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Linux-Powered Lego-Like Devices Target Developers 164

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the plug-and-play dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A six-person startup is readying a product resembling nothing so much as a set of electronic Legos for device designers. The idea is to provide a set of snap-together components from which engineers can build 'anything,' the company claims, without having to learn solid state electronics. Both hardware and software (Linux/Java phoneME/OSGi) are open source, so that over time, the Lego box will grow, the company hopes. Initially, there's an ARM11-powered base with built-in wifi, and modules for camera, GPS, motion detector, LCD display, keyboard, touchscreen, and stereo speakers. Ooh, and a mysterious 'teleporter,' too."
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Linux-Powered Lego-Like Devices Target Developers

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  • by Apple Acolyte (517892) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:14PM (#21246303)
    Haha. It's a joke!
    • "Linux-Powered Lego-Like Devices Target Developers"

      Am I the only one who pictured giant LEGO robots armed with rifles shooting at a terrified mob of computer programmers led by Steve Ballmer?
  • Right.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:14PM (#21246319) Homepage Journal
    But who's gonna wanna develop a hardware- and software-based solution from pieces called 'BugModules'? I mean, if I'm a developer, do I want to use something that has 'BUG' right in the name? That doesn't instill any confidence in the product, if you ask me...

  • So.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Richard.Tao (1150683)
    Is this like and adult open source version of lego mindstorm? I remember loving that as a kid, never really figured out how to make it do anything, though....
    • Re:So.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by GiMP (10923) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:30PM (#21246559)

      Is this like and adult open source version of lego mindstorm? I remember loving that as a kid, never really figured out how to make it do anything, though....


      They weren't even released until 1998. You either weren't a kid, or I have good reason to feel old.
      • by satoshi1 (794000)
        I was totally a kid in '98, when I first got my mindstorms. Graduated from my elementary school in the 6th grade in 2000. Currently in my second year of college. I know I shouldn't, but I totally feel old now realizing that I was playing with Mindstorms nearly a decade ago now.
      • Re:So.. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:38PM (#21246671) Homepage Journal
        To do: build a mindstorm robot that chases kids off your lawn.
      • Or he's still a kid and he just thinks that he's not.
      • by merreborn (853723)

        Is this like and adult open source version of lego mindstorm? I remember loving that as a kid, never really figured out how to make it do anything, though....

        They weren't even released until 1998. You either weren't a kid, or I have good reason to feel old.

        I saw a demo of something functionally equivalent to Lego mindstorms in 1992, in summer school in Palo Alto. The 1998 launch date for mindstorms suggests that it wasn't the mindstorms brand, but *someone* had something similar back then (and presumably

        • IIRC the immediate inspiration for the mindstorms stuff with the mit programmable brick, indeed the term pbrick is quite common in lower level mindstorms documentation.

          There was also the lego dacta control lab from which the RCX borrowed it's sensors, the control lab was/is a teathered soloution supporting 4 unpowered sensors (color coded yellow), four powered sensors (color coded blue) and 8 motors and programmed in a logo based language which ran on the connected computer (PC mac or archimedes)
      • I'm 22, in '98 I was 13. Most definitely a kid.

        Enjoy feeling old.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kamots (321174)
      Mmm... adult?

      We used the lego-mindstorms in my grad-level robotics class. We were using a C compiler for them (think it, and the OS we were loading were open source even), and as long as you remembered that you didn't have any floating point... (i.e., 5/2*2 would be 4 not 5...) and that you had very limited stack space with no protection (use more than 1k stack and you were overwriting your heap...) you could do pretty much whatever you wanted. For example we were doing onboard inverse kinematics and path
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tetsujin (103070)

        and as long as you remembered that you didn't have any floating point... (i.e., 5/2*2 would be 4 not 5...)
        That's actually true whether you have floating point or not... Not a policy I really love but it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint...
        • by Kamots (321174)
          well, true... guess that's what I get for oversimplifying my example. :P

          The point was just that you had unexpected effects arise due to the constraint. (Especially since the float and double keywords were still valid...)
  • Remember those toys?

    This makes me think of an adult version of that. Just sayin'.
    • by Drantin (569921)
      Capsela [wikipedia.org]?
  • Yes, but... (Score:3, Funny)

    by crowbarsarefornerdyg (1021537) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:17PM (#21246365)
    Oh, wait. It DOES run Linux!
  • The plural of Lego (Score:4, Informative)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:17PM (#21246375) Homepage
    is Lego. (or Lego Bricks [faqs.org] to be _really_ picky)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by davidsyes (765062)
      Legoose?

