Overview of MINDSTORMS Sets
This page is intended to provide a brief overview to the different retail
MINDSTORMS sets and help people determine which set is best for them.
Lego makes several different "programmable bricks" - which
brick you use ultimately determines how complex your MINDSTORMS creations
can be, so the first step in picking a MINDSTORMS set, is deciding which
brick you want.
- RCX - the most versatile programmable brick. This is a yellow
brick with 3 motor ports, 3 configurable sensor ports, 6000 bytes of program
space, and Infra-red (IR) communication. Perhaps most importantly, the
firmware in the RCX can be replaced, which makes advanced programming languages
possible (C, Java, etc). Lego provides a visual programming environment
(RCX Code) which is very easy to get started with. Dacta offers Robolab
- another visual environment that is more powerful than RCX Code. Unofficial
programming tools include NQC, legOS, and pbForth. Even though the RCX
is the oldest of the programmable bricks, its versatility makes it a favorite
among advanced users.
- Scout - little brother of the RCX. The scout looks very similar
to the RCX, except that it is colored blue. It has two motor ports, two
sensor ports (passive sensors only), a built-in light sensor, and about
400 bytes of program space. It communicates using IR. It also can send
Visible Light Link (VLL) commands to devices such as the Micro-Scout. Generally,
the Scout is programmed using its own buttons and LCD (no computer required).
However, it is also possible to program the Scout using NQC or Lego's own
- Micro-Scout - the simplest programmable brick. It has a built-in
motor, light sensor, and several simple programs (no computer required).
There is some limited capability for controlling or "scripting"
the Micro-Scout using the Scout or some other device capable of sending
Visible Light Link (VLL) commands.
- Robotics Invention System (RIS) 1.0/1.5 [#9719/#9747, $200].
These sets are very similar (basically 1.5 was an update to the 1.0 set).
Both include the RCX, 2 motors, 2 touch sensors, 1 light sensor, an IR
interface for the PC, and about 700 assorted Lego parts. Overall, the software
included with 1.5 is better than the 1.0 software. There were minor changes
in the included pieces. One minus to 1.5 is that the RCX in 1.0 had a connector
for an external AC adapter, and this connector was eliminated on the RCX
with 1.5. For that reason, some people actually prefer to get the older
1.0 set if they can find it. Although expensive, RIS is actually a very
good value. The RCX is the best programmable brick, and the motors/sensors/pieces
included with the set can build a lot of interesting things.
- Robotics Discovery Set (RDS) [#9735, $150]. This set includes
the Scout, two motors, two touch sensors, and about 380 other pieces. RDS
is inteded for stand-alone use. In fact, if you want to program the Scout
using a computer you'll need to by the IR interface for your computer seprately
(about $30). To be honest, this set really isn't worth $150...for just
$50 more you could get RIS which would give you a more powerful programmable
brick, the IR interface, and a much more practical set of pieces. However,
if you can find this set on sale it is worth consideration - especially
when used as an expansion for an RIS set, or in a case where a computer
isn't available for programming.
- Droid Development Kit [#9748, $100]. This set includes the Micro-Scout
and about 650 Lego pieces. As a MINDSTORMS set it is fairly limited (mostly
because of the limitations of the Micro-Scout itself). However, as a "Star
Wars" set it is a bit more interesting. Probably not worth $100, but
can often be found on sale.
- Dark Side Development Kit[#9754, $100]. Another Micro-Scout
set with a Star Wars theme. Limited from a MINDSTORMS standpoint, but interesting
Star Wars models.
There are several different expansion sets available for use with the
- Ultimate Accessory Set [#3801, $50]. This set includes the Lego
remote control, a touch sensor, a rotation sensor, a light, and about 40
other assorted pieces. Overall this is an excellent set. I consider the
remote control and rotation sensor as "must haves".
- Vision Command [#9731, $100]. This set includes a USB quick
cam, 145 pieces, and special vision processing software. Actually, this
set can be used stand-alone, but it is more interesting when combined with
- Exploration Mars [#9736, $50]. This set contains 156 pieces
and a CD-ROM with a number of new "challenges". This set is a
relatively poor value - unless you really want the CD-ROM, you are much
better off buying some ordinary Technic sets for expansion pieces.
- RoboSports [#9730, $50]. This set includes a motor, CD-ROM with
additional challenges, and about 90 assorted pieces. Although the motor
is very useful, overall the set is overpriced and there are less expensive
ways to get an extra motor. Unless you crave the CD-ROM, avoid this set.
- Extreme Creatures [#9732, $50]. This set includes a CD-ROM with
additional challenges and about 150 assorted pieces (including the fiber-optic
piece). As with many of the other expansion sets, unless you really want
to see the CD-ROM (or deperately need the fiber optic piece), don't bother
with this set.
Lego Direct (previously know as Lego Shop at Home) sells various parts
packs that can be used to expand your Mindstorms set. Technic sets are also
good for general purpose expansion.