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up To Mindstorms and Beyond: Evolution of a Construction Kit for Magical Machines

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Speaker: Fred Martin
Date: December 1, 2000
Real Video: 410 MB

Talk Introduction

New technologies make new ways of learning possible. With computational technologies, ideas of control, sensing, and feedback can be made accessible and exciting to learners as young as six or eight years old.

This talk presents a brief history of the ideas, prototypes, and research that led to LEGO Mindstorms, the immensely popular robot construction kit, launched just two years ago but easily thirty years in the making.

LEGO Mindstorms has its roots in the pioneering work on the Logo programming language begun by Dr. Seymour Papert in the 1960s. Papert was perhaps the first to suggest that children should program computers, then an absurdly radical idea. This notion led to Papert's theory of learning called "constructionism" which suggests both that (1) learning is an active process of building ideas which is unique and personal for each learner, and (2) this journey can be greatly facilitated when the learner builds things-in-the-world which become social and shared objects of reflection. Papert's Logo programming language, the later LEGO/Logo system, and ultimately LEGO Mindstorms all inherit from this set of ideas.

The talk will conclude with a technological discussion of MIT Crickets, the latest in this line of design toys for learners. Crickets are tiny programmable bricks that can interconnect in myriad ways, and employ an unusual virtual machine/compiler architecture that will be described in detail.

Further Reading

  • "MetaCricket: A designer's kit for making computational devices,"F. Martin, B. Mikhak, and B. Silverman, IBM Systems Journal, volume 39 numbers 3-4, 2000.

Presents the MIT Cricket, a tiny embedded controller created for kids but valuable as a prototyping tool for professional designers who aren't necessarily engineers. Full published paper available at http://www.research.ibm.com/journal/sj/393/part2/martin.html.

  • "To Mindstorms and Beyond: Evolution of a Construction Kit for Magical Machines," F. Martin et. al, in "Robots for Kids: Exploring New Technologies for Learning," A. Druin & J. Hendler, editors, Morgan Kaufman, 2000.

The paper from which this talk takes its name, describing the history of the ideas and prototypes which led to the LEGO Mindstorms product, and our further work and motivations behind developing the Crickets. A pre-publication draft is available from http://www.media.mit.edu/~fredm/papers/magical-machines.pdf

  • "Design, Story-Telling, and Robots in Irish Primary Education," F. Martin, D. Butler, and W. Gleason, presented at the IEEE Systems, Man, and Machine conference, Nashville TN 2000.

Describes "Empowering Minds," a project to bring LEGO Mindstorms technology into Irish primary schools, with a focus on children's use of the materials for narrative expression. A copy of the paper presented at the conference may be retrieved from http://www.media.mit.edu/~fredm/papers/martin-smc2000.pdf.


The colloquium series videos are licensed slightly differently than our normal classes. These are covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license which allows free copying but does not allow for the creation of derivative works.

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