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Lego Mindstorms In Space 228

ribbiting writes: "A father-son team have won the "Ultimate Builder Competition" (Lego Mindstorms) with their entry named "Jitter". The robot will fly to the ISS in November. It fits (whole) into a approx. 1'x1'x1' box and weighs less than 3 lbs. It's main mission is to collect small, flying debris. It can interact with the station walls and crew and supposedly has some light "mischief" programmed in as well (sneaking up on people, dancing). The story can be found here,, it's in German (sorry)." We mentioned the contest a few months ago. Altavista gives a semi-readable machine translation.
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Lego Mindstorms In Space

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  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:51PM (#2416621) Homepage Journal
    Is "Sneaking up on people" such a good idea in something as stressful as a space station?

    I give it two months before an astronaut "accidentally" blasts it out an airlock...
    • I couldn't see a Lego robot being any more annoying than having Tito ride along with the Russians. Besides, I'm sure NASA would remove the mischief subroutines from the program.
    • "Is "Sneaking up on people" such a good idea in something as stressful as a space station?"

      Yes. I think the element of surprise, especially from a 'toy', might be appreciated if you're living in a confined space for some time.
  • by Mr. Eradicator ( 470089 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:55PM (#2416641) Homepage
    Now if they could mod that robot so it would fetch a beer on voice command, that would be sweet.
  • Other Possibilities (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tino_sup ( 460223 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:56PM (#2416646) Homepage Journal
    It might be interesting to have this type of device do some mundane house keeping tasks. Another possibility is a mobile alarm clock that looks for people if it has not been turned off, and wakes them up.
    • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:51PM (#2416908) Homepage
      Another possibility is a mobile alarm clock that looks for people if it has not been turned off, and wakes them up.

      Why do I get this mental picture of a relentless, unstoppable robotic alarm clock (with an Austrian accent) that's going to come find you and wake you up, no matter where you are?
  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:57PM (#2416658) also sings 'Daisy, Daisy' if you start taking it apart?

    Or is that a DMCA violation? :-)

  • by Popoi ( 310376 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:58PM (#2416668)
    I can see it now..

    "Open the pod bay doors Jitter."
  • Question? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by merlin_jim ( 302773 ) <James.McCracken@ ... m ['pul' in gap]> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:58PM (#2416673)
    Did anyone understand the part about "It moves primarily through a cam in a cage. On contact with the wall, it applies through moving disc cam in cage, to the opposite axis"

    I understand that this says basically that it moves away from walls when it contacts them, but I can't figure out for the life of me what a "disc cam in cage" is, or how this would help it push off of the wall?
    • Of course this weird sentence is caused by the translation.
      My guess is that the robot move in a imaginary cage/cube (much like communication satalites).
    • I believe that by 'disc cam in cage', they mean some sort of gyro device. By spinning a mass (within a cage for safety), you can rotate the robot the other direction.

      This type of device (although not a Lego one...) is used to orient many things in space, including the Hubble space telescope.

      As for pushing off walls... you got me there. Anyone have photo links to this thing?

      • A gyro! Of course!!! Thanks everyone!

        As for the moving away from walls part, I think it means orienting away from the wall it just touched...
        • Yeah, I used to be a satellite controller for the Military and our communications satellites used gyro's to adjust positioning. During the day if a small adjustment was needed it would suddenly 'kick' the gyros which would cause just enough movement (very little actually) to slightly face the satellite more towards what we wanted it pointed towards. We used an earth sensor and a sun sensor in conjunction to keep the bird pointed precisely at the earth. (And to align the solar arrays.) This gyro kick happened several times a day and was almost always an automatic response to it's sensors, though we could initiate it manually if we wanted to.

          I suppose if you were to spin up a series of gyro's at once you could produce enough movement to make it a lot more noticable.
    • I understand that this says basically that it moves away from walls when it contacts them, but I can't figure out for the life of me what a "disc cam in cage" is, or how this would help it push off of the wall?

