Feb 6, 2006

Lego - embracing the new open source culture

Gotta love Lego.

Within weeks of the original Mindstorms debut, a Stanford graduate student named Kekoa Proudfoot reverse engineered the RCX brick and posted all of his findings, including detailed information on the brick's underlying firmware, online. Several other engineers quickly used Proudfoot's revelations to design their own Mindstorms tools, including an open source operating system (LegOS) and a C-like programming alternative to RCX-code (Not Quite C, or NQC). Lego's Danish brain trust soon realized that their proprietary code was loose on the Internet and debated how best to handle the hackers. "We have a pretty eager legal team, and protecting our IP is very high on its agenda," Nipper says. Some Lego executives worried that the hackers might cannibalize the market for future Mindstorms accessories or confuse potential customers looking for authorized Lego products.

After a few months of wait-and-see, Lego concluded that limiting creativity was contrary to its mission of encouraging exploration and ingenuity. Besides, the hackers were providing a valuable service. "We came to understand that this is a great way to make the product more exciting," Nipper says. "It's a totally different business paradigm - although they don't get paid for it, they enhance the experience you can have with the basic Mindstorms set." Rather than send out cease and desist letters, Lego decided to let the modders flourish; it even wrote a "right to hack" into the Mindstorms software license, giving hobbyists explicit permission to let their imaginations run wild.

Soon, dozens of Web sites were hosting third-party programs that helped Mindstorms users build robots that Lego had never dreamed of: soda machines, blackjack dealers, even toilet scrubbers. Hardware mavens designed sensors that were far more sophisticated than the touch and light sensors included in the factory kit. More than 40 Mindstorms guidebooks provided step-by-step strategies for tweaking performance out of the kit's 727 parts.

I think there is bright future for LEGO. And a lesson for some dinosours out there. Read the original story here.

Update: Lego community has created some great resources online. Below are a few pictures of my childhood...

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mentifex provides an artificial mind for the Lego Mindstorms NSX.

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