retroboticsThe 10-year-old has been getting into my old Mindstorms RCX stuff. I wrote an article about back when it was cutting-edge, and it’s been sitting mostly idle ever since. The laptop he’s using (the only one in the house that talks reliably to the old IR tower for sending programs to the RCX)  is older than he is, but it still works fine for this kind of thing.

The main RCX brick and sensors work without a hitch, but the motor bricks are seizing up (and I found out the hard way that spray lubricant makes things irretrievably worse). So I printed up a brick-compatible case for one of those ubiquitous gearmotors, and now he can make stuff that moves as well as making noises on command.

He used one of the later-generation Mindstorms kits at a summer camp, but he says he actually likes the RCX better because the hardware and software are simpler. Maybe ultimately less powerful, but easier to figure out what’s going on to start with. I have to admit to liking it better because it’s easier to hack: no worrying about cable pinouts or encoder protocols, just get the wires in contact and go.

But RCX resources are disappearing from the net as ever-newer bricks come out and the hackers who reverse-engineered the RCX ultimately lose interest even in keeping their old code available. Lejos is still out there. NQC, well sort of. pbForth has vanished into the bit bucket. Maybe I should download all this stuff now and put it on a thumb drive to transfer to the old laptop…

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