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Smart 'Lego' Set Conjures Up Virtual 3D Twin

Zonk posted more than 5 years ago | from the building-in-two-places-at-once dept.

Toys 63

philetus writes "New Scientist has up a story on Posey, a hub-and-strut construction kit that senses its configuration and communicates it wirelessly to a computer. From the article: 'If you gave Lego brains, you might get something like Posey, a new hands-on way of interacting with computers developed at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, US. When Posey's plastic pieces are snapped together, an exact copy of the construction appears on a computer screen. Every twist of, say, a stick figure's arm is mirrored in 3D modelling software ... Each piece's plastic shell is stuffed with chips and devices for processing these signals. They are sent wirelessly to a computer using a low-power protocol called ZigBee. This means, bending Posey's pieces can make objects on-screen respond in real time. Right now, each custom-made piece has about US$50 (£25) worth of parts, Weller estimates. But if mass produced, it could be much cheaper.'"

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Next Step (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248190)

Next they need to integrate this into a FPS or something so that we can have 'live' fights.

Re:Next Step (0, Troll)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248314)

Wii can already do that.

That was done eight years ago (1)

dlleigh (313922) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248380)

You can read about it in the tech report [] . Although this system was not modifiable in real-time like the one in the article (older hardware), the model of the smart "lego-like" bricks was automatically slurped into Quake 2 and much FPS fun was had.

Re:Next Step (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248784)

Hmm. Perhaps they should just scrap the Future Combat Systems [] prpject and have each soldier carry a smart Lego block in their pocket.

Next Step (2) (1)

ErkDemon (1202789) | more than 6 years ago | (#22256326)

.. or give it simple motors, so that the recorded actions can be replayed.

The motors wouldn't have to be calibrated, the controller software could compare positions and adjust until the stick-figure's position matched that of the computer model.

Hmm. That could be a really creepy toy. Especially if you had two of them linked over the net. I bend Sticky's arms here, and somewhere in a room half a planet away, Sticky's twin comes aliiive ...

Let's hope (3, Funny)

Corpuscavernosa (996139) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248240)

that the ASCII goatse guy doesn't get hold of a set of these.

Some assembly required (3, Insightful)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248274)

Are batteries included? I mean, I know it's a low power protocol, but how long is the power source in this going to last, and is it replaceable?

This little toy's neat, and no mistake--but if you can only use it for, say, 50 hours total and then it loses half its function, then what's the point?

Re:Some assembly required (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248478)

This little toy's neat, and no mistake--but if you can only use it for, say, 50 hours total and then it loses half its function, then what's the point?
Yea, everyone should just go back to claymations.[/snark]

Re:Some assembly required (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248700)

couldn't you just program it to offload the old batteries into the charger, while putting the newly charged ones back in?

i suppose there's the issue of what happens when neither battery is in place, but could this short length of time be taken care of with capacitors? or some sort of 3 battery rotation thing...?

Re:Some assembly required (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249542)

They could make all those "knobs" coaxial connectors with ground outside and lets say 5V inside, recessed.

That way, a single PSU-Brick could power the whole chain.

Re:Some assembly required (1)

Isauq (730660) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249818)

Depending on how low the envelope power is for the blocks, they might be able to adopt something like a semi-passive or passive RFID tag, where it's powered partially or entirely by the transceiver at the computer, and all the brick does is reflect a processed signal. In that case, you could have blocks that work for literally tens of years. Maybe it's not possible at this moment, but it's only going to get smaller (and consume less power) from here.

Potential Use (1)

dj245 (732906) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248276)

Finally the blind can now see what they are building!

oh wait...

Actual lego blocks (4, Insightful)

pwnies (1034518) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248294)

It seems to me that doing this with actual lego blocks should be much simpler. If each bump on the blocks had a small contact point with the ability to identify what it was connected to, the blocks could daisy chain the information to a computer, which could easily construct a full model of the blocks if it knew how each block was connected to its neighbor. Very cool idea though, kudos to the makers.

Re:Actual lego blocks (1)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248628)

Not only identifying its neighbour, but also needs to identify its own orientation. Think about common LEGO pieces like the archway, which can be oriented in 4 unique directions with only a single point of contact... You'd need 4 contacts in each "nub" in order to properly identify orientation...

Re:Actual lego blocks (1)

malraid (592373) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248874)

but contacts would be much cheaper than one transmitter per block. that way you only need one transmitter and battery brick. this is really interesting... it could be a step closer to self replicating nano machines. Even if the transmitter / power source / CPU is not so nano.

Re:Actual lego blocks (1)

MORB (793798) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249294)

But it would also need a small chip in each piece able to send an id code through the pins. Wouldn't embedding all that stuff complicate manufacturing quite a bit?

Re:Actual lego blocks (1)

Ambiguous Coward (205751) | more than 5 years ago | (#22250502)

Three pins, not center pin, with two pins arranged 90 degrees from each other about the center pin. Then, a similar pattern on the receptacle. Then just use the connections between the two auxiliary pins to determine orientation. In fact, I believe the receptacle would only need to have one pin, which would provide power, that one pin matching up with the semi-circular area defined by the nub's three pins. Just to clean up the design, invert the whole thing. Put the one large pin on an edge of the nub, and put the more delicate three pins on the female end of the connector.