      What's good for legoose is good for le gander?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by noidentity (188756)
      And it's LEGO, not Lego.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Speare (84249)
      Sure, what kid hasn't read the little brochure in their packet of Legos that explains that you don't call them Legos, but you call them Lego Bricks? For a while I thought it was pretty leet, like it was a cool "in" phrase. Now I just realize that they're doing what they gotta do to defend their trademark, which is "necessary" for them to lose protection in the face of cultural dilution. You know what, though? I ain't their bitch. I call 'em Legos. Yeah, too bad. Seeing as how everyone in America says
  • Yes, but (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    will it blend?
  • Without Learning? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Great, now so-called engineers can build things without knowing how they work, doesn't sound like an engineer to me, more like a simple programmer, more specifically, a java programmer. Nothing more than a glorified typist.

    Don't worry about the 'complex' stuff, let java do it FOR you.

    No need to learn electronics, let other people do it for you. Just snap together the components.

    I look dread the new crop of programmers and 'engineers' being 'output' by the educational system.
    • by SigILL (6475) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:36PM (#21246653) Homepage

      No need to learn electronics, let other people do it for you. Just snap together the components.

      Actually, this is ideal for prototyping.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by edittard (805475)
      Bah! Off the shelf standard screws? In my day each one was individually designed to fit. And the apprentices had to cut the threads using their own teeth. If they'd grown any yet, otherwise, better toughen up them gums, kid.
    • by kebes (861706) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:42PM (#21246713) Journal
      And I suppose you wired your house yourself, then? You would never use an ethernet card without first fully understanding all its circuitry? And you programmed all your apps yourself, in assembly?

      There's nothing wrong with using high-level programming languages, software libraries, and pre-built hardware. Using these pre-built components to build a useful device is no different than combining servers, routers, and wiring to build a network. You do *not* have to be intimately familiar with the low-level details of all the hardware in order to combine it together in a useful way.

      These hardware modules looks like they could be very fun and very useful. A great way for a DIY person to put together a fun toy, or an inexpensive solution to a problem, etc. It could also be quite useful for people who want to prototype new device ideas without commissioning expensive custom components.

      No one is arguing that the existence of these modular devices will replace the need for dedicated hardware for many applications (and the associated specialized engineers who design that hardware). The idea instead would be to lower the barrier to creating novel devices, so that hobbyists and non-specialists can try out new ideas that would have been prohibitively expensive otherwise.

      I know many people bemoan this "Cult of the Amateur [wikipedia.org]" (e.g. Wikipedia, blogs, citizen journalism, high-level programming languages, etc.); but to me the whole "point" of technology in general (and computers in particular) is to reduce the barriers, so that "ordinary people" can do things that previously only a "selected few" were allowed to do. I find that this push towards community-driven work and lower barriers to technological progress and education are very much good things.
    • by RManning (544016) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:44PM (#21246741) Homepage

      I have mod points today. I was going to mod your post but I couldn't find 'Bitter' or 'Grizzled'.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Great, now so-called engineers can build things without knowing how they work, doesn't sound like an engineer to me, more like a simple programmer, more specifically, a java programmer. Nothing more than a glorified typist.

      That's right! How dare anyone presume to build something without the proper background? I would never consider a project that didn't allow me to design my own programming language, write a compiler, write and compile my own operating system, and all running on silicon I designed and fabri

    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:45PM (#21246755)
      If you're trying to produce an artificial intelligence to run the robot then the low level electronics aren't terribly important to you.
       
      • Ah, but maybe the low-level electronics are important. There are some good arguments that true intelligence can't be produced with standard digital circuits. For one thing, neurons are radically different in operation. I'd find some good links, but my neurons are misfiring at the moment.
      • >If you're trying to produce an artificial intelligence to run the robot then the low level electronics aren't terribly important to you.

        Right up until the moment when a power spike caused by a big relay opening causes the robot arm to punch a hole through a wall you used to like...

        Which, granted, is a good time for the observers, but maybe not what the programmer was hoping to accomplish.

        (Under some design circumstances, power relays should have a nearby diode to shunt the back-EMF caused by the relay i
      • If you're trying to produce an artificial intelligence to run the robot then the low level electronics aren't terribly important to you.

        Unless your a behaviourist, or working on neural nets, or interested in embodied intelligence.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No, it will make 'buliding' stuff available to a larger audience.