      Pure speculation, as I haven't seen pictures of the thing either, but - if the "cam" is a heavy disc mounted on an off-center axis, turning it would change where the center of mass of the robot was. This would push the surrounding "cage" (and the rest of the robot) in the opposite direction. If you just want translation instead of rotation, you'd use two off-center cams and spin them in opposite directions (pure mass shift, no net application of torque).

      If you had a setup like this, you could rig it to "jitter" (push the cage in one direction when the cams' center of mass goes in the other) whenever it touched a wall, to push off of the surface.

      No idea if this is what they did, though.
    • Basically the 'cam' is something like a spinning disc that controls its spin on the different axises (sp?).

      So in other words, if it hits a wall and starts to spin, the cam/disc will spin in the opposite direction to stop its rotation.
  • Oh really.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dolly_Llama ( 267016 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @02:59PM (#2416679) Homepage
    It's main mission is to collect small, flying debris.

    You mean small flying debris, like loose 1x3 Lego Blocks?

  • All right, this *is* cool. Although now I'm faced with a somewhat difficult problem... those danged Legos are so lightweight, my erector set components are just too outdated to fly into space :).

    Oh well, I suppose my Super-Erector-TVStationChaging-FloorSweeping-Bathr oomScrubbing-TeethBrushing autonomous PC 6300 8086-driven bot will just have to stay earth-bound for now...

  • weight? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:00PM (#2416686)
    It fits (whole) into a approx. 1'x1'x1' box and weighs less than 3 lbs.

    Won't it weigh 0 lb in space? Surely you meant to give its mass in slugs.
    • I think weight has more to do with launching it into space...when every pound costs thousands of dollars to transport, what seems miniscule suddenly becomes very important.

      By putting a weight limit on it, they were able to restrict people building monsterous devices that couldn't be transported or rebuilt cheaply.

    • It will have some weight in LEO. Not much, but certainly more than 0.
      • It will?

        LEO is still free fall isn't it?

        • If it was in orbit on its own (ie not in the spacecraft or station) then it could have zero gravity.

          The Space station has mass, and as such its environment is called microgravity rather than zero gravity.

          Of course te affect is just barely meadureable.
          • BZZZT What consolation prize do we have for our contestant, Vanna?

            An object's "weight" (force due to gravity) when it is in orbit is considerable. The force due to gravity is F=Gm1m2/r^2 where G is the universal gravitational constant, m1 and m2 are two masses, an r is the distance between them. This becomes


            where F2 is the force in orbit, F1 is the force at the earth's surface, re is the earth's radius, and oa is the orbital altitude. A little bit of algebra gives us


            Plugging in the earth's radius and the space station's average altitude...


            In other words, an object in earth orbit at the altitude of the space station weighs approximately 90% of what it weighs on the earth's surface.

            However, the acceleration due to gravity is matched by the centripital acceleration, and so there is no unbalanced force, and thus "weightlessness".

    • Surely you meant to give its mass in slugs.

      Well, what is the mass of one slug? My garden has slugs of quite diverse sizes, and I doubt all of them have identical mass.
    • Thanks to units (a great little prog, even if it does believe that the metre is a fundamental unit), I am happy to report that the 3 lb toy masses all of .0932 slugs.
    • [1 lbm(pound mass)]/[32.2 ft/2^2]=1 slug
  • I can see the implications already. If this was in a movie (cough, cough, red planet, hmpgh) it would be accidently bumped into "military mode" at some point in the mission. I'd at least run all programs on the bot through a disassembler before letting it come with me to space.
  • by albamuth ( 166801 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:06PM (#2416717) Homepage
    It would make more sense if they sent it all up like all LEGO kits come (minus the excessive packaging).I imagine astronauts hanging (floating) around, scratching their heads over cartoony instructions:

    "Dimitri, I need a 1 x 6 block. Nyet, a block, not plank!"

  • Movie Scenarios (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:06PM (#2416719) Journal
    Why to I think of multiple Hollywood plot lines with these things?

