Let's Make Robots!

The Lego Monster Chess Project

I saw this video on Youtube and it let me speechless... I know who is the mastermind behind the project and after I visited his website I found out I know several other members as well. Steve Hassenplug is the guy who made the balancing Legway, the Connect Four Full Contact and Stick, the Robo Magellan Green Monster, the Great Ball Contraption and other cool stuff you can read about on his website. I had the honor to visit his home, see his Lego creations, compete against him, assist him a few times with the training of his FLL team. I wish we could meet again.

But his (and his friends) latest project goes way behind what regular people can do. They had help from the Lego Company. Why? Because there are over 100,000 Lego pieces in this project and if bought retail, it would cost around $30,000! Wow!

Take a look at the Monster Chess project:


In case you're wondering:

- the board is built entirely from Lego pieces

- each chess piece is a complex, animated Lego NXT robot

- the pieces talk to each other and with the computer through Bluetooth

- the pieces move to make room for other pieces to pass

- the captured pieces go to the back or side of the board

- play mode can be computer-computer, human-computer, human-human, historical match playback...


And now the video that let me speechless:

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I was impressed mostly by the magnitude and complexity of the build. Several years ago, before the NXT came out, there was a group of people from Europe that built a real size functioning Pinball machine. There were 12 RCX bricks in there, lots of sensors and a score counter, the only non-Lego part was the ball. I have also seen a full size house made completely of Lego. At BrickFest 2004 I have seen a church cathedral with so much detail it was unbelivable.

It's funny for me that I've been on both sides, that Lego robot builders think of the other robots as "sheet metal" robots and have sort of a disconsideration attitude, and the non-Lego robot builders think Lego robots are just "toys for kids". If one presents a robot that uses Lego frame and custom electronics it's kind of considered as "cheating" regardless of the fact that there are some Lego parts that allow one to build a complex machine that othervise needs a mechanical shop to be built. In my opinion, Lego robots can be more advanced than non Lego robots, because of cheap complex parts (think of gears, differential, clutch, ball joint, u-joint, pneumatics, etc.), powerful controller (NXT brick), clever servo-motors that work as servos or cont. rotation motors with encoder and all kind of Lego approved sensors (IR range finder, gyro, accelerometer, compass, GPS, camera). There are more successful Lego balancing robots than non-Lego ones for instance.

Although I am a Lego enthusias , having used legos since I was 4 and buying legos for my children. I do not consider legos as any more than an introduction to robotics for children. Legos, Meccano and Kinnex are all great systems for building mechanical prototypes. I used Mecanno, despite it's high price for my early robots on LMR. The magnitude of the build is unimpressive as the Lego company supplied the parts. As I mentioned, the complexity was underwhelming as I did far better with a far more limited supply as a kid. Some pieces in the video seemed to have optional movement abilities that were not well demonstrated in the video.

I am speechless too!!