Member collaboration: LEGO Mindstorms

An innovative robotic construction kit for children.


Erik Hansen, The LEGO Group

 Mitchel Resnick, Head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group, MIT Media Lab


MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, MA); The LEGO Company (Denmark and Cambridge, MA)


The seeds for this research date back to the 1960s, when Media Lab professor Seymour Papert began developing new technologies for children. Later key contributions were made by Media Lab professor Mitchel Resnick who, since the 1980s, has been exploring toys, computers, and learning. Media Lab researchers developed the first prototype of a "programmable brick" in 1998. Graduate student Fred Martin tested the technology with classroom students as part of his master's thesis.


The LEGO Company began sponsoring work at the Media Lab in 1985, right as the Media Lab opened. In 1988, LEGO introduced its first product (LEGO tc Logo), based on the collaboration with the Media Lab. With this product (marketed only to schools), students could program the behavior of their LEGO constructions, but the constructions needed to be "tethered" to the computer via a cable. That same year, Media Lab researchers began developing the first programmable brick. In the early 1990s, LEGO opened a research lab in Cambridge, and LEGO traffic through the Media Lab significantly increased. In 1998, LEGO launched the Mindstorms construction kit.


Mindstorms, a robotic invention system that revolutionized LEGO construction kits, grew out of the LEGO Company’s 20-year collaboration with the Media Lab. This construction kit (commercialized in 1998) is based on MIT’s Programmable Brick technology, where a tiny, portable computer is embedded inside a traditional LEGO brick. 

With this added technology, the brick is capable of interacting with the physical world through sensors and motors, allowing children to build and program their own robots and other computerized contraptions. This technology has been used not only for play and learning by children and teens, but also as a rapid prototyping tool by businesses (including the U.S. Postal Service).

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