    And to think that Halloween is just around the corner. If you have enough of them, do they try to "collect" larger floating particles [smile]?

    Side Note, Intertran [] is also decent as an online translator.

    and here's a nice list [] of various robot competitions

    • Yeah, give Hollywood any news on this plot, and sure enough, a film with regards to the blood-thirsty LEGO(r) beast will be out. Then JonKatz will give a completely obvious and cliche review about it; which of course we could have all picked up just by watching a commercial.. uhh.. nevermind. /me goes to turn JonKatz off of authors list :P
      • Exodus 21:7 in the King James version is:

        And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out[1] as the menservants do.

        Exodus 21 is all about rules for keeping slaves and indentured servants. However, there is nothing in there that suggests where to get the slaves. It's simply rules for keeping slaves. Nothing advocating stealing them from neighboring lands.

        [1] The phrase "go out" appears several times in Exodus 21. It means a slave or servant gaining freedom. For example, in Exodus 21:2

        If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.

  • by British ( 51765 )
    Okay, what's a valid referrer? I tried going to, then the mentinoed link, and it still didn't like it.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:07PM (#2416725) Homepage Journal
    You cannot use the babelfish link, because babelfish checks referers.

    It seems to me that even mentioning babelfish is redundant these days. The people who don't know it exist tend not to be the slashdot type. But maybe I'm just being an elitist.

  • Google translation (Score:3, Informative)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 ... minus city> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:14PM (#2416754) Homepage Journal

    If you have trouble with Alta Vista's translation, or just want an alternative translation, you might also try Google's Translation [].

  • Excellent Upgrade: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <gundbear@ p a c b e> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:15PM (#2416758) Homepage
    Collects random lego bricks and then builds another 'Jitter' from the parts!
  • Glue? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by krugdm ( 322700 ) <slashdot&ikrug,com> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:21PM (#2416786) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if all the bricks for Jitter will need to be glued together to keep him from 'accidentally' coming apart?
  • by ardmhacha ( 192482 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:27PM (#2416812)
    In the New York Times today there is an article about a guy who built a robot out of Lego which can solve the Rubik's Cube.

    It uses a lego-cam linked to a computer with color recognition software and a rubiks solving program, but all the mechanical bits to physically manipulate the cube are Lego.

    Stumped by Rubik's Cube? Let the Lego Robot Solve It []
  • "The two Tueftler live in the control center in Moscow will see the start of their robot to the acid test in the universe (uba)"

    An excellent translation.
  • If I was going to take something fun into space, it would be one of those battery-powered traveller fans -- just the thing for flying around the inside of Alpha or the shuttle. (Outside it would be rather pointless, of course. :^) Could be useful for collecting loose potato chips too!

    Reversing the battery will change the fan from a pusher into a puller prop.
    • Could be useful for collecting loose potato chips too!

      <Simpsons Reference>
      Oh, come on. All you need for collecting loose potato chips in space is a hungry, hungry Homer!
      </Simpsons Reference>

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:37PM (#2416855)
    But this is crazy! I thought the Canadarm had a few more years of useful life left.

    Hmmm... Lego-based IIS components wouldn't be a bad way to go, I think. Just fire up a case of pieces and have the crew build whatever they need!
    • Hmmm... Lego-based IIS components wouldn't...

      It was reported today on the geek news forum Slashdot that a joint venture between software giant Microsoft and beloved toy maker LEGO to create a new web server out of LEGO bricks.

      Hey, maybe it would help the stability of IIS =P

      To all moderators on crack - It's supposed to be funny. Laugh.

  • by plalonde2 ( 527372 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @03:49PM (#2416904)
    I guess my biggest worry is when it breaks... little bricks everywhere, and no more robot to pick them up.

    I assume they'll glue it together before sending it up. At least that will avoid the self-modifying trojan LEGO monster issue...

