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By Sally Finley - Posted Sep 1, 2008
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Company: Vernier Software & Technology, 13979 SW Millikan Way, Beaverton, OR 97005; Phone: (888) 837-6437. Email: Internet:

Price: $39

Audience: Grades 3–12

Format: Sensor adapter tool, free online download of Vernier Sensor Block software.

Minimum System Requirements: The NXT sensor adapter requires a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT base set, NXT software version 1.1 or version 1.0 with a Dynamic Block Updater, Vernier Sensor Block software, and a Vernier probe.

Description: The Vernier NXT Sensor Adapter expands the capabilities of a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robotics system by allowing a robot to use more than 30 sensors for sensor-based controls.

 Report Card

Overall Rating: *****

Installation A

Content/Features A

Ease of Use A

Product Support A

Reviewer Comments:

Installation: I downloaded the Vernier Sensor Block software using a Dell laptop computer running Vista.

Once the download is completed, the software must be imported into MINDSTORMS version 1.1. Detailed instructions are available online for this operation. Users who have MINDSTORMS version 1.0 must apply a patch (available at the LEGO website as a free upgrade).

It takes just a few seconds to import the Vernier Sensor Block software. Visuals are included to guide the user on the use of the software.

After the software is installed, a configuration panel is displayed when the Vernier Block is clicked. A pull-down menu permits the user to specify a sensor for use. Each Vernier sensor has at least one entry. A few sensors have more than one range; each range has its own entry. Sensor readings are displayed in the configuration panel, numerically and on a meter.

Zeroing and calibration are available through the Action control. The Reset option restores the calibration to the default setting. The default is set at Port 1. USB or Bluetooth connections can be used. Installation Rating: A

Content/Features: Students can perform a variety of operations and investigations using Vernier sensors and the NXT sensor adapter tool.

A student center with the LEGO MINDSTORMS base kit and a computer loaded with the Vernier Sensor Block software can be used for small group and individual student explorations.

The Vernier website offers NXT robot project ideas as a starting point for students. The suggestions include movies, projects, and programs, including a robot that migrates toward magnetic north using a magnetic field sensor; a robot that explores a room looking for cool and warm spots using a surface temperature sensor; a robot that makes a cup of tea, monitors the temperature, and then sounds an alarm when the tea is ready for drinking; a robot that lowers a temperature probe into a lake to provide a temperature profile of the lake; and a robot that uses a relative humidity sensor as part of a weather station.

Teachers may choose to motivate students by having them view videos of LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT projects. Each project includes a full description, a demo movie, and a downloadable source code. Among the NXT robot projects are an acidity tester to sort a set of beakers into "acidic" and "safe" liquids, an air compressor, a battery tester to assess the current flow through a battery as it lights a lamp, a compass to detect the earth’s magnetic field, a leveler to help a robot carry a cup of water up and down hills, a plant watering device that automatically waters houseplants when they are dry, and a salinity adjuster that increases the salt content of a solution. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: The NXT sensor adapter tool has a LEGO NXT socket on one end and a Vernier BTA socket on the other end. It is easy to attach the adapter to the computer and add a sensor.

The detailed online instructions for importing and using the software make the use of the adapter a straight­­forward process. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: Product support is available through a toll-free telephone number, an online support form, and by email and fax.

The Vernier website is well written and very easy to understand. The site provides many project ideas; students will easily find a project that mirrors their interests and skills. The project information includes detailed descriptions of what is involved in using a sensor and in building a structure that will support the sensor as the robot moves.

I discovered many excellent project ideas online. The projects provide engaging, hands-on explorations that support the standards of science and mathematics curriculums.

The online demonstration videos clarify the specifics of each project. Step-by-step building instructions make the building process easy to understand and complete.

The provided documentation and support make this a wonderful addition to the field of LEGO robotics. Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: The Vernier Sensor Adapter greatly expands the capabilities of robots built from the LEGO MINDSTORMS set. Students now have the opportunity to work with the latest technology in their efforts to build stronger and smarter robots that more closely imitate real-world machines.

Having coached a LEGO robotics team as part of the first LEGO League for the past 5 years, I am excited to provide my students with a tool that makes it possible for them to add sensors to the robots they build. The projects suggested online are excellent; they will definitely offer my students some challenging experiences.

Any product that extends the capacity of what a robot can do serves as a great motivational tool. Adding a sensor to a LEGO robot will provide my students with an opportunity to create some excellent projects that will demonstrate their skills in creating and programming a robot designed to perform tasks.

In today’s technological world, there is a great need for engineers and scientists. The opportunity to build and program LEGO robots definitely offers my students a positive influence in helping them prepare for careers in science, technology, and engineering.

If you’re using LEGO robotics in your classroom, you need this adaptor. If you’re not involved in LEGO robotics yet, now is definitely an exciting time to get involved. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Sally Finley, Educational Consultant, Coral Springs, FL.

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