Just sayin'.


Re:Actual lego blocks (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#22250736)

It would be tougher with mechanics and mindstorms sets where you have gears and pulleys and pneumatics and swivelly things

Re:Actual lego blocks (1)

domefreak (231769) | more than 6 years ago | (#22256396)

This is nothing like legos; it uses ball-joint connections so you can move the pieces relative to one another after they're snapped together. The sensors are updating in real time as you move the different parts, so the computer can display animations that echo the manipulations you perform on the model.

Zigbee? (3, Informative)

hawks5999 (588198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248322)

Because somebody will ask: What the heck is that? []

Re:Zigbee? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248788)

Give a man a fish ...

Here is a *really* useful link for such people: []

Re:Zigbee? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248834)

Why the heck should a post like this get modded up? If someone wants to know what a single term is (with no special context or anything), they should be able to look up the wikipedia article themselves. This is just simple karma whoring. (also, you should have linked to a specific revision instead of the main article to remove the temptation of vandalism)

Oh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248340)

Dollars AND pounds? From an article referring to an American university? How cosmopolitan!

Gui (1)

pequod (153597) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248440)

Can't read ARTICLE title on firefox 1.5 or 2.0 due to color of text/ Is that a feature

5/10 years from now... (2, Funny)

delta419 (1227406) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248448)

When I was little, I had simple Legos to play with. I became a nerd. If I give my kids this kind of stuff... what will they become? Super-nerds who'll take over the work with their Battle-Poseys?

Re:5/10 years from now... (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248912)

Nope your kids would build working real life mecha's and walk to work in them.

Re:5/10 years from now... (1)

BattyMan (21874) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249180)

Probably just ordinary consumers, since it's in all likelihood closed-source and therefore controlled by the monopolist.

I think they're called... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248464)


Re:I think they're called... (1)

aled (228417) | more than 6 years ago | (#22259584)


You mean something like: Replicators [] ! Run! Run for your lives!

And so the end started for mankind...

I hate the new floaty thing. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248474)

Is there anyway to turn of this new comment-UFO floating on the left side of my screen? I liked the old forum better. This new fangled thing is overkill and annoying.

Re:I hate the new floaty thing. (2, Informative)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248578)

Whilst I Have not found a way to get rid of it, you can alter the way it interactst with the page.

If you click the little [ / ] icon in the top right of the floating box (same position as close window X) then it switches between the 3 versions:

Left hand float
Across the top floating
Inline between article and comments (basically the original position)

Lego Mindstorms Conquer the World (4, Funny)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248510)

Lego has brains, called Mindstorms [] . I'd love to see a Mindstorms app that uses a camera to examine itself, then replicate itself by grabbing from a box of Lego (Mindstorms) and snapping its twin together.

Then watch as it builds an army. Which attacks a toystore and builds a bigger army. Which fights another self-assembling army, wins, and cannibalizes the enemy to rebuild its own wounded ranks to double size. And they build two friends. And so on.

Legoworld reduced to a chunky Grey Goo [] .

Re:Lego Mindstorms Conquer the World (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 5 years ago | (#22250666)

This is without a doubt the coolest "End of Times" theory I've read in a long time.

Re:Lego Mindstorms Conquer the World (1)

RobinH (124750) | more than 6 years ago | (#22255772)

At some point I think they'd have to figure out how to replicate more bricks out of recycled plastic. Then you'd REALLY have a goo problem...

Re:Lego Mindstorms Conquer the World (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22256776)

With enough Lego Mindstorms to work with, no engineering problem is impossible.

for kids (1)

d cobalt (1230690) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248538)

all this expensive tech used in toys for kids

Re:for kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248906)


All this expensive tech used in toys for <insert>adults who wish they were</insert> kids.

Re:for kids (1)

d cobalt (1230690) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249098)

how do you mean

get back to me... (1)

majorgoodvibes (1228026) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248540)

...when it works both ways and changes made to the virtual model are duplicated on the physical one. That would be excellent.

you knew this was coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248686)

In soviet Russia, legos build you.

Wait wait wait... (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248692)

If you gave Lego brains, you might get something like Posey This almost sounds like a diss of Lego, and if it is, I'm going to have to ask them to step outside.

Obviously, the software runs on Linux and others.. (0, Flamebait)

AppleTwoGuru (830505) | more than 5 years ago | (#22248746)

It would be smart to write it in such a way, that you could choose your operating system. We wouldn't want to be locked into one particular vendor's software, now would we. That would kind of fly in the face of an Open, Free, and Fair market system.

Monkey animation device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22248878)

This sounds like it would be great for 3D animators, either as live performance (ala Elmo's World) or as a virtual stop-motion rig. The only thing that would be better is if there was some way for the pose to be communicated not only from the device to the computer but also from the computer to the device. This would let stop-motion artists do key-framing and in-betweens, which are currently difficult in the real world.