  • by edashofy ( 265252 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @04:01PM (#2416951)
    Just to be safe, in case the robot gets out of hand, I think we should ship Sigourney Weaver up there with it.
  • Strength (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Spankophile ( 78098 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @04:11PM (#2417010) Homepage
    I wonder how well it will all hold together during the launch.

    Half of the crap I build in lego falls apart when I bring it anywhere to show someone. I can't imaging making something that would withstand the rumbling/g-forces etc. of take-off.
  • Are there pictures of it anywhere? I can't imagine what this thing looks like.
  • Wow (Score:4, Funny)

    by ryanwright ( 450832 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @04:13PM (#2417037)
    It can interact with the station walls and crew and supposedly has some light "mischief" programmed in as well (sneaking up on people, dancing).

    Can you imagine a Beowulf cluster of...
    Oh, nevermind...
  • translation (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Of 124 participants in the competition also the slogan "Lego Mindstorms the last ten met goes space" to the final in Munich.

    all your base are belong to us?
  • I was having trouble with the link, so here's the text...
    Lego robot Jiiter sweeps in the space station EATS

    ( Konrad and Bastian black brook won with its " model " jitter " the Ultimate builder " Competition of Lego Mindstorms. The small robot from Lego sections and technique will fly in November to the space station IIS. Of 124 users in the competition also the slogan " Lego Mindstorms " the last ten met goes space to the final in Munich. In presence of jury protector and astronaut Ulf Merbold were explained to father and son black brook as the winner. The winner model jitter is in EATS flying around sections to in-collect, at least is programmed it apart from other functions for it. Special prices went to the muscle coach for astronaut the one sechskoepfiges team out of Austria/Germany and Switzerland built.

    With jitters the crew gets an aid to the hand, which, if it in weightlessness works satisfactorily, freely in-collects flying particles in the space station. Additionally communicate jitter with tones and light signal on its finds or contacts with the cab wall. Jitter is based on the salesusual Lego Mindstorm sections. Hitachi H8 micro CONTROLLER, programmable chips, which are likewise standard, form the heart. Progarmmiert became jitter of Konrad black brook in Java (TinyVM). If jitter is switched on in the IIS under weightlessness, it must be brought into a calm orientation position. The Z-axis should show thereby direction passenger lighting, one permanent guideline assistance of jitters. Afterwards the robot turns some 360 degrees of roles around its control parameters to initialize and can with easy thrust in travel be brought. Jitter operates with impulse drive. But permanently a cam disk in a cage is propelled. With contact with the external wall the cage shifts. Depending upon impact direction such an impulse is produced into the opposite direction. Otherwise is the robot with light -, contact and rotation sensors equipped it on its course to lead and steer are. Jitter function it is to be in-collected flying around sections, which it sweeps with a broom from Lego hoses into a chamber in its korpus. If jitter pushes against a wall, the chamber closes automatically, so that the past charge is not again scattered. Jitter reacted additionally over the contact sensors on caper flaxnesses and flips and is programmed, about on all kinds of nonsense Anschleichen and frightening, dancing and continuous rotating. Additionally it reacts to sign movements, which it analyses with its infrared sensors.

    One of the functions for the Mindstorm technical designers was it to accommodate their robots into a crate of 30x30x30 centimeter. Jitter can be transported, which did not succeed to all models, therein in a piece. Additionally the models may not be heavier than 1400 gram. For Bastian black brook, which had taken over the mechanical construction, was that the most difficult function. It has jitters taken and again (differently) assembled that it in the meantime know each section in the sleep, said so often apart it during the award of the prize in Siemens (Frankfurt: 723610.F , message ) - forum Munich. The two Tueftler live in the control center in Moscow will see the start of their robot to the acid test in the universe (uba)

  • From the Google translation:
    Jitter works with impulse drive.

