The above picture was taken at nearly 100,000 feet by a Mindstorms-powered camera as part of H.A.L.E — the "High Altitude LEGO Extravaganza". Projects built by college professors, middle school students, and hobbyists were sent up on a weather balloon, which burst when it reached an altitude of 30 kilometers (you can see bits of the balloon in the picture), sending the LEGO projects wafting back to Earth via parachutes. Major kudos to LEGO for sponsoring such fun science. It's great to know there is still more to LEGO than Star Wars and theme parks. Press release after the jump.
RENO, Nev. (July 29, 2008) – College professors, middle school students and robotics hobbyists unite today to launch seven robots into the Earth’s stratosphere to collect data, explore conditional effects and to set a world record as part of the High Altitude LEGO® Extravaganza. Joining The LEGO Group to support the science experiment are Nevada Space Grant, the University of Nevada-Reno, Energizer and National Instruments in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the LEGO MINDSTORMS® robotics platform. The MINDSTORMS robots will be launched from a desert location 30 miles East of Reno, Nevada into near space on an atmospheric weather balloon that will reach an altitude of more than 100,000 feet (30km). Once it reaches maximum altitude, the balloon will burst and the robots will parachute back down to the Earth individually or as a group depending on the robot’s desired experiment. Results from the experiment will be posted online at www.mindstorms.com. “When we developed MINDSTORMS, our goal was to pioneer a revolutionary play experience that combined the best of LEGO building with the power of new technologies to enable children to design, build and program robots,” said Steven Canvin, global manager for The LEGO Group. “Little did we know that the potential of the kit would spark the imagination of users of all ages and lead to such innovative, playful and practical applications; MINDSTORMS is now used around the world to entertain, educate and energize innovation in homes, in schools, universities and businesses.” “The H.A.L.E. project underscores how play can lead to discovery and learning for children and adults alike,” Canvin continued. “This is what we believe has made MINDSTORMS so globally successful over the last 10 years.” Brian Davis, a part-time professor at Indiana University, contributed two of his custom robots to the experiment. The first has been programmed to automate an off-the-shelf digital camera to take both still and video images while in the balloon. The second robot will attempt a world record for the longest MINDSTORMS NXT free-fall; the robot will detach from the balloon at maximum altitude and fall until a pre-programmed parachute is deployed. “I love building LEGO mechanisms because the inherent limitations and versatility of the medium offer unique design challenges,” said Davis. “Additionally, since LEGO bricks are infinitely reusable, I can build and test prototypes much faster than I could in other mediums. I’m excited to take my experiments to a new level; I’ve never tried to build a robot that could function under these conditions and function right the very first time. 100,000 feet above ground is no place for a mistake.” Children are also getting involved in H.A.L.E. FIRST LEGO League Team 90 from Virginia is getting a head start on this year’s annual challenge, “Climate Connections”, by sending up a robot they created that has been programmed to measure and log UV radiation as a function of altitude while on board the weather balloon. “I am confident that the team will learn something about earth science and Global Warming through this program,” said David Levy, coach of the team. “We are treating our participation as a FIRST LEGO League research project for the upcoming season’s challenge, so I expect that the team will learn how to seek out the advice of experts in the field, come up with their own solutions through experimentation, document their work and have lots of fun in the process.” Other robots will seek to collect data in relation to ozone concentration, the impact of varying temperatures and air pressure on objects, particles in the air, impact of flight conditions and varying g-forces as a function of altitude. Energizer provided H.A.L.E. participants with long-lasting Energizer® Lithium AA batteries, which are 33 percent lighter than ordinary alkaline batteries and perform in extreme temperatures from -40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 to 60 degrees C), which are ideal for the conditions the robots are anticipated to experience on the balloon.