      The engineers will still have to learn C, BSIM and low pass filters. The market might insist on hiring cheaper, non-engineers in the positions formerly occupied by engineers, but engineers will still be engineers as long as there is a demand for them.
    • I'll go with the "prototypes" idea. I can actually deal with a lot of basic electronics, but being able to get the concept right and present it to someone that's paying for the work before going though an otherwise tough prototype development phase has plenty of value. There's nothing more annoying than a miscommunication about the functionality and having to rework the project.
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      I figured someone would post exactly this comment. I sort of had an urge to mod you down as a killjoy, but you are partially right. I know from experience how much more you learn by building things from scratch than using some sort of kit.

      But the benefit this sort of kit can have is to lower the barrier to entry for more people. Maybe this kit will get people excited and show them the potential of what's possible to build; then, if they go on, they can learn the details. People have to start somewhere. Or

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MythMoth (73648)
      Good programmers are good programmers on any platform. Even ones you think are crappy.

      Bad programmers think they're good programmers, think pretty much everyone else is a bad programmer, and thinks that platforms matter more than they do.
    • by Myopic (18616)
      I look dread the new crop of programmers and 'engineers' being 'output' by the educational system.

      Yes, and the English majors being 'output' by the education system look dread you.
    • by owlstead (636356)
      Uh, it doesn't say that you cannot mess with the internals. If they GPL the software that comes with the hardware, then you have got all the tools for messing with it. You'll have to interface it with Java at some point, but that ain't too hard. And Eclipse and OSGi is a very nice environment to create some serious applications in. 400MHz and MP4 encoders? You won't have too much problems with performance either I presume.

      Furthermore, Java + OSGi do indeed take away lot of pain. But that will just let you f
    • by mcrbids (148650) on Monday November 05, 2007 @08:51PM (#21249075) Journal
      No need to learn electronics, let other people do it for you. Just snap together the components.

      I look dread the new crop of programmers and 'engineers' being 'output' by the educational system.


      Yeah...

      I suppose you layered the LCD screen on your laptop yourself, cast the engine block on your car yourself out of aluminum and oil-sand, burned a DVD with a pencil laser by hand, and fabricated the CPU of your computer with a blow torch on the beach?

      Come off your high horse, man. As technology progresses, and gets more complex, the complexity of it is buried in abstracted "boxes" with vastly simplified interfaces that make it easier to use. You don't work out the details of range detection for interpersonal radio communication, you pick up your cell phone and dial a telephone number. If you are a programmer, you *might* write to registers, and you *might* understand memory offsets, but it's unlikely that you actually bother computing an offset with any regularity. And neither is particularly beneficial to getting the job done except in very rare cases.

      There's evidence that that's how your mind works - intelligence involves the development of abstract ideas in order to make the cost of computation cheaper. By the time you are conscious of what you are seeing, most of the detail in what you actually see has been stripped out and replaced with vastly simpler, less detailed, abstract ideas.

      You don't see the details of a house as you drive by, you see the abstract idea of "house". The lower layers of your brain have stripped away all the minutiae and replaced the image of the house with the idea of house. It's so effective that even as you are looking at it, if somebody asked you what color the house was, you'd have to take a brief moment to figure it out, first.

      It's not shameful, it's an ordinary part of legitimate progress!
  • That big picture at the top is the stuff of friggin' nightmares:

    http://linuxdevices.com/files/misc/buglabs_community_legos-sm.jpg [linuxdevices.com]

    "How come I don't hear nothin' when I connect my speakers to my GPS? I tried calling support on the video camera and got no answer!"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So it truly isn't a bug - it's a feature...
  • The Lego Group has a trademark on Lego(tm) brand plastic building bricks. Maybe better to call BugLabs' products building bricks?
  • I'm the proud owner of a slug [nslu2-linux.org] (ARM + 32M ram + ethernet + 2 USB ports for $100). I love it, but the memory limits my options. This looks like what I've been dreaming of (excluding NSFW stuff).
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:43PM (#21246715) Journal
    Speaking from personal experience, this sort of building-block approach to electronics can let a person down. I've designed a bunch of electronics, small simple chunks that do things like translate a logic-level signal to a relay that can switch ovens or computer-controlled A/D converters. By themselves, they work, but when you start just stacking them together like black boxes, their cumulative errors start to bite you -- or you put in a black box that contains a switching regulator and the line noise on the output wipes out everything downstream. If you don't know what they're actually doing, you don't know what their side-effects are going to be. The amount of post-regulator processing required to make a switching regulator look like a good, pure voltage source would be bulky enough to make that black box significantly less useful, and all that processing might not be required for 95% of possible loads.

    Likewise, my coworkers do analog design of IC's, and even though we have a design reuse library for the company, every design they do is basically ab initio because another similar design does something they don't need and as a result uses up vital silicon space, and they can't simply remove just that bit.

