LEGO Mindstorms gains social media site, three iOS apps

Few companies have so completely captured the hearts and minds of children's creativity like LEGO. As a child, I was able to build countless imaginary robots in the comfort of my own home thanks to those brightly colored blocks. And now they're helping you build working robots at home that you can control with your iPhone.

On September 1, LEGO will release Mindstorms EV3, the third generation in the programmable robot-building series. To prepare for the release, LEGO has launched, an online social media site where users can share their own robot designs, find 3D building instructions and download new firmware.

In addition to this online community, LEGO is releasing three separate iPhone apps to help you make the most of your Mindstorms robot: Robot Commander, 3D Builder and Fix the Factory.

The Robot Commander app is probably the most exciting offering from the perspective of your inner 7-year-old builder. It allows you to use your iOS device as a remote control for your personal home-built Johnny 5. You can set your own personal controls scheme for your bot, or use of the five pre-set commands for the included "out-of-box" robots:

  • EV3RSTORM -- integrated voice control software to command every move.

  • R3PTAR -- slither and strike with cobra-like movements with a shake or flick of the wrist.

  • TRACK3R -- thumb-control the mechanical tracks to steer, hammer, shoot or clear a path.

  • SPIK3R -- pinch to control claws or command its scorpion-like tail.

  • GRIPP3R -- thumb-controlled joystick lifts and carries an item to its destination.

Robot Commander also includes a photography feature for sharing your designs on the online Mindstorms community.

The second app, Mindstorms 3D Builder, is the company's first-ever 3D step-by-step building app, and includes instructions for building the five robots included in the Commander app's pre-sets.

Finally, the Mindstorms Fix the Factory app is a puzzle-based game designed to teach kids the problem-solving skills needed for learn basic robotic programming. Fix the Factory is available now, while the other apps will be available when Mindstorm EV3 is released.

Mindstorms EV3 retails for US$349.99.