LEGO celebrates Apollo 11 with a lovely, bricky Lunar Lander

The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first lunar landing is approaching, and there will be no shortage of fanfare — so why shouldn’t LEGO get in on the fun? This Lunar Lander set looks like a great way to celebrate the missions of the space program’s past, while the space station and launch sets celebrate its present and future.

The Apollo 11 set looks like a real treat for both space-loving kids and parents — and grandparents — who remember or otherwise venerate the historic missions. LEGO worked with NASA to put together a replica Eagle lander that’s a lot like the original, though slightly smaller, of course.

There are two astronauts, a crater, and a flag — just like the real landing. And the detailed ascender module actually detaches and fits two minifigs inside. And, inquiring LEGO enthusiasts will want to know, there are some cool new gold-colored bricks that will surely make for lovely additions to your other brick-based space projects.

Apollo is what we’re celebrating, but Artemis is what’s ahead of us. The next moon mission will involve quite a few interesting pieces of hardware, though nothing is finalized yet — so you can excuse LEGO for improvising a bit. (I feel sure the Shuttle design has been ruled out, though.)

The launch control set looks great: an actual mission control area, an astronaut-delivery rail car, and a convincing rocket that could be the Space Launch System. There’s also a fairly realistic space station setup with segments you can connect in various ways and a cool airlock I would have loved to have when I was an avid builder.

I like that these aren’t huge — kids shouldn’t get the wrong idea about space travel. It’s like crawling into a hot can and being rolled down a hill, then you live in the can for months constantly smelling the other astronauts’ breath. At the end of it, you’re at Mars, sure — but it’s not exactly first class.

Making spaceships out of LEGO is a highlight of my childhood, and one in which I still indulge now and then, but I never felt particularly constrained by reality. I think it’s great that these sets provide that option — even if they’re fantasy, they’re definitely quasi-realistic and when kids see the Lunar Gateway in a few years they’ll think, huh, looks a lot like what I built a while back. So far that hasn’t happened with any of my ships.

Head over to the LEGO Shop to grab your own set.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

LEGO Braille bricks are the best, nicest, and in retrospect most obvious idea ever

Braille is a crucial skill for children with visual impairments to learn, and with these LEGO Braille Bricks kids can learn through hands-on play rather than more rigid methods like Braille readers and printouts. Given the naturally Braille-like structure of LEGO blocks, it’s surprising this wasn’t done decades ago.

The truth is, however, that nothing can be obvious enough when it comes to marginalized populations like people with disabilities. But sometimes all it takes is someone in the right position to say “You know what? That’s a great idea and we’re just going to do it.”

It happened with the BecDot (above) and it seems to have happened at LEGO. Stine Storm led the project, but Morten Blonde, who himself suffers from degenerating vision, helped guide the team with the passion and insight that only comes with personal experience.

In some remarks sent over by LEGO, Blonde describes his drive to help:

When I was contacted by the LEGO Foundation to function as internal consultant on the LEGO Braille Bricks project, and first met with Stine Storm, where she showed me the Braille bricks for the first time, I had a very emotional experience. While Stine talked about the project and the blind children she had visited and introduced to the LEGO Braille Bricks I got goose bumps all over the body. I just knew that I had to work on this project.

I want to help all blind and visually impaired children in the world dare to dream and see that life has so much in store for them. When, some years ago, I was hit by stress and depression over my blind future, I decided one day that life is too precious for me not to enjoy every second of. I would like to help give blind children the desire to embark on challenges, learn to fail, learn to see life as a playground, where anything can come true if you yourself believe that they can come true. That is my greatest ambition with my participation in the LEGO Braille Bricks project

The bricks themselves are very like the originals, specifically the common 2×4 blocks, except they don’t have the full 8 “studs” (so that’s what they’re called). Instead, they have the letters of the Braille alphabet, which happens to fit comfortably in a 2×3 array of studs, with room left on the bottom to put a visual indicator of the letter or symbol for sighted people.

It’s compatible with ordinary LEGO bricks and of course they can be stacked and attached themselves, though not with quite the same versatility as an ordinary block, since some symbols will have fewer studs. You’ll probably want to keep them separate, since they’re more or less identical unless you inspect them individually.

All told the set, which will be provided for free to institutions serving vision-impaired students, will include about 250 pieces: A-Z (with regional variants), the numerals 0-9, basic operators like + and =, and some “inspiration for teaching and interactive games.” Perhaps some specialty pieces for word games and math toys, that sort of thing.

LEGO was already one of the toys that can be enjoyed equally by sighted and vision-impaired children, but this adds a new layer, or I suppose just re-engineers an existing and proven one, to extend and specialize the decades-old toy for a group that already seems already to have taken to it:

“The children’s level of engagement and their interest in being independent and included on equal terms in society is so evident. I am moved to see the impact this product has on developing blind and visually impaired children’s academic confidence and curiosity already in its infant days,” said Blonde.

Danish, Norwegian, English, and Portuguese blocks are being tested now, with German, Spanish and French on track for later this year. The kit should ship in 2020 — if you think your classroom could use these, get in touch with LEGO right away.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Robo Wunderkind wants to build the Lego Mindstorms for everyone

Lego Mindstorms have paved the way for many programmable toys. And Austrian startup Robo Wunderkind is building a new kind of Lego-like programmable kit. The startup first launched on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage and just raised $ 1.2 million (€1 million) from SOSV, Austrian Federal Promotional Bank and multiple business angels.

Compared to many programmable toys out there, Robo Wunderkind is still a Lego-like building kit. This is key as too many toys forget that it’s fun to build something with a few bricks.

Robo Wunderkind also has special blocks to turn your dumb robot into a connected one. In addition to the usual sensors, such as proximity sensors, motion detectors and light sensors, the company also has some more sophisticated ones. You can put a tiny camera in your construction, use an IR blaster and receiver and program a tiny LED screen.

But the best part is that Robo Wunderkind also sells Lego adapters so that you can put together a sophisticated robot that uses both Lego bricks and Robo Wunderkind modules.

The company has two different apps in the store. The first one called Robo Live lets you control your robot in real time. The other one Robo Code has a brand new user interface and now detects the blocks you’re currently using.

Robo Code is where Robo Wunderkind shines because you can put together simple algorithms by arranging virtual blocks in the iPad app. It’s a good way to introduce a kid to conditional statements and loops.

You won’t build a robot as sophisticated as a robot built using Lego Mindstorms. But Robo Wunderkind seems more accessible and good way to try robotics before switching to Arduino and Raspberry Pi when your kid grows up.

The company successfully raised a little less than $ 250,000 on Kickstarter back in 2015. You can now buy a starter kit for $ 250. Advanced and professional kits will also be available soon.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

MIT uses Lego to prototype low-cost micro pumps

 Lego bricks (or, if you’re not a pedant, Legos) are highly precise and highly consistent plastic objects. Anywhere you go in the world the Lego is the same. That means that scientists at MIT can use these little sole stabbers to create very precise scientific systems. Their first tests involve creating a microfluid pump and sorter using basic Lego parts. Because they can trust Lego bricks… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch