For a long time, the Lego Mindstorms (RCX, NXT and EV3) specialized educational kit has been the leading platform for learning robotics education. Then the "family" of robotic solutions extended - the Lego Wedo set (1.0 and 2.0) appeared. But experts noted a certain gap between the last two solutions - EV3 and Wedo 2.0. And finally, in April 2019, the new Lego SPIKE Prime 45678 robotics kit was announced. It was immediately dubbed the flagship and locomotive in STEAM education. Let's find out together why Spike Prime is the next step in educational robotics.
1. The box
The first thing that catches your eye is the bright yellow container, which serves as both packaging and storage for parts. The presence of a special container is a common feature for all Lego Education products. Traditionally, the top of the kit has a sorting and positioning tray (two-piece), while the bottom holds the electronics, wheels and large platforms.
For sorting parts, stickers are provided on the inner parts of the tray compartments; they can be positioned both according to the recommendations of the developers and to your taste. In the basic version, the set consists of 528 parts, and it can also be noted that in addition to the basic set, you can purchase a resource set (Expansion set 45680), but it is already available only in cardboard packaging.
2. Lego parts
Previously, building parts were based on two principles: for Mindstorms EV3 (NXT), Technic was taken as a basis, and for Wedo and Boost, these was Brick System (classic bricks and plates). The SPIKE Prime series is dominated by the Technic part base, but the developers have added several unique parts to bridge the gap between the two design approaches. For example, for the first time in the set there was a unique 2x4 brick - with three cross axle holes.
The kit also includes new frames of 7×13 and 11×15 modules (2 pcs.). The developer added wheels of a new design to the list of new products (and as stated with reduced friction with the surface). Two platforms of 11×19 modules can now be used as a base for robots. The great idea in the Spike kit is the clamps for wires that constantly get in the way of the moving parts of robot. The long-awaited 28-tooth bevel gear has expanded the design possibilities for mechanical transmissions. And the last of the new products are the so-called "Biscuits" - connecting elements of 1x3x3 modules. The developers note that Spike Prime includes details that many Lego followers and fans around the world have dreamed of.
3. Electronic parts
The uniqueness of the kit extended to electronic components. Before moving on to the technical features, we note that the yellow color of the hub is a tribute to the very first microcomputer from the Mindstorms RCX.
3.1 Hub Spike Prime
Hub of Spike Prime is a fairly compact unit with six universal ports for connecting external devices (motors/sensors). Connection to a computer is possible both via micro-USB and via Bluetooth. The type of hub connectors could previously be found in the Powered Up and BOOST series. And the wires are quite thin and flexible compared to the EV3 and, as noted earlier, are fixed in the desired positions using special clamps.
The hub has a built-in 6-axis gyroscope, which provides great opportunities for recognition of position in space. The hub also has a small speaker and a 5×5 LED matrix. A long-life lithium-ion battery is included to ensure autonomy. On the front side, in addition to the matrix, there are also two buttons - turning on the hub itself and turning on Bluetooth.
As sensors (in addition to those built into the hub and motors), the kit includes: a color sensor, a force sensor and a distance sensor.
3.2 Color sensor
The color sensor is visually similar to its predecessors, but about half the size. Also, according to the developers, the measurement technology has been updated, which ensures greater accuracy. The operating modes remained the same - color recognition (8 colors), light intensity and reflected color.
3.3 Force sensor
The force sensor is a direct descendant of the touch sensor. The sensor can withstand pressures up to 10 Newtons (equivalent to about 1 kg). Pressing the button requires a certain amount of force, which is what distinguishes the sensor from its “brothers” (touch sensors) from the EV3 and NXT series.
3.4 Distance sensor
The distance sensor has the same physical nature of measurements as before - ultrasonic waves. The range of measured distances is from 1 to 200cm (remember that the EV3 sensor has a maximum of 250cm). Also a unique feature of the sensor - in addition, you can program a different reaction of the "eyes" of sensor.
For the implementation of drives, the developers propose to use three motors of two types - one large motor and two angle motors. Another distinctive feature of the Spike Prime motors is their compactness. And also there are more mounting points for motors, and accordingly there are more possibilities for installation in a model. Provided in the body and special recesses for "laying" the wire without being squeezed by adjacent parts. An additional plus over the Wedo kit is the through hole for the shaft.
4. Toolbox SPIKE App
Scratch-like platform through a special application was chosen as the programming environment. Since at present the Scratch language is so fond of beginners and experienced programmers of all ages, so choosing this platform for writing algorithms is a very good decision. In its structure, the application itself resembles the Wedo 2.0 programming environment. The program itself and the official lego site provide a variety of materials for organizing work with both the kit and the programming environment.
However, there are also requirements for the operating system - your PC must have Windows 10 (or Mac OS) installed. Also available platforms are Android, iPad and Chromebook. In the application, upon installation, four starter lessons are available, and it is possible to download additional materials from the library of lessons. And also the developers have worked out the section "First steps" in maximum detail.
The first impression of the Lego SPIKE Prime 45678 set is, of course, positive. Only time will tell whether this decision will succeed in taking the golden middle between the Wedo and Mindstorms EV3. In any case, with all its advantages, it will not be possible to replace Mindstorms at the one moment, since in many organisation that teach robotics, studying materials already cover the age group for which SPIKE Prime is designed - students from grades 6 to 8. But at the same time, the set has great potential in the implementation of the educational STEAM methodology and you can't argue with that.
All graphic materials presented in our review of the Lego SPIKE Prime 45678 kit are taken from the Lego Group official website.