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Additional sensors are available from LEGO that you can connect directly to the RCX. These include the following:
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I Temperature. These sensors sense differences in temperature, such as operating indoors
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or outdoors or the direct touch of a human hand.
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I Rotation. Used with the drive motors, these sensors sense the actual number of rotations
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of the motor shaft, allowing you to position of the RCX robot more accurately. In addition to LEGO-made sensors for the RCX, you can also construct your own. See the section Making Your Own RCX Sensors later in this chapter for more information.
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One noteworthy feature of the Mindstorms is that the RCX is a nontethered controller. By not being connected to a PC, the RCX robot appears much more like an autonomous machine, even though you use your PC as a programming station. There is no control wire for the RCX to get tangled with. This is actually typical of most microcontrollers used in robotics; read more about microcontrollers in Part 5. You download the programs you create on your PC to the RCX via a two-way infrared (IR) transceiver. The IR communications tower sends program code to the RCX, and the RCX responds to indicate a proper download. For optimum performance, you should place the IR tower no more than about a foot from the RCX, though I ve successfully used the tower to download programs to an RCX that was four to five feet across the room. When you think you have a working program, you place the RCX near the infrared transmitter and click the Download button in the Mindstorms programming screen. Most programs download in less than 10 seconds. When downloading is complete, you merely depress the Run button on the RCX unit and watch your robot creation come to life. If your robot doesn t behave quite like you expected, you can reexamine your program, make changes, and download the revised code. Once you ve built a program you like, you can save it for future reference. The RCX can store five programs internally at a time, but you can keep hundreds or even thousands of programs on your computer s hard disk drive. Just download them again into any of the RCX s five program slots when you want to run them.
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An optional accessory for the RCX is a handheld infrared remote. This remote lets you operate the RCX from up to 20 feet away. You can individually control the forward or reverse direction of any of the three motor outputs (A, B, or C). You can also start and stop any of the five programs stored in the RCX s internal memory as well as send sequences of RCX code to override the internal programs.
Hacking the Mindstorms
Not long after LEGO introduced the first Mindstorms kit, folks found ways to hack into the RCX and programming software. Among the first hacks on the scene were various Microsoft ActiveX and programming components for coding the RCX using Microsoft Visual Basic. LEGO itself now offers (but does not actively support) an RCX software developer s kit (SDK) using Visual Basic. You can download the free documentation and software for it at the LEGO Mindstorms Web page (www.legomindstorms.com).
168 CREATING FUNCTIONOIDS WITH LEGO MINDSTORMS ROBOTICS INVENTION SYSTEM
The LEGO Visual Basic SDK works with both the RCX brick included with the RIS and the CyberMaster brick that accompanies the LEGO Technic CyberMaster, a product designed for classroom use. (Note: the Mindstorms Scout, used in the Robotics Discovery Set, has a separate SDK of its own.) The SDK requires a special ActiveX (also called OCX) component, spirit.ocx, that serves as an interface between the Visual Basic programming platform and your PC s hardware. From there, you need only a copy of Visual Basic 5.0 or higher. In actuality, you can use most any programming platform that can interface to ActiveX modules with the SDK. However, the programming examples in the SDK are provided in Visual Basic, so if you use another language you ll need to do the language conversion yourself. 14, Programming the LEGO Mindstorms RCX: Advanced Methods, discusses how to use Visual Basic with the Mindstorms robot. Other RIS programming hacks are available as well. At http://www.enteract.com/~dbaum/, for instance, you can download NQC (Not Quite C), a development language that uses a C-like syntax for programming the LEGO RCX brick. Versions are available for use under Linux, Windows, and the Macintosh. The NQC language is provided using the Mozilla Public License, a kind of open source license. NQC is discussed in detail in 14.
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