    A talented designer could use building blocks to build something great. A lousy designer could use those same blocks to build something dangerously unsafe -- they facilitate only design, not quality. Speaking as a lousy designer, I think it's a much better idea to actually do the work in analyzing the problem and coming up with an adequate design, and the good designers, in my experience, already *have* a head full of black boxes, for which they understand the limitations and how they interact.
    • by overshoot (39700)

      Likewise, my coworkers do analog design of IC's, and even though we have a design reuse library for the company, every design they do is basically ab initio because another similar design does something they don't need and as a result uses up vital silicon space, and they can't simply remove just that bit.

      Speaking as one of those analog IC designers, you're about half right. There's a good bit of NIH, too.

      A talented designer could use building blocks to build something great. A lousy designer could

      • Well, okay, I admit I've smelted iron in my back yard... but it's amazing how much you can pack on a two-layer board if you're patient, and circuit board plotters/CNC mills have come down dramatically in price. Once you have that kind of technology, you can start doing multilayer boards by stacking them, if you're willing to deal with the frustrations of having to hand-solder every via (and in the case of stacked boards, not being able to rely on contact on one inside-facing board, although that's okay if
        • But given that you can get multilayer SMT fabbed for you for $30 for a small board
          Where? and how long does it take?
          • Cheap 2-layer: http://www.batchpcb.com/ [batchpcb.com] -- 10-12 days, proto: $10 + $2.50 per square inch.
            Cheap multiplayer: http://www.myropcb.com/ [myropcb.com] -- 21 days, 4-layer: $40 for proto, $0.38 per square inch + $120 setup for large batches.
            Myro will also do flex stuff with copper on polyimide, which is useful and unusual.
            • right, even the headline price is $9.99 higher than the one you gave earlier. Worse when you look at the conditions It seems you have to order a minimum of four copies of your board and there is a rather high freigt cost as well ($35 just for the US, probabblly more if you are elsewhere).

              so it looks like the minimum price for getting a four layer designed fabbed by them is just under $200. If you are in the uk like I am it will probablly work out substantially higher once the VAT (a $30 package would be un
              • Yeah, those guys have raised their prices since last time I looked at them. I thought I had another place that'd do it for $30 for a 4-layer but I can't find them right now.
                Do you *need* multilayer for what you're doing? Can you stack two-layer boards? I've done that for proto work and it's worked pretty well if you have through-plated vias. Put your vias on 0.1" centers and use headers for interconnect -- more of a PITA but you can stick a lot of passives on the inside-facing layers, giving you more ro
                • Do you *need* multilayer for what you're doing?
                  Not really, I was just querying your price as insanely low for multilayer.

                  As you say two layer PTH can be had at tolerable prices if you shop arround enough and are willing to wait a while.

  • Connector problems (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday November 05, 2007 @05:46PM (#21246775) Homepage

    Brick-like things with multi pin connectors are usually a headache. Either one side of the connector has to float, or you need a very rigid mounting system. Military systems tend to be built with boxes that you shove into a slot, and even with military grade components, heavy latching systems, and high insertion forces, those connectors are a trouble spot. That's why you don't often see things like that in consumer products.

    Cute idea, though, if they get all the mechanical details right.

    • Nintendo cartidges are just one consumer example i can think of im sure there are many others. In military applications mario has to carry 80 lbs of equipment on his back making him unable to jump and smash bricks.
  • I've been following this and it looks interesting, but I'm waiting to hear about pricing.

    I'm afraid I'm not going to like what I hear, though.

  • Keep in mind that this kind of platform is what we need to get useful home automation -- not some beast that requires a WinTel box to have 24/7/365 uptime and outage recovery.

    Currently, the ante is just too high for most home-automation experimentation -- and I speak as one who actually works with the applications department of a semiconductor manufacturer.

  • This [retrothing.com] was a big improvement over the Radio Shack kits that used springs and jumper wires.
  • How does this differ from LabVIEW / G programming ?
  • Am I the only one who, on reading "Lego-like devices target developers" pictured clunky little robots chasing terrified geeks around their labs?
  • Anyone else get visions of Cartman's modular Trapper Keeper?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trapper_Keeper_(South_Park_episode) [wikipedia.org]
  • Here's the link to the official website of BugLabs [buglabs.net].
  • I've got a Lego Mindstorms new in the box from last Christmas. I'd pay a developer $50 to make it into something cool that my Bluetooth phone could control. Or entertain requests for more money, if it were cool enough.
  • Now Lego-like devices target another segment of the modern society ! when will this strife end !

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