It took eight months to build using only spare time, but an electronically controllable ABB robot made out of LEGO bricks is a spectacular thing to behold.
With the amazing success of the recent LEGO® Movie, it seems that the famous brand devoted to childhood creativity is getting exposure everywhere—and it should, the LEGO Movie brilliantly captures the essence of what it means to let your imagination run wild.
Based in Billund, Denmark, LEGO has been selling its famous bricks and harnessing the power of imagination since 1932. You could easily argue that it is one of the most important and influential childhood toys in the history of the world.
So when we saw that some talented adults decided to spend the last eight months building an ABB IRB 120 robot out of the legendary bricks using just their spare time, we were thrilled. Watch the movie to see for yourself, and then read more about the accomplishment below.
Both ABB and LEGO can trace their beginnings to Scandinavia (one half of ABB—then ASEA—was started in Västerås, Sweden, in the late 1800s), and have more in common than you might initially think. From simple solutions to complex problems, to the undeniably popular Scandinavian design language, the two companies share similar roots.
And with the advent of programmable LEGO robotics in the form the LEGO Mindstorms set, it is now possible to recreate the real world in brick format—which is where the organization BrickIt comes into the picture.
Founded by Kenneth Madsen and Lasse Lauesen, BrickIt is a LEGO User Group that exists to bring life to LEGO using the tools available through Mindstorms. Kenneth is a Software Engineer at a company in the UK, while Lasse happens to be a Computer Engineer for LEGO—both are members of Mindstorms Community Partner, which is a community of about 70 adult fans selected by LEGO. Although BrickIt is not officially affiliated with LEGO, the two mens’ statuses mean they do get some support from the company in the form of bricks, parts, exhibit space at various events and the ability to test Mindstorms software and prototypes.
Over the past several years, both of them got to know the Vice President of ABB Robotics Denmark unit, Steffen Enemark, closely through a joint love of everything LEGO. When Steffen suggested some time ago that it would be fun to build an ABB robot out of LEGO, he had forgotten about it until the pair surprised him recently with the debut of an ABB IRB 120 made entirely of LEGO and controllable via an Android App.
“It was a complete surprise to me when Kenneth and Lasse told me what they’d done,” says Steffen. “They both love robots and LEGO, and spent eight months in secret building the LEGO IRB 120 without any funding or encouragement from me—just out of their passion. Since its unveiling we have people all around the world, both within and outside ABB, asking to get one of their very own. It’s a great development because there is a common mindset between playing with LEGO and creating solutions for industrial automation. It’s all about solving tricky problems in an efficient and creative way.”
“The reason we do what we do is because we have a passion for robotics, automation and LEGO,” says Lasse. “There’s nothing like the feeling of impressing people with a creation, and that is what has kept us going for the past four years where we’ve come up with a variety of creations that demonstrate robotics and automation using LEGO. It’s like the LEGO slogan “Joy of building, pride of creation”—we learn a lot about the engineering aspects of the models that we’re building.”
The LEGO version of the IRB 120 is so accurate that it mimics every shape and curve. It also has all 6 axes for the same freedom of movement that the real thing has. Sure, it won’t be moving as quickly as the original or carry the same payloads, but nonetheless it is a pretty spectacular recreation of an industrial robot that finds itself in assembly and pick-and-place operations in factories all over the world.
“We’ve traveled the world with our LEGO creations, where LEGO brought us along as inspiration and mentors for the upcoming engineers and young inventors of tomorrow,” says Kenneth. “We really enjoy talking to the kids and telling them about how we use LEGO as a platform to educate ourselves about engineering concepts.”
It’s great to see this kind of example being set for our children. Early on in childhood development is when we see passion for future careers taking root. By playing with LEGO as a child and then moving on to the Mindstorms EV3 set as a young adult, the next generation of creatively skilled robot programmers and designers is being born—something that’s clearly important for the future of our planet.