    Oh, that's right. Zefram Cochrane isn't (wasn't? won't be?) German...
  • by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @07:22PM (#2417655)
    I can just imagine astronauts desperate for fun being forced to cannabalize the thing.
  • Wow! (Score:3, Funny)

    by G-funk ( 22712 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2001 @07:34PM (#2417689) Homepage Journal
    The robot will fly to the ISS in November. It fits (whole) into a approx. 1'x1'x1' box and weighs less than 3 lbs.

    Wow. These guys could sure cut some costs at nasa. Nasa can't fly to the ISS without rockets as tall as buildings, weighing tonnes, and costing billions!

  • by plaisted ( 449711 ) on Thursday October 11, 2001 @09:32PM (#2418088) Homepage
    It's not perfect, but I do a far better job then Babelfish or Google. Still not quite sure what "impulseantrieb" means though. We'll go with "momentum drive." Some of the words that I wasn't sure of I've enclosed in ?question marks?.

    Lego Robot "Jitter" Sweeps in the IIS Space Station

    Konrad and Bastian Schwarzenbach have won the "Ultimate Builder Competition" from Lego Mindstorms with their model "Jitter." The small robot, made from Lego and Technic pieces will fly to the IIS Space Station in November.

    Out of 124 participants in the "Lego Mindstorms goes Space" contest, the last ten met in Munich for the finals. In the presence of Jury Schirmherr and Astronaut Ulf Merbold, father and son were declared the winners. The winning model Jitter will gather pieces that are flying around in the IIS--at least it's programmed to do that along with other functions. A special prize went to the astronaut muscle trainer that a six-person team from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland had built.

    With Jitter the crew will get a helper at hand that, if it keeps itself safe in weightlessness, gathers pieces floating around the space station. In addition, Jitter communicates its findings or contact with a cabin wall through tones and light signals. Jitter is based on the commercially available Lego Mindstorm pieces. Hitachi H8 Microcontrollers, which are off-the-shelf programmable chips, constitute the heart of the robot.

    Jitter was programmed in Java (TinyVM) by Konrad Schwarzenback

    When Jitter is turned on in zero gravity on the IIS, it must be brought to rest with the Z-axis pointing towards the Cabin lighting, which serves as a permanent guidance point. The robot will then perform a few 360 degree rolls to initialize its steering parameters, and can be brought on-line with a light push.

    [The following paragraph is the most techical and worst translated. Sorry.]
    Jitter works with a momentum drive. A cam disc ?rotates? permanently inside the robot's housing. When it comes in contact with a wall, the housing gets displaced. According to the direction of the collision, an impulse in the opposite direction is generated.

    In addition, the robot is outfitted with light, touch, and rotation sensors that turn it and guide it on its course. Jitters mission is to gather floating pieces with a broom made of Lego-tubes and sweep them into its body. When Jitter hits a wall, the compartment closes automatically, so that the gathered pieces aren't scattered all over again. Jitter also reacts through the touch sensors to petting and patting and is programmed for all sorts of nonsense such as sneaking up and scaring someone, dancing, and prolonged rotations. In addition it reacts to ?wink motions? that it picks up with it's infrared sensors.

    One of the tasks for the Mindstorm builders was to fit their robot in a 30x30x30 centimeter box. Jitter, in contrast to some of the entries, can be transported in the box in one piece. In addition the models could be no heavier than 1400 grams. For Bastian Schwarzenbach, who undertook the mechanical construction, this was the hardest task. He took Jitter apart and rebuilt it (differently) so many times, that by now he knows every piece by heart, he said during the prize presentation at Siemen's Munich ?Forum?. Both of the hobbyists will get to watch the start of their robot live in the Moscow control center.

    • Got it ! I bet I've figured out how it works.

      Imagine it has a heavy spinning disc inside like a gyroscope but offset a bit or not quite round (the cam disc). This would cause the robot to vibrate a bit (kind of executing a small circle) in the 2D plane of the disc (probably why it's called jitter...). When it touches a solid object these small movements (they are probably quite fast) would just shove it away from the obstacle. I bet with an another disc in a different plane to push against to adjust it's orientation it would be quite maneuverable

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling