“Bricking” Microcontrollers In LEGO Motivates Young Programmers

Back when he was about seven years old, [Ytai] learned to program on an Atari 800XL. Now he has a seven-year-old of his own and wants to spark his interest in programming, so he created these programmable LEGO bricks with tiny embedded microcontrollers. This is probably one of the few times that “bricking” a microcontroller is a good thing!

IMG_20150519_144818The core of the project is the Espruino Pico microcontroller which has the interesting feature of running a Java stack in a very tiny package. The Blocky IDE is very simple as well, and doesn’t bog users down in syntax (which can be discouraging to new programmers, especially when they’re not even a decade old). The bricks that [Ytai] made include a servo motor with bricks on the body and the arm, some LEDs integrated into Technic bricks, and a few pushbutton bricks.

We always like seeing projects that are geared at getting kids interested in creating, programming, and hacking, and this certainly does that! [Ytai] has plans for a few more LEGO-based projects to help keep his kid interested in programming as well, and we look forward to seeing those! If you’re looking for other ways to spark the curiosity of the youths, be sure to check out the Microbot, or if you know some teens that need some direction, perhaps these battlebots are more your style.

15 thoughts on ““Bricking” Microcontrollers In LEGO Motivates Young Programmers

    1. no :(
      in 2015 computers are more advanced than 30 years ago.
      so is the way we interact with them.
      using state of the art technology to let kids play with it when they are interested in tech is the right way to approach things.
      especially when the stuff you program blinks or moves..
      go dad! nice job.

      1. Why not both, “Hey Bobby, here’s what’s runnin’ underneath your fancy phone!” (Well ok, not really but an introduction to simple programming on an old machine could get the kid more interested in hacking his new stuff.)

      2. Hey @Overflo, I think you have a real Stack Overflow. I remember a anecdote of a kid and a ancient in the Subway where the kid approach teh ancient telling him: we have the smartphones, Ipads, 4k TV’s, retina displays, Uber, google, twitter, FB what your generation had 30years ago. So the ancient stuck for a while from hearing the great stuffs these days the kids have. After a while he answerd to the kid, well we’ve discoverd the PC/microprocessor what did your generation discoverd. So have little respect for your dad…

        1. Similar to an interesting jome I saw on the Ellen DeGeneres show my spouse watches. The joke was a news broadcast of a Canadian kid who develops a flashlight powered by the heat of your body. Then it shows a British(IIRC) group who developed a car that supposedly can run for a thousand miles. Then it shows the American top story, breadstick sandwiches from Olive Garden.

          The joke was harsh but the point is real. What ground breaking new hardware have been developed by the Americans?

    2. Paul, yes, but more No…

      Years and years ago (92), when our son got really curious and wanted to use a real computer next to game boy, we did not push it, we just let it happen. It is easy – and a danger – for parents to shove their kids into something they like doing themselves, becuase the kids like to please the parents: It’s a shared joy and It gives good feedback! It’s all of the behavioral aspects going on when rearing a child. Unfortunately, it may later lead to regrets, because the child did not get exposed to other things that suit more the child as a whole being.

      Since we ‘let it happen’, that is what happens: he picked up a BASIC manual – in his non-English mother tongue – of the ‘IBM’ PC he had access to and started to code. He placed all vertiacal bars – or (|) signs – on the 24×80 screen. Then he ran a lawn mover over the screen in zig-zag pattern and changed the vertical bars to slashes (/) and (\) backslashes – on row or a set of rows at a time – to imitate the ligth effects that you see on soccer field on TV.

      At that time, I was pretty into OO and was not so conviced that doing your first code-thinking in a ‘spaghetti’ language… My attempt to convey failed miserably. For two reasons: 1st, don’t try to apply a too powerful solution concept/tool at a very simple problem, and 2nd: there were no such cool tools at hand like Blockly or a-like. The more powerful concept still used the primitive text to express itself, and abstraction is something a child has to learn… and keeps learning… I keep learning… like going up stairs: step by step.

      I’m glad that today there are advanced graphical things available – including all the intuitive touch interfaces – that allow to experience nicely visualize things and create – for most – even more curiosity to – at appropriat time – to look behind the sceenes and become creaters of things by themselves.

  1. Interesting, but I feel the developer has rushed the announcement of his project before seeing if it really fulfills the development goal – that of spurring interest in young minds for a sense of programming. It leaves us asking the question whether it really helped his son understand programming, and the things he builds (and has built) with it. For instance we see the animated video, but it’s Dad playing with it.
    Some photos and a followup story about how his son tangibly benefited from the all the work his dad did in making the parts would be insightful as to whether the augmentation of existing construction toys by technology is a path worth following at a young age. For older kids there is Mindstorms so what exactly is this achieving?

    1. Of course it’s also the kid in the developer which tries to fulfill the dreams he had when he was younger. I would have KILLED for automated Lego stuff!

      I worked as a tutor a few times and often tried to fascinate kids for programming. Its extremely difficult! The point is that it is very abstract and complicated, after a few years you don’t recognize it anymore and everything makes perfectly sense. For Kids this is a very big step and as only few have the motivation and fascination to learn something that complicated there is a high risk of frustration.

      I like the idea of his lego bricks, Mindstorm is very expensive and lego tends to restrict the creativity by providing sets where you simply follow the instructions without a real chance to build something on your own.

  2. My kids have access to Lego Mindstorms set we received from friends, but they seem to enjoy taking things apart to see how they work a bit more at the moment. They have bought a few items at a yard sale and bring them home and take them apart. They have a nice little collection of motors going at the moment. I really want to think of it as creative recycling, but so far they have yet to produce anything significant with the parts they collect. They were totally stoked when we found a security bit set at HF for super cheap. It has those triangle bits certain fast food restaurants seem to use on all of their kids meals toys. I really like the whole roll your own mindstorms stuff, though.

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