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I'm in the process of evaluating proposals that have entered Commitment. Specifically, I was looking at this propsal:

Area 51: Lego Mindstorms Robotics

Lego Mindstorms Robotics

Proposed Q&A site for both new and experienced users of the Lego MINDSTORMS robotics kits (NXT, RCX, WeDo, etc). Other users could include the Mindstorms Developer Partners, and various developers of both hardware and software for the Lego Mindstorms robotics platform.

Would this topic be welcomed on this site? Please look over the proposal and let me know if the questions seem on topic or off topic for this site.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you let the followers/committers of that SE know about this question? While we can make educated guesses about the scope from the sample questions, some clarification would be nice. (Also, this is my biggest gripe about the Commitment phase on Area51 - There's no interaction possible!) \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Nov 11 '10 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @reemrevnivek: Good idea. I will get their input here. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Cartaino Nov 11 '10 at 13:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about programming the NXT? I think only some NXT questions would fit with this site. NXC, for example, is more of a programming topic than "robotics". Some of the questions on this site could be about C/Java/etc, if we let LEGO Mindstorms in. The users may be new to programming, and not know if the question had more to do with NXC API or just C. \$\endgroup\$ – Mateen Ulhaq Nov 13 '10 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ We accept questions here related to programming microcontrollers, there is no reason coding with hardware ramifications for other systems cannot join in. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 13 '10 at 6:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can someone with 150+ rep add the following tags: "lego-mindstorms-nxt" and "nxc". Also, "nxt-g", "robotc", and others would be good, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Mateen Ulhaq Nov 14 '10 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ We have "lego-mindstorms" and nxc for the time being just checking. I am sure the others will be added as needed. I have never created a tag without a question and cannot find the option. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 15 '10 at 2:47
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The users look to be a of the users of this Stackexchange, and their experts would bring a different approach than many of our experts, which may be good or bad. The NXT system almost makes their customers users of a service, this site seems to target designers - Similar to the distinction between Superuser and Stackoverflow. Here's a Venn diagram:

alt text

While the members of this proposal probably have some 'user' attitude that would not fit well here, most questions probably would fit well. The scope of E&R, in my mind, extends partially into the "Users" domain in the above Venn diagram - mostly for those users who are trying to move into the "Designers" domain. To determine if this is a true statement (and to save you all some time), I've copied over some questions.

Highest ranking (and least disputed) questions:

  1. I bought an NXT 2.0 set for my 10-14 year old child. What would be a good book to get to learn how to use it?
  2. What are some good line-following strategies?
  3. What should I do to get my NXT Brick out of SAMBA mode? ("Clicking Brick Syndrome")
  4. What is the difference between an analogue and digital sensor?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the LEGO NXT Rechargeable Battery Pack over standard alkaline or rechargeable batteries?
  6. What are the pinouts of the motor and sensor connectors on the NXT?
  7. What is a good website that has lots of projects with building instructions and programs?
  8. How do I control my NXT using MATLAB?
  9. How can I get rid of an error saying that my firmware doesn't match when I try to download a program to my NXT using BricxCC?
  10. I have a problem getting pbForth up and running (symptoms X, Y and Z under circumstance A, B and C). How can I make it work?

Some off-topic questions:

  1. Which sensor is your favorite?
  2. Which software is the best? NXT-G 1.X/2.0, RobotC, NXC/NBC, Java, etc.
  3. I want my robot to do A, B, and C. Can you give me a program?
  4. Can my NXT play music on it? I want to play Pachelbel's Canon in D Major; London Symphony Orchestra's version.
  5. Should I buy NXT 1.0 or NXT 2.0?
  6. Where can I find instructions for the midi Millennium Falcon set?
  7. Are there other good robotics competitions/kits besides Mindstorms?

Note that a few of these were rejected because they were deemed too subjective, not off-topic. Interestingly, "Is it appropriate to use a PID Controller to smooth UltraSonic sensor readings?" got just a few on-topic votes and an "I don't get it" comment. Similarly, "What is I2C? I hear people making sensors that use I2C, but what is it?" only got two votes.

OK, time for some conclusions:

  • The members are all about buying components and plugging them together. Duh, but I felt that it needed to be said.
  • Members are not really interested in learning about, asking questions about, or giving answers about robotics outside of the NXT system.
  • There is less overlap than I would have imagined.

Edit: Conclusions below were from before https://bricks.stackexchange.com/ existed. They're currently in public beta. Ask NXT questions there, not here. Also, remember that we're no longer about robotics.

