It is hard to believe, but Mindstorms has been a LEGO theme for just shy of 20 years. As one who was there, and necessarily all that young, when the theme first emerged that fact makes me feel old. As many fans were probably too young to have been around for that launch, this Origins piece will look back to the very beginning of this theme.
The heart of Mindstorms has always been the programmable brick which the user can code, via an accompanying computer program, to create any number of robots from ultra simple to truly astounding. To date there have been four incarnations of this brick. The most recent and advanced version of Mindstorms, called EV3, was released in 2013. It contained the most powerful programmable LEGO piece yet released called the EV3 Intelligent brick.
The two incarnations prior to EV3 share a name and a lot of other similarities. NXT and NXT 2.0 took the AFOL world by complete surprise when the first version was released in 2006. Only two years after the LEGO Group flirted with bankruptcy, the community were not expecting the company to reinvigorate the Mindstorms theme of all things – but they did, and it was awesome. NXT brought new parts, new programmable power and a new programmable brick.
Having passed NXT, we are now drawing close to the dawn of Mindstorms. The early history of the theme involved four closely related releases. The first incarnations of Mindstorms saw the use of a single programmable brick, call the RCX, that could have its software updated. Those software updates differentiated the different releases from each other which meant that the LEGO Group produced three distinct sets known as versions 1, 1.5, and 2. Owners of the previous version could, in lieu of buying the new release, purchase an update pack that included a software patch and whatever few additional pieces the new option contained.
Interspersed amongst the core version releases were several anomalies. One of them was known as the Robotics Discovery Set. This unique offering was different from every other version of Mindstorms released in that the programmable brick, a modified blue version of the original RCX, did not require a computer to program. There were other one hit wonders such as the Star Wars inspired Droid Developer Kit which was released in 1999 which allowed one to do basic programming on a very ugly representation of R2-D2.
Finally, we arrive at the very beginning. I have fond memories of getting the original Mindstorms Robotics Developer Kit for Christmas 1998, the year of its release. Version 1.0 came with 733 pieces and the original programmable brick, RCX 1.0. Alas, it is useless to me now as computers no longer include serial ports which is what the infrared transmitter included in that original offering required and Windows 98 is long defunct. Coupled with that, my wires have gotten frayed after almost 20 years. Even so, many happy hours were add in my adolescence building and programming various robots. It was an excellent product, and the concept really has stood the test of time.