vb.net barcode scanner programming PROGRAMMING THE LEGO MINDSTORMS RCX in Software

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PROGRAMMING THE LEGO MINDSTORMS RCX
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he LEGO Mindstorms Robotic Invention System has become a watershed for hobby robotics. The Mindstorms set allows both child and adult alike to experiment with robotics, without the usual requirements of constructing a frame and body or soldering electronic circuits. As such, Mindstorms provides a quick and simple introduction to robotics, and especially the programming behind it. Yet the robots you can build with the Mindstorms go far beyond simple automated toys. There is a surprising amount of power under the yellow plastic of the Mindstorms robot module (the RCX). Much of this power is either not easily recognizable in the standard programming environment that comes on the Mindstorms CD-ROM or is not available, for whatever technical reasons. Fortunately, you can tap the full potential of the Mindstorms robotics system by using alternative programming environments. This chapter discusses two popular alternative environments, including one that works with Microsoft Visual Basic.
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Using Visual Basic to Program the RCX
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Microsoft Visual Basic provides a convenient method for programming the LEGO Mindstorms RCX. You don t even need the full Visual Basic package (some $250 or more retail). You can also use any program that supports Visual Basic for Applications such as Microsoft Word 97 or Corel WordPerfect 9 or later versions.
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174 PROGRAMMING THE LEGO MINDSTORMS RCX
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The text that follows will work equally well when using Visual Basic 5.0 or later or Visual Basic for Applications. However, some menu commands may be different between the two products as well as between different versions. For the sake of brevity, from here on we ll refer to Visual Basic as VB and Visual Basic for Applications as VBA. Note: by necessity, this chapter does not discuss programming with VB or VBA. It is assumed that you are already familiar with at least the basics of VB or VBA and that you know how to create and work with user forms and code modules. If VB and/or VBA are new to you, pick up a good introductory book on the subject at your library or neighborhood bookstore. Before attempting to program in VB/VBA visit the main LEGO Mindstorms Web page (www.mindstorms.com) and look for the Software Developer s Kit page. Download the informational document on the PBrick programming syntax for the spirit.ocx ActiveX control. As of this writing, the document is available only in Adobe Acrobat format, so you will need a copy of the Adobe Acrobat reader to view the file. The Acrobat reader is available free at www.adobe.com and many other places; see the link on the LEGO Mindstorms page to download this software. You may also wish to download the sample VB program for later review. When you use RCX with Visual Basic, you program the RCX by using a middleware component. This component is spirit.ocx, a Windows file that serves as an interface between the programming environment (VB or VBA) and the RCX itself. Spirit.ocx comes with the LEGO Mindstorms installation CD and is placed on your computer when you install the software. Keep this in mind: you will not be able to perform any programming until the Mindstorms software has been loaded. If you haven t done so already, use the standard Mindstorms programmer software to run the RCX through a couple of its basic paces. Once you know the RCX works with the standard programmer software you re ready to forge ahead with VB!
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RUNNING THE TEST PROGRAM
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To begin, start Visual Basic in the usual way. If you are using VBA, start the Visual Basic Editor (for example, in Word 97 and later you would choose Tools, Macro, Visual Basic Editor). Once you are in the Editor, follow these steps:
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1. Create a new form by choosing Insert, UserForm. 2. Add the spirit.ocx component by choosing Tools, Additional Controls. Locate the Spirit
3. 4. 5. 6.
Control and click on it to add a checkmark beside it. Choose OK to close the Additional Controls dialog box. (Note: this step need only be done once; thereafter the spirit.ocx control will be registered with VB/VBA for use in other projects.) A new LEGO icon should appear in the Toolbox (choose View, Toolbox, if the Toolbox is not visible). Click on the LEGO icon (this is the Spirit Control) and drag anywhere over the user form you created in step 1. For ease of use, make the LEGO icon about a quarter-inch square and place it in the lower-right corner, as shown in Fig. 14.1. Verify the proper settings of the Spirit Control by clicking on it and examining its properties in the Properties box. Specifically, check that the serial communications port is set properly (usually either COM1 or COM2), that the LinkType is Infrared (assuming you re using the standard infrared tower that comes with the Mindstorms set), and that the PBrick type is RCX.
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