In the end, I feel that these topics would be welcomed on this site - Not because the attitudes of the members match those of our users, but because the two topics have a lot in common. Similar to the physical/cultural anthropology grouping that Joel Spolsky blogged about, we don't really have a lot in common on the inside, but we can get along. While the C guys and SQL guys on Stackoverflow don't have the same approach to solving problems, they coexist because they're both about programming.

Similarly, NXT people and the EEs on this site can probably get along just fine, and even share some knowledge. When I don't have the time to build a solution from scratch, they'll be there to help me, and when they want to learn about PID controllers and I2C, I'll be there for them. Come on over to our little corner of paradise - the sand is warm, and the C is beautiful!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't you have used red freehand circles in the venn diagram? \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 11 '10 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is pretty much what I would have said (and better). \$\endgroup\$ – Wayne Werner Nov 11 '10 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ A lot of the off topic questions are the ones that this site is interested in. The on topic questions seem to be specific to playing a video game with the system they have. I am not sure I htink this fits. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 12 '10 at 3:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would however be fully willing to have them involved. I am just seeing a major clash because the on topic questions looks like questions that would go well on gaming. I know it is about science, I actually was working with a FIRST lego league 2 hours ago, but it is all about the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 12 '10 at 3:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: "A lot of the off topic questions are the ones that this site is interested in" - Are you sure that you're reading the right proposal / topic-ness? Looking back at the off-topic questions, they're either: subjective; not related to lego mindstorms; or just not suitable for stackexchange. Obviously, that middle condition would be relaxed were a merge to take place. I'm still favouring the division of this site into robotics and electronics, and the merge of the Mindstorms proposal into a mainstream robotics proposal. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 12 '10 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eric, discussions related to the off-topic correlate to what I see this site being most interested in. I think dividing robotics out of this site is a bad idea. I think robotics makes sense here. I do not think the NXT robots are about robotics, they are about teaching children to be involved in science, developing algorithms and such. This site would house robotics, we have not had many people ask about them. We are very heavily Electronics(not consumer) oriented and design robotics is a direct extension of this. Nothing like making a PID controller output to a PID to get beautiful control. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 13 '10 at 6:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: "discussions related to the off-topic correlate to what I see this site being most interested in" - Can you give me an example? \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 13 '10 at 9:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eric, "Which sensor is your favorite?" Not directly this question, but questions related to sensors and such. If I look at the acceptable questions I can see room for some interesting discussions, "How do I control my NXT using MATLAB?" does not look like a great fit at all, and many of the on-topic questions worry me as something that border consumer electronics or how to play a complex game. I am just trying to get a firm understanding of what to expect. as you see, Reemrevnivek only put a part of the NXT circle into our domain of designers of robotics systems, which is where I see issues. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 13 '10 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: That was chosen as off-topic because it's so subjective, not because it was not related to the site. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 14 '10 at 11:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eric, I will support you guys if you join up with us, but I think for our community "What is the difference between an analogue and digital sensor?" and some questions about line following strategies fit into what our site normally does, most of the rest will fall into SO or SU better. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 15 '10 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eric, It seems that you guys are joining in, so I think the point is moot. I am sure you guys will fit in, and over time you will come to know the community well. Welcome! \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 15 '10 at 2:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk (1 post up): "most of the rest will fall into SO or SU better" That's the problem, really. As a topic, Lego Mindstorms would end up split over multiple sites. This is far from ideal, as the community would be split up, and would have much harder a time finding relevant questions, and attempting to categorize their question into one of three sites. Really, my main concern is that this site does not have enough of a focus on robotics. Were this a pure-robotics site, the Lego Mindstorms stuff would fit in perfectly. As it stands, however, we're sitting on a three-sided fence. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 15 '10 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eric, I still have to disagree. Most of the things I see are related to software or playing the game. I think for having one goto place for mindstorms your own SE site is perfect. Lets hope that, if you guys are on this site, we can make it work. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 15 '10 at 23:48
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One major feature of the Mindstorms system is that at the mainstream end, no electronics knownledge is required whatsoever. In contrast, I'm noticing a vast amount of electronics questions on this site, with only a small minority actually pertaining to robotics. Particularly, I feel that questions here should be be tagged one or both of "electronics" and "robotics". I can easily think of questions that would relate to one or the other, without expanding into both. But I digress

However, I wouldn't say that users of the Mindstorms kit aren't interested in other electronics/robotics applications. The issue might be more the otherway around: after all, the Mindstorms user base has an average age around 5 years younger, so the questions might be viewed as "too simple" by the current users of this site

