Arvind Seshan is a college student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He began building with MINDSTORMS at the age of six and has won numerous accolades for his work including winning the Champion’s Award at FIRST World Championships and having his robots displayed at events all around the world. He has taught over a million students how to build and program with LEGO MINDSTORMS and SPIKE Prime. When not working with LEGO, he is usually working on his science research which has also won international-level awards. Sometimes the two areas collide and Arvind uses MINDSTORMS in his research or uses the knowledge from his research in his MINDSTORMS projects. Arvind enjoys teaching and mentoring other students. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he hopes to collaborate with the Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten group where MINDSTORMS and Scratch were born.
How did you get started playing with LEGO MINDSTORMS?
I owned a few small LEGO Star Wars sets such as Anakin’s Starfigher when I was younger, but what got me really interested in LEGO was the programmable aspect of MINDSTORMS. I received an NXT set when I was six years old. A few months later, I was part of a FIRST LEGO League team where I was not only building with the NXT, but programming it to solve different challenges. I continued in the FIRST LEGO League program for seven years. I also started creating my own designs outside of competitions in 2015 after meeting several adult MINDSTORMS Community Partners (MCPs) at World Maker Faire in New York. Many years later, I was invited to become an MCP!
What impact have LEGO robots had on you?
LEGO robotics has been a great way for me to explore engineering and programming skills. I attribute my interests in computer science and mechanical engineering to playing with MINDSTORMS starting at a young age. MINDSTORMS and SPIKE Prime have also been a creative outlet for me. In addition to writing lessons, I spend my spare time working on many fun projects including Tic-Tac-Toe machines, games like Connect 4, 3D Printers, and more. My goal is always to design a model that not only functions as intended, but is also aesthetically pleasing. I want to create something that others will be inspired by in the same way that MCPs once inspired me.
You can bring so many ideas to life with LEGO bricks and a bit of code.
What inspired you to create the models in the Robot Inventor App?
My brother (Sanjay) and I have collaborated on many projects throughout the years. We have three models in the App. I will discuss two of them.
original Melody Maker was one of our early EV3 demonstration robots that we took to a school near Pittsburgh. Children like music and color and this project was a nice combination of the two. The EV3 version was very different but the concept of playing musical notes based on colors was the same. Melody Maker is deliberately designed to use a minimal number of bricks to capture a child’s curiosity and demonstrate the capabilities of the Robot Inventor. There is a special hidden feature in the model. If you would like to color your own musical notes on a strip of paper, you can easily adjust the height of the color sensor to have it drive over paper instead of LEGO brick.
large multi-player game that my brother and I built many years ago to take to the MINDSTORMS booth at FIRST World Championships and World Robot Olympiad. In addition, it was taken to LEGOWORLD where it was played by the owner of the LEGO Group, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. Since it was so much fun to play, we wanted to make a two-player version of the game that made use of the hub-to-hub feature on Robot Inventor. Color Catcher makes use of the hub for a competitive but fun game. We use the center button light on the hub to indicate what color to go to. The left and right buttons on the hub let you change direction, and tapping on the hub itself makes the robot move forward. This makes the entire model very interactive.
What are your tips for young robot builders?
When talking to young children, I find that they are comfortable when building with instructions but find it challenging to build on their own. Building the robots in the set is a great way to start learning how to build and program. Once you are comfortable with how the pieces fit together, try to build your own designs. You can start by simply modifying an existing build into something you want. Next, think about what type of project you want to make. A printer? A bipedal robot? A swing? A dancer? Think about what type of mechanism you might need to have. Try to prototype that mechanism first. I found that books by Yoshihito Isogawa have nuggets of inspiration in them. A lot of the mechanism can be used in other models. Remember that it might take several prototypes before you come up with the final design. My most important piece of advice is not to give up.
Whether it is science research or making something with LEGO, persistence and enjoying what you work on have been the key to success.
I have built a handful of robots from the MINDSTORMS sets but my real passion only came from using the bricks to create my own models including games and machines. It might seem like a challenge at first to not have any building instructions, but the best part of working with LEGO as your creative medium is being able to take it apart to start all over again or to improve the model. I became a better builder and programmer with each project.
Since it is the 25th anniversary of MINDSTORMS, what is your favorite MINDSTORMS project or memory?
My favorite project would be the 4ft X 6ft Pac-Bot game that my brother and I built. It was tricky from both a mechanical and programming standpoint. On the programming side, we had to have 13 or so EV3s all networked together and displaying scores to a Raspberry Pi screen. On the mechanical side, this large board had to be modular so that it could be packed and taken to events around the world. We also wanted to make the whole system reusable for future projects. My favorite moment is playing Pac-Bot with Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen in Denmark.