 51515 Robot Inventor is compatible with EV3, the last generation in the theme. “We have now moved to the LPF 2.0 platform so this has the same interface as BOOST and Control+ and the Powered UP components but the hardware isn’t compatible with EV3.”
He also highlights the quantity of elements in the set. “In the past when you built a big MINDSTORMS robot or a BOOST robot, you didn’t have many elements left over and we really wanted to make sure you had a lot left to build whatever you wanted.”