One of the primary reasons I made this proposal, and why it's so important to the community, is that we recently lost the core of the community, a forum called NXTasy which had been running for around 4 years, due to loss of contact with the owner of the hosting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the type of questions I see about lego robots are not about robotics, but about competing in a game. I do not think they will fit here with the community that is building up here. The community has questions about robotics in relation to making an efficient PID controller, or designing the electronics to control it. Lego robots use the NI based system where they are controlling things like distance. I am discussing this because I am worried users will regret this, but if the community wants you then I am 100% in support of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 12 '10 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The questions I see coming are more related to playing a game, not related to robotics. You have a robotics platform and are competing in general. If I am mistaken and people will be developing interesting control algorithms then please correct me. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 12 '10 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: Lego robots are not restricted to the NI system by any means. A plethora of languages, including Java, C, and Forth, have been developed to work with them. Certainly however, the community will be more oriented towards the software and theory side of things, rather than the electronicsy bits. Really, I think the community would be better merged into a standalone robotics proposal. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 12 '10 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eric, I actually think that they would fit well into the gaming SO since it is a focus on gaming, but I think we understand each-other. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 12 '10 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: I think you've completely misinterpreted the proposal. There really is no link between Lego Mindstorms and Gaming. Some suitable questions would be competition oriented, but that in no way links to gaming (which IIRC, is mainly for video games). Even these questions will still pertain to robotics-relevant ideas. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Nov 12 '10 at 20:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ If it is going to be about algorithms, building a robotic device or sensor, I think that already fits into E&R, tagging that you are doing it for NXT makes sense to me, but that is something we already understand. I may have misunderstood, I would rather discuss it here, come to an agreement, and move on. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 13 '10 at 6:23
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I would welcome users of the Lego Mindstorms robotics kits at the Electronics and Robotics site. Nearly all of the top 10 "on-topic" questions look like they would all be on-topic at E&R.

A few of those questions look slightly more appropriate for Stack Overflow or Lego. I can see it may be better to have one site focused on Mindstorms, rather have Mindstorms information split up and hard to find among a bunch of StackExchange sites, especially the firehose that is Stack Overflow.

I don't see a single one of the top 10 Lego Mindstorms questions that would be on-topic at the "Gamers" video-game Stack Exchange site.

@reemrevnivek, you mention "Users of robotics systems", and imply that most of the questions such people have would be off-topic at E&R. Could you tell me which Stack Exchange site is more appropriate for such questions?

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Would it be possible to launch the Lego Mindstorms proposal into an early beta, and then re-evaluate the merge based on the progress of the site?

Or does the current system not allow beta site merges?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would suggest you email robert about this. So far the question I have seen asked did not do well. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 17 '10 at 18:04
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With the probable imminent demise of the Lego Beta site, and the imminent birth of the Robotics site, such questions are (IMHO) not on-topic here, but should be over on Robotics.SE

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  • \$\begingroup\$ and they have not been for a while, we dont support robotics here at all anymore. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Oct 19 '12 at 13:37
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Various Disclaimers

  1. I have not yet taken any look at this particular SE site.
  2. I don't own any Lego Mindstorms ... yet
  3. I have asked for the Lego Mindstorms SE to merge, not with electronics and robotics, but with Lego SE proposal that I made.

Anyway

I consider there are some interesting overlaps between NXT and this SE site, and particularly robotics one. Indeed, both have to do with real-world algorithmics issues (as opposed to computer algorithms, these one have to deal with "real-world" constraints - like motor speed, wheel and terrain friction, and so on). Considering that, I think there is a good bunck of questions that could go in this SE site (assuming most of the others could be redirected into Lego SE site to come ... a little later).

As a consequence, I indeed think Lego mindstorms would be on topic on this site, provided it follows its definition (that's to say talk about electronics and robotics, whichever the supporting platform is).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the type of questions I see about lego robots are not about robotics, but about competing in a game. I do not think they will fit here with the community that is building up here. The community has questions about robotics in relation to making an efficient PID controller, or designing the electronics to control it. Lego robots use the NI based system where they are controlling things like distance. I am discussing this because I am worried users will regret this, but if the community wants you then I am 100% in support of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 12 '10 at 16:30
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I think this is a good example to look at to see if it would work on our site: https://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/6741/is-it-safe-to-configure-a-us-i2c-sensor-to-the-same-port-multiple-times

No one has answered. I fear this will be the trend on this site. The Lego Mindstorm stuff is great for engaging a younger audience, but the questions that will be asked will be of a completely different nature then the ones we already have on the site. Even the answers themselves will be fundamentally different and wont be accurate for the 2 different audiences that we are looking at.

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