Thursday, October 19, 2017

Another music store & laser tag arena MOC update

Hey!  Look at that!  Both floors together, with a roof on top & everything.  I'm not 100% satisfied yet and will surely do some tweaks, but with all of the important components in place I'm nearly ready to call this "done for now" and turn my attention elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

LEGO October 2017 VIP exclusive promotional polybag review! 40178

As seen in a recent haul video, I had to get two of these for the wonderful sticker sheets and also the much improved new LEGO store employee minifigure.  The rest is nice for display when just (mostly) built as designed, too.

Ultimate LEGO Star Wars book by DK

In an uncharacteristic move, I bought a LEGO-related book with no bundled physical LEGO parts, but oh, was it worth it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

LEGO Laser tag arena almost done!

Work in progress is work in progress!  I hit no snags over the weekend and only ran out of one needed part for which I had an acceptable substitute.  There's a lot of building trickery in this thing that'll never been seen by anyone, but I'm fine with that as I just want the result to be decent.

A part of me really wishes I could shrink down & play-test this arena with some family & friends!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Work resumes on the laser tag arena MOC (over the music store)

Whoa.  I did not realize it had been so long since I last worked on this thing.  Well I'm sure glad to be back at it!

Work in progress!  Incomplete!

Monday, October 9, 2017

LEGO Life Master Build challenge try #2

Ah yes, much better!  Instead of a pile of random builds made from a pile of random parts, this time I've made a complete scene that almost makes sense as a unit.
This features an intermodal cargo ship with containers and a dock with a crane and a few little related items.  

I really wanted to leave it at that, but there were so many parts left over that a couple more small builds made their way into existence before I was able to step away.  Unfortunately these are in a different scale.

That was fun!  Now back to our regular scheduled programming.

Friday, October 6, 2017

LEGO Life Master Build attempt #1

Here's the product of the first building session from the night of Oct. 4th when I first showed you the pieces from the LEGO Life Master Build box.  I proceeded as planned, with basically only one course correction during the sitting.

Now that I've warmed up, I'm going to make a more serious attempt!

More about my LEGO Boost tank-bot

As promised, here's a walk-around of my autonomous / self-driving little vehicle with a more direct explanation of how it works as well as the revelation of its second function.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

LEGO Life Master Build project begins

With the overdue LEGO Boost project approaching completion I've finally spilled out that bin & bag of parts that were sent to me by the LEGO Life team a couple months ago (feels like a few weeks).  It's my first time really looking at exactly what I have to work with, and the situation is about as dire as I expected.  This is a real hodge-podge of parts from which it will be very difficult to build anything that doesn't look like a unicorn ate a rainbow & then promptly threw up.

I mean seriously, what a mess, and what a challenge!  The coin-operated supermarket rodeo ride that legit Master Builder Mark Roe came up with was amazing, but I wish I could have seen how many parts he didn't use.  I don't think I can dip into this huge pile and make one small thing, even if I should, at least not at first.

Thanks to the fact that YouTube is not real life, though, I can tell you that I've already used up the vast majority of these parts in fulfilling this challenge.  I did, indeed, go with multiple builds, and I'm a bit ashamed of that.  I think I'm going to show what I did (soon, another video), then take it all apart and try again.  I feel like I need to do better.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

First reveal of my LEGO Boost MOC project

Some months ago, LEGO sent me a couple early production samples of their newest robotics system, Boost, and let me go to town with them.  I told them I wouldn't review the thing, but would instead focus on an original robot or gadget of my own design, form & function to be determined.  Here's the very first video footage of what I came up with:
To learn more about Boost, check out the official site and Brickset's first impressions. Having used the system extensively before and after its release, I can confirm that most of the full reviews on the 'web & YouTube were using the pre-production beta software (whether they made this clear like they were supposed to or not).  I can also happily report that many of the early reported issues of extremely limited device compatibility, glitches, and crashes have been addressed and the product that consumers can actually buy seems very stable.

Boost is an introductory robotics education platform aimed at kids as young as 7, a market that's generally not fully ready for something like Mindstorms.  Most Boost building is brick-based, with limited Technic parts usage as required for gears & axles & such.  The strictly tablet-borne programming interface (you supply the tablet) is mostly drag & drop and uses no words, just symbols and very deliberate and thorough tutorials that guide the first-time user through discovery and initial inspiration.  The core electronic component that you put batteries in & build upon has little to no "intelligence" within it.  Instead, your programs are actually run on your tablet, with only raw motor & sensor data being transmitted back & forth to your 'bot.

I'll show my little autonomous tank-bot in detail soon, but the basic concept is that it's sweeping the distance-sensing unit from the kit left & right to look for obstacles.  When it gets too close to something, it makes a decision, and turns to avoid a collision.  I used some of my own parts like narrow tank treads to keep the form factor as small as reasonably possible.  The code I'm currently running is pretty simple, though the amount of experimentation, hair-tearing & re-scoping I did along the way was a bit disproportionate.  Boost seems absolutely fantastic for its target audience, but if you try to extract much in the way of precision or multi-tasking from it, you will quickly encounter quite a number of... quirks.

Your programs are interpreted in real time, which introduces a non-trivial amount of latency, and the sense/interpret/command loop can be slow enough that you can watch it with your bare eyes.  You can create callable functions that can accept arguments, but they can't seem to return any information, and all variables are "local" -- inaccessible outside of the function where they're created.  The system is inconsistent about waiting for tasks to complete before moving to the next command.  All three motors (two in the main hub brick and one separate) are "encoded" so they can report their output shaft position (sort of), but they almost always over- or under-shoot when asked to turn to a specific orientation.  There's also play in the internal gearboxes and the position sensors sometimes hang a bit between degree ticks, taking up to several seconds to decide whether to round up or down.  Oh, and the thing won't drive straight.  It just won't.  It'll go a little to the left or a little to the right, and it's especially bad at low speed. My tank-bot's program tries to make some pretty drastic brute force corrections, depending upon which way it remembers most recently turning.  Even that's not enough, though.

Given the many limitations of this simplistic system designed for young kids, I'm actually quite happy with how well it works, even though I grew a lot more gray hair getting it to this point than I would have ever imagined.  I'll show the details of the physical design of the tank-bot in a future post, and probably demonstrate some of the code that survived the countless re-writes.