Monday, June 18, 2012

Celebrate Technical Diversity Especially the Lego Space

Like many people who build with Lego, I see and 
Celebrate Open Standards and Diversity
understand the purists within the community. The general purist thought process wants to accomplish a task with a single system. A building system is like a set of rules, and we know that rules always have situations they cover very well and situations they don't. From a rules point of view, it takes successively more and more rules to close loopholes(things the rules don't do well). From a mechanical standpoint, we could imagine the Lego building system as a set of rules. These rules are great at some things and not as good at others. It is almost a game to try to get Lego to do amazingly awesome things and still be Lego. It is a sport, but it is the spirit of creation and creativity?
A symbol of purity

I always felt that the spirit of Lego is to embrace creativity and creation. As a young builder back in the day, It was always about making new things in cool ways. You made this using this part? How cool! I see what you did here with this new piece. Awesome!

But what about when we get older? What happens? The Lego community has what they call the "dark ages" where teens usually drop out of the Lego scene. This is common due to things like the opposite gender. As a note, I never experienced the dark ages, but I was never very successful with women in my teen years either.

Does there have to be a dark ages or is there something else going on? I think most people agree that the dark ages is caused by a misconception about Lego only being for kids. As it turns out, there are many..many...MANY adult fans of Lego (AFOL) who love to play with Lego in many different capacities. Part of Lego's positioning in the toy market is to market to kids. As kids age into men and women, they want something that is "meant" for them and not for their "old" child self's. Lego does a great job of many things, but one area they don't focus as much on is growing with their users. There are exceptions to this, the most notable being Mindstorms Robotics Line. Moreover, Mindstorms will always carry some degree of kid only positioning in the mind of the general public because Lego itself is primarily meant to appeal to kids...and Mindstorms is a Lego product. The marketing just bleeds over, and there is no good way to avoid that.

Can Lego grow with us? Even through the dark ages? Absolutely! There is no reason why Lego cannot be part of our robotics and other construction related hobbies regardless of age, but there are some caveats. As we grow older, we want the complexity of what we build to grow. There comes a point where you just need something more than what Lego can provide. Instead of thinking that Lego is its own walled garden, we should be thinking of Lego as one tool to accomplish our goals of building different things. Once you accept this point of view, whole worlds open up to your beckoning. No longer are you limited to a single building system targeted at the youth. This allows you to take the best advantages of the Lego platform - simplicity, consistency, ease of use, and plenty aftermarket additions - with the capability of the more advanced options. There are tons of products in the Lego platform space. Some examples are BecreoMindsensors, Dexter Industries, and HiTechnic. There are even Arduino Shields! Let us not forget aftermarket software such as NXC, RobotC, ICON, LeJOS, and pbLua. No list would be complete without the Enhanced Firmware as well. There are whole competitions based around the Lego platform. One notable competition that encourages use of Lego with aftermarket parts the FIRST Tech Challenge. As a youngster, you can start in the First Lego League using all Lego robots and then move to the FIRST Tech Challenge! These are all examples of how Lego can grow with us.

With all of these products and options, the Lego platform can grow with our needs. Weather you want to explore mechanical design, electronics, or software, there is a path for substantial growth and learning. There is so much more capability waiting to be explored!

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