In the mid-90's, there was an existing animator's rig that did much the same thing as this, marketed as the Monkey [] (SIGGRAPH paper) [] . It was apparently reconfigurable to different body configurations, but probably not as easily as the CMU device. Like the CMU device, it, too, had a one-way communication path from the device to the computer. It's currently discontinued, which suggests that CMU had better work hard on bringing down the price. :)

Not like Legos (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249132)

This thing is nothing like a Lego set. It's not even like Tinkertoys [] , or K'NEX [] . It's just a motion capture puppet. Even if it was like Lego, what would be the point? Why is this be any better than taking a picture of what you made?

Re:Not like Legos (1)

Scamwise (174654) | more than 5 years ago | (#22251232)

I agree that crap looks nothing like any lego I have ever seen.

That's Nice (1)

BattyMan (21874) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249134)


But does the modeling software run on Linux? Is it at least open source?

'Cuz somehow I _strongly_ suspect that it does/is not. This would be far from the first way cool geek toy whose software interface is 'Bloze/closed source ONLY. I mean, HOW ARE WE TO INSTRUCT THE YOUNGLINGS in The One True Way when _all_ the toyz are pwned by the Evil Empire?

My friend and supervisor has a five-year-old. He's growing up in a world dominated by a proprietary software monopoly. He has a PSP, but no Software Development Kit for it. I ask you, is that right?


Re:That's Nice (2, Informative)

blzb (311781) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249300)

although posey is still a research project, it is being developed on linux in python.

the source code is available from the code lab mercurial repository here: []

if you are interested in building an application for posey send me an email.

Re:That's Nice (1)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 5 years ago | (#22253180)

Hey, if you want to ignore cool toys because of some misguided belief that open source is the one true path, and closed source is 100% teh evilz666, that's your loss. Course, I suspect the rest of us, who are rational, won't miss your attempts to turn geekery into some sort of twisted religion, where anything that doesn't happen to agree with you is worthless.

255 blocks? (1)

ccollao (227727) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249514)

Zigbee can hold up to 255 devices arranged in its "network id". How do they use more than 255 "lego" blocks? it isn't much smarter to use rfid directly? .

Anyway, I really don't think zigbee in this particular case is such a smart idea considering the scalability sorrounded to it.... Except for demonstrative purposes.

Re:255 blocks? (1)

snehoej (1162671) | more than 5 years ago | (#22252790)

ZigBee networks can be much larger than that (16 or 64 bit addresses). I strongly suspect they are Reduced Function Devices meaning very little overhead. That being said, I agree that this particular setup doesn't really seem to benefit from the capabilities of ZigBee. RFDs cannot do the cool stuff such as mesh network routing.

MiWi Products (1)

machoromeo (757851) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249626)

In addition to selling ZigBee chips, Microchip also supports an even simpler protocol called MiWi. I have looked into using this for my around-the-house electronics projects, but a board with MiWi and all of the components (caps, resistors, etc) costs around $30 bucks from Microchip. This could get expensive if you plan on using this to control many lights, a/c, etc around the house. The chips are actually cheap (around $2), but when you want all of the circuitry that make the chips work on a PCB, it gets more expensive. I just want something that I can pretty much send and receive data to/from without having to do all of that soldering. Does anyone know of some cheaper options?

Re:MiWi Products (1)

smorken (990019) | more than 6 years ago | (#22256254)

Learn how to make your own PCBs, it really isn't that hard and not as expensive as you might think! try []

Sweet! (1)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249796)

I can't wait to see how this affects my software design analogies. :)

Asgard (1)

sciguy125 (791065) | more than 5 years ago | (#22249924)

Someone needs to call the Asgard. ...wait...they're dead... Someone needs to call SG-1

has to be said (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22250122)

Take off every Zig!

This is news? (1)

EddyPearson (901263) | more than 5 years ago | (#22250270)

How is this news? We put a bloke on the moon 30 odd years back, we can get 12TB+ of data onto a 1" cube. This isn't even slightly revolutionary.

Its glorified lego.

I'll be impressed when... (1)

kiick (102190) | more than 5 years ago | (#22250528)

You can move the blocks on the computer and have the real blocks assemble themselves to match.

Besides, legos are expensive enough without stuffing them full of electronics.

export options (1)

PaxTharsis (927532) | more than 5 years ago | (#22250984)

Now if they could export the 'puppet show' out to a bvh file that would be awesome.

Oh Noes!!! Replicants!! (1)

FreakerSFX (256894) | more than 5 years ago | (#22252356)

This is how it all starts...soon the smart lego blocks are assembling themselves, then before you know it, they're dismantling the planet to make more....

You f4il It! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22252394)

for a m0ment an3 code sharing

$50 per block?! (1)

jettoblack (683831) | more than 5 years ago | (#22254990)

Well, at least it's cheaper than Lego... ;-)

Not to say they're overly expensive, but... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 6 years ago | (#22257616)

"...Right now, each custom-made piece has about US$50 (£25) worth of parts..."

So, priced about the same as Lego then?
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