An introduction to LEGO BOOST

This post is an introduction to the LEGO BOOST Creative Toolbox. I evaluate at this set primarily as a tool for learning to code. More posts will follow as I explore different ‘official’ models that one can build with this set. I’ll also look into how to use BOOST beyond these models and beyond the programming environment that accompanies the set.

LEGO Boost Robot
LEGO BOOST Robot

LEGO already had my interest when it comes to robotics, especially the MINDSTORMS EV3 line. However, when I stumbled upon LEGO BOOST a while ago, this seemed to have a few specific advantages:

  • The BOOST product line is newer. LEGO introduced BOOST in 2017 versus 2013 for MINDSTORMS.
  • BOOST is for younger kids: 7-12 years old versus over 10 for MINDSTORMS. This is an advantage for me as my son will soon turn 7 years old.
  • BOOST is significantly cheaper than MINDSTORMS.

At the same time I expect LEGO BOOST to be significantly more limited than MINDSTORMS. The chance that I will outgrow BOOST is rather high, so I’ll probably invest in MINDSTORMS also, sooner or later also.

First impressions

With the LEGO BOOST set, one can build five different models:

  • Vernie the Robot – a robot clearly inspired by Pixar’s WallE
  • MTR 4 – a kind of bulldozer
  • Guitar 4000 – a kind of electrical guitar
  • AutoBuilder – something stationary that manufactures things
  • Frankie the Cat – a cat, completely with a dead fish

These are very different things obviously and I’m curious what capabilities the design team at LEGO managed to create for these models.

LEGO Boost Box
LEGO Boost Box. Batteries and tablet required but not included.

Let’s see what is in the box (the box itself is unfortunately not reusable):

  • The basis of the kit is a set of BOOST Bricks: a MoveHub that contains the CPU, a few motors and the batteries (all in one housing), an additional motor that LEGO calls “interactive” and a combined color and distance sensor.
  • 847 regular bricks. The majority of the bricks are black, blue, white and orange which form the BOOST signature colors. The bricks are compatible with other LEGO series. Unfortunately, as with many modern LEGO kits, many bricks only have a decorative function. I doubt how useful they will be for own explorations beyond the models that the LEGO design team created.
  • A cardboard play-mat. We’ll see how useful this mat will be for the various experiments.

Beyond the kit itself, one has to download an app on a tablet or phone. The tablet connects to the MoveHub via Bluetooth. LEGO specifies which models they have tested, both iOS and Android.

LEGO advertises over 60 app activities contained in the app. Note that the sound related activities use the microphone or sound system of the tablet. So the BOOST Bricks don’t have any sound capabilities themselves. For learning to code and for playing with BOOST that probably doesn’t matter much. Officially, one can only program BOOST using the app anyway. However, people have succeeded to program BOOST e.g. with Scratch and Python. Obviously, only few of the BOOST capabilities will then remain.

Getting Started Vehicle
Getting Started Vehicle

Getting Started Vehicle

When starting, the app first guides to a simpler model that isn’t on the box. It is a Getting Started Vehicle that teaches the basics of how to program BOOST. The vehicle is easy to build. After that, the app introduces new activities Then in three stages.

Getting Started Vehicle - stages
iPad app: 3 stages that are unlocked after a previous stage is completed.

The app visualises the blocks that the user can place in an area using drag and drop. Chaining the blocks forms then a program. A surprisingly advanced capability is that the user can create multiple chains. BOOST will execute them then in parallel!

A long press on the blocks gives a short description of the respective activities. These are the activities for the Getting Started Vehicle:

Yellow: flow control

  • Start Sequence – starts the execution of the attached sequence when the block is clicked or when the program starts.
  • Wait for Time

Orange: events

  • Trigger on Distance

Green: moving

  • Move Forward
  • Move Back
  • Arc Left
  • Arc Right
  • Turn Around
  • Spin Around
  • Boost
  • Backoff

Purple: sound

  • Greeting
  • Honk
  • Music

Blue: external motor

  • Start Propeller
  • Spin Propeller
  • Fart

The third and last stage includes some ideas of how to use the vehicle on the playmat, together with 2 figures. The vehicle will then sense and react on them. Once one has completed the three stages, the app unlocks the ‘official’ five models.

Demo

The easiest way to show how this works, is a simple demo. The picture below shows the “program,” a sequence of commands.

Getting Started Vehicle: Demo
Getting Started Vehicle: the demo program

Then the video below shows what happens when I start the program.

Getting Started Vehicle: executing the program.

This post was only an introduction to LEGO BOOST. More posts that explore the five official models will follow soon!

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