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Is the NXT really just a toy?

In my current effort to find a solution to a problem we had with my team's FLL robot, someone chose to remind me that the NXT is "just a toy". But I'm not so sure I agree with that view anymore---not when it is a required competition vehicle for thousands of FLL teams....not when schools are encouraged to spend thousands of hard-to-come-by dollars to use it in the classroom.

Don't get me wrong, I love the NXT, and "evangelize" for it everywhere I go; but what I'm not loving is LEGO's seeming lack of commitment and responsiveness to NXT owners. Even as a member of the MCP (MINDSTORMS Community Partners), nothing I've seen has changed that view. The primary reason I've stayed on the MCP (as the only woman, mother or non-professional scientist) is to speak up for "everyperson." But, I have to tell you, I don't think I'm making much headway.

For "rocket scientists" this may be just a toy, but for parents it's an expensive investment in their child's future. The corporation that invested thousands of dollars in kits for my local schools doesn't look at it as a toy. Yes, it's a fun way to stimulate interest in engineering---but that doesn't make it a toy. (And they don't want to see their HUGE investment in the team's travel turn to ashes because of an glitch in the system.)

If LEGO and LEGO Education didn't actively encourage its use in competition and education, they might be able to use the argument that it's just a toy, but even so, this mother doesn't think that's an excuse for ignoring the consumer.

Why can't I buy replacement or supplemental parts for NXT and TECHNIC kits? After two years on the MCP, I still don't know! Why does LEGO depend solely on volunteer advocates for problem solving?

I'd like to hear from the whole NXT community (not just the MCP). Is the NXT "just a toy?" Are you happy with LEGO support? Is it no big deal if a robot inexplicably fails during an FLL competition? Do anyone else feel taken for granted---or put down, for raising an issue or complaining?

JimK would like to add: As a former MDP and now MCP member, I have used the "it's a toy" argument before, but that was typically used to remind my colleagues that we should always keep in mind the major audience for the NXT - kids. It is a toy... and it isn't. It's an exceptional learning tool and we SHOULD speak up when it doesn't work as desired (meaning NXT-G or something as simple as a Touch Sensor). One of our jobs on this blog is to encourage discussion and point out the GOOD and the BAD in our favorite robotics kit. I'll join Fay in asking our readers to chime in here and talk about the NXT and its life-cycle - is it a mature product? Does it have problems? Where can the kit go from here? What can LEGO do to increase the success of the kit? When will we have micro-commerce (official, not BrickLink) for replacing not just electronics but that single, lost 15L beam? Where is Waldo? (Oops... wrong blog.)

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