Saturday, August 24, 2013

The New EV3...Update

When the LEGO Mindstorms RCX set came out, it was a major innovation for introducing students to the world of robotics. In 2006, LEGO Mindstorms NXT was introduced and it was a great enhancement over the RCX. For Mindstorms 15th anniversary in 2013 the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 is now available (Educational version – Retail version available Sept. 1) and it is a significant enhancement over the RCX & NXT.
First, there is a new design for the EV3 Brick & Sensors, which seems to lend itself to better building. The EV3 brick (Educational & Retail) has a more powerful microprocessor (ARM9 300Hz with 16MB Flash & 64 MB RAM), a 178x128 pixel  & slightly larger LCD, OS is Linux-based, instead of 3 motor ports there are now 4 (for large & medium size motors), there are still 4 Input ports for the sensors. a Micro SD-Card Reader up to 32GB & USB connection (more memory – nice!), and check this – the USB port can be used to link additional EV3 bricks with motors that can be then controlled by the host brick (amazing!).  Besides being autonomously controlled it can be remotely controlled with BlueTooth, & Smart devices (Android & Apple).

For more info on the EV3 Brick:

What sensors are in the EV3 Educational Core set? The Sound sensor has been eliminated – well, it was difficult to use in a classroom, what robotics classroom is quiet enough (I know mine wasn’t; it was filled with learning excitement noise - the kids ended up using the Sound sensors for decor & weight balance on the robot. The EV3 comes with 2 Touch, 1 Color, & 1 Ultrasonic sensor in the set. In addition, there is a Gyroscope sensor included. Not included in the Educational set, but it is available, is an IR Seeker sensor, an IR Beacon/Remote Control, and Temperature sensor (not new, it is the same one that is used with the NXT). There is a newly designed rechargeable battery, but the charger is the same as the DC charger & Power Functions charger. (thank you!) Besides the traditional LEGO Technic elements there are some nice additions: a smaller Turntable element, Double Bushing, Dampers, Left/Right Panels, & a cool Technic Ball Pivot.

     Let’s peek at the EV3 Brick Controller Interface. There are 4 basic screens: Run Recent (programs), File Navigation (of all files on the Brick & SD card), Settings (volume, sleep, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Brick Info - current tech specifications), & an amazing 5 pre-installed Brick Apps (plus students can make their own Apps in the computer software). Brick Apps include: Port View, Motor Control, IR Control, Brick Programming, & Brick Datalog – all of which are explained in “some detail” in the PDF EV3 Guide that comes with the software. 

  Now, a very brief summary of the EV3 software (Educational); due to bugs in the software a new version is available. If you already bought the software, you should be getting an e-mail notification from LEGO Education about download instructions of the new version. 

     When you load the software it opens to a screen called the Lobby, which has links to the various activities/functions (Quick Start, Model Instructions, Programming, Data Logging, Files). The model instructions on the software are divided into models using the EV3 plus the Expansion set (intermediate-advanced builder)  & models using just the Core set (novice-intermediate builder). Included in the EV3 Core set is an instruction booklet on how to build & program (Brick Programming) a simple robot. This is good for quick “intro” teaching to the system. The Programming Overview is a picture slideshow introduction of how to program, but does not go into all the programming blocks. Like the RoboLab & NXT-G, the EV3 is icon blocks that you connect by “click, drag & drop.” Now, the difference from NXT-G is that the EV3 has is only one palette of programming blocks, but the color coding is still used for the different grouping of functions for the blocks (e.i. green - Action blocks – motor, display, sound, etc.) Honestly, having the Common NXT-G palette really wasn’t necessary & was sometimes confusing to the novice user, since it was included in the Complete palette.  There is also a nice improvement with configuring the program blocks; it is done right on the block rather than a separate window – this makes it much easier to look at any part of the program & see at a glance the configuration of any block. Creating MyBlocks is basically the same procedure as with the NXT-G.

  Besides Download, Download & Run, Upload; there is something new added to the Hardware Page Controller – Download & Run Selected. This function will be useful for debugging sections of the program! A few other features added are the Zoom, Sound Editor, ImageEditor, & the Content Editor. There is a zoom icon on the programming screen that allows the program to be enlarged for better viewing; an excellent feature for those who may have some visual impairment or for the instructor to focus in on a particular area of the program. The Sound Editor & the Imagine Editor were originally introduced on the NXT 2.0 Retail; adding them to the EV3 Educational will offer more creative possibilities for students.

     Educators (perhaps FLL coaches too) will like this new feature, the Content Editor. It is an e-notebook for writing notes, including images, short videos, sound, & even record a webcam about the project & program the student is working on & saved with that program.

The EV3 of course does not come with a book “manual” on building & programming; instead it has an excellent online help manual. Click on “Help” in the menu bar - “Show EV3 Help” & it will take you online for descriptions & explanations dealing with programming blocks, the EV3 Brick Interface, sensors, tools & data logging. Of course, there will soon be a number of  new EV3 books on the market - one is already out:  Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: EV3 by Damien Kee. He has a good overview of programming at:

So there are many great enhancements & features with the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3, but unfortunately there is one negative & that is with the display screen on the EV3 Brick. Students (and coaches like myself) that have some visual impairment (even with corrective devices) will have some trouble seeing the info on the display.  On the NXT the display screen might have been a little smaller, but there was less info displayed at a time so it was slightly larger. The EV3 may have sharper text/graphics, but it is packed with a lot of info shown on the display so the text is smaller. When files & selection choices on the display are selected by highlighting it (which becomes green text on black highlight – very hard to see). There is also a problem with glare & reflection – you have to find the right viewing angle to see the display clearly. Perhaps if the screen were a lighter color (if that is possible), the black text & graphics would show up a little better; maybe an antiglare screen too???

Another problem that The LEGO Group is aware of is with the rechargeable battery, see statement from LEGO: 

This was just a brief look at the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3; those of you who are upgrading from NXT to the new EV3, you will discover more great new enhancements to the system & that there are some NXT features that were retained (some with improvements). Now, you might be thinking, “What about all those NXT sets we have!?” Well, of course all non-electronic elements will still fit with the new set. There is also some compatibility between the NXT & EV3. 
           * Ev3 motors will work with the NXT brick, but not the EV3 sensors.
         * NXT motors & sensors will work with the EV3 brick; the EV3 brick & software detects the sensors & motors automatically, so you can configure them as if they were EV3 sensors & motors. 
check out: 

and if you happened to have some “old” RCX motors (need a Conversion Cable found in the NXT set or order from LEGO) see what creative things you can do with them on the EV3  :-) 


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