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Al Williams

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Lego Computer Blocks

January 06, 2010

Kids like Lego building blocks. Actually, some adults like them too. You can even make robots with Lego blocks . There's something fundamentally appealing about having a box full of things that all connect together to make a race car, a rocket ship, or a sky scraper. That's probably why things like Tinker Toys , Erector Sets , and Lincoln Logs have all been around since I was a kid. There have been a variety of attempts to make plug and play electronic hardware floating around with varying degrees of success. Recently, I noticed to relative recent contenders to this field.



Freescale (which used to be Motorola, a company I worked for years ago) has the “Tower System.” The idea is that these standardized modules plug into a “tower” backplane. Sort or reminds me of the old STD Bus system which worked pretty well in its day. You mix and match controller modules (MCF51CN128, NC8S08LL64, or a MCF5225X ColdFire) along with peripherals like serial or 802.11b (the only two choices, so far). There's also a generic prototyping board and more promised to appear soon.

The other is the very interesting looking BUG from Bug Labs. This is more of an open source consumer device with modules like wireless, LCD, audio, GPS, and a motion detector. The box runs Linux and lets you craft a custom “gadget” – for example, a GPS system .

I haven't used either of these, but they seem like neat options for small runs or prototypes. The Tower for more traditional systems will be more useful when they add more options to it. The BUG would make it fairly easy to prototype a hand held device (although if I could plug my prototype into an Android phone, I might be just as tempted to do that).

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