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Mikaela Haase och Frida Hådén
Michaela Haase and Frida Hådén with their dog that moves thanks to a Lego robot. Photo: Emma Bergström Wuolo

Lego makes robots more lifelike

Published: 15 November 2013

An English dirty old man who flirts with anyone who comes near. Or a dog who’ll open its mouth if you give it something red. That’s two examples of what the students at LTU's prop making for media production-program created using the new Lego Mindstorms.

The Higher Education Diploma Programme for prop making for media production at Luleå University of Technology in Skellefteå is an artistic education. In the module animatronics, which is a combination of animation and electronics, the students will for the first time in work with the engineering side of prop making. They build masks that move thanks to the Lego. The idea is that building with Lego will teach them the basics of mechanics.

- Lego encourages you to try. If what you just created isn’t good, you can just start over, says Gunnar Landsell, lecturer in the animatronics module.

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Lego Mindstorms is intended for hobby engineers from age eleven and up. When using Lego pieces and a small computer it is possible to build robots that move. The programming is handled through a modular interface. The new version of Lego Mindstorms was released two weeks before the first lecture in animatronics started at LTU. Gunnar Landsell had time to unpack a box and try it out the night before the students started working with the Lego.

- It’s likely that our students are the first in the world to do this kind of project with the new Lego Mindstorms, he says.

Frida Hådén and Michaela Haase created a white furred dog that wags its ears when it gets patted on the head. The nose is a sensor that can “see” what color things placed in front of it has. When they show the dog a red piece of Lego it opens its mouth and chews. A green piece results in a closed mouth.

- The problem is that the nose is painted black and that affects what color the sensor sees. We had to program it to react to the brown bits so that it actually would react to red, says Frida Hådén.

Lego Mindstorms is not a cheap toy. Each box costs about 4000 SEK and will be reused in future courses. Therefore, the students were neither allowed to glue or tape the Lego into the mask.

- Placing the mask onto the Lego and making it to stay there was the most difficult part, says Cecilia Mörtzell.

Along with Elin Larsson, she has constructed an English gentleman who raises his eyebrows and lets the mustache dance if anyone comes near him. The sensor that reacts to movement is placed in his bow tie.

Students are learning the basics of animatronics in order to match the requirements of prop makers in today's job market. And the students are satisfied with the course module.

- It's great to see how it works. I can imagine that this way of working might work to make museum objects to move in an easy way, says Frida Hådén.

20131009_Attributmakare_0059.jpg

Lego Mindstorms is not a cheap toy. Each box costs about 4000 SEK and will be reused in future courses. Therefore, the students were neither allowed to glue or tape the Lego into the mask.

- Placing the mask onto the Lego and making it to stay there was the most difficult part, says Cecilia Mörtzell.

Along with Elin Larsson, she has constructed an English gentleman who raises his eyebrows and lets the mustache dance if anyone comes near him. The sensor that reacts to movement is placed in his bow tie.

Students are learning the basics of animatronics in order to match the requirements of prop makers in today's job market. And the students are satisfied with the course module.

- It's great to see how it works. I can imagine that this way of working might work to make museum objects to move in an easy way, says Frida Hådén.

Photo: Emma Bergström Wuolo
Cecilia Mörtzell and Elin Larsson built the dirty old man who moves thanks to a Lego robot. Photo: Emma Bergström Wuolo