Pushing Forward with Powered Up

I have been frustrated, waiting for the ability to control the new Technic® Smart Hub (used in the 4×4 and Liebherr Excavator) with the Powered Up App. This will allow us to control that hub using programs created in the Powered Up Software. Seriously, the first hardware came out in August, and we can’t control it using any method supplied by LEGO® except for the Control+ App – which is designed to only control the principle model in the sets that include that hardware.

Therefore, I got just a little excited when the following communication, announcing the next update for the Powered Up App, arrived via the LEGO Ambassador’s Network:…

Ready for an early Christmas present? We are super excited to reach this milestone in our digital system in play, with LEGO® Powered Up 3.0. With this update we hope to further empower your creativity and enable all of you to rebuild the world. Also, we have a fresh new look!

What’s new?

·         For those of you that have more than one hub, good news, you are now able to connect, address, code, and control multiple hubs (up to four actually).

·         The app now fully supports the new LEGO TECHNIC hardware. You are now able to connect the new LEGO TECHNIC hub, and use the internal tilt sensor, as well as the new LEGO TECHNIC motors. For the real techy ones, the app can read values from internal sensors (orientation (X, Y, Z), and acceleration (X, Y, Z) of the TECHNIC Medium Hub (Hub128). From the app you can pair motors on port AB, and CD. The app also supports the TECHNIC Large Linear Motor (Motor no. 2) and TECHNIC XL Linear Motor (Motor no. 3). From the app you can regulate power, speed and position of motors.

·         Last but not least, the app has gotten a makeover! We’ve given the interior of the two lobbies a thorough clean-up and made it easier for you to create new projects. We’ve also cleaned up the canvas a bit, and don’t worry, all of your canvas features are still available in the little menu in the bottom right corner. 

Feedback wanted

This is just the beginning. With this update comes a promise and commitment to keep improving and listening to your feedback. If it’s not too much to ask, please help us become even better by sharing your ideas for improvements, and your awesome creations with the LEGO Powered Up app.

Multiple Hubs!

Technic Smart Hub!

Technic L and XL Linear motor control.

This brings me great joy. Checkout this video shared by our friends over at Hispabrick magazine, using the tilt sensors in the Technic Smart Hub to control a Powered Up Batmobile.

Stirring stuff. I have been putting some projects on hold, due to the limitations on using this hardware up until now: I am not a clever coder: I have not achieved anything beyond ‘Hello World’ in any language other than Applesoft Basic. And that was a good 30 years ago. I lack the skills to directly address Bluetooth ports and protocols. However, code blocks I can deal with. For now.

Future Legacy Issues: Apps and Phones don’t live forever.

But there are some other things that I would like to consider, but not necessarily dealt with in this update. What about running Powered Up hardware without a connected tablet or phone…

Mobile phone/connected device technology has progressed so far in the last 10 years, since Power Functions was introduced. How will it develop over the next 10, and what guarantees do we have that the software will continue to be supported across mobile OS platforms? Will it all still be supported, or will the LEGO® promise in every element be broken through the obsolescence of 3rd party provided devices? Trains from the 1960’s still run using the original hardware. Will the same be able to be said for the current batch of LEGO Trains?

Imagine the scenario with my (as yet unconceived) grandchildren, 20 years from now, in 2039: They are rummaging through my box of LEGO goodies, with no documentation, and coming across the boost or Powered Up Hubs, and some motors and a sensor with compatible plugs. The hub is powered up, with a motor plugged in. The hub searches for a remote and then an app using bluetooth: Of course, if it finds a phone, tablet or cerebral implant (potentially in development by that time) over bluetooth, chances are that it will not be able to run the final version of the Powered Up Software released in 2027. This choice of year is purely speculative.

But think of the potential, if the hub is turned on, and then fails to connect to a remote or device running an app. It could then enter a ‘no connection’ mode… resulting in activation of a number of default program states, depending on what components were plugged into the hub..

What could we do with a ‘nothing connected mode?’ – Speculative Models Only. This doesn’t exist…yet.

This section does not represent the reality that we currently live in. It is wishful thinking. It was in part inspired by conversations with the Powered Up/ Product technology team at he Recognised Fan Media Days, and further driven by some discussion with members of a workgroup sourced in the ambassadors network. The videos here have very simple control mechanisms behind the scenes

Motor Only

It could wait for a press on the solitary green button on the hub (either short, long, or a double tap), and start any attached motors running. Bingo: half of the Powered Up GBC problems solved overnight! The other half would involve having the device plugged into an AC outlet, for continuous power all day.

At present, we achieve this by applying a weight to a button on the remote control all day!

Motor and Sensor

What if a motor and the Boost sensor (color and distance) were attached to the same hub? The color sensor in this unit can be a bit unpredictable, so rather than rely on green for go and red for stop, distance might be a bit more reliable. To say nothing about easier to experiment with, and make offline conclusions with. Alternatively, the sensor could act as a toggle switch – proximity on/proximity off.

Here are the code blocks used to drive this model:

Motor and Servo Motor

How about a ‘simple motor’ and servo motor attached to the same hub? The servo motor could act as a speed control dial for the other motor. Of course, while this could be useful in some circumstances, it might not be so useful if the model is a powered car, with the servo motor actually driving the steering motion. BUT we are looking at considerations for the future when apps are no longer being updates or supported, and so I don’t think it is an entirely useless scenario. If there are two servo motors connected, perhaps one of the ports could be the designated in firmware as ‘control port.’

Here are the code blocks used to drive this model:

While these are great, as pipe dreams, I suspect we can only hope that they might come to pass at some point in the future. To have these elements essentially functionless in the future would be incredibly disappointing.

Of course, some of these concerns could also be alleviated if we were to have a ‘dumb’ battery box available – with a simple switch. Such a device would not be an immense technical challenge to create, but bringing it to market might be: no powered elements ever come to the market without an associated set incorporating them. Hopefully we might see this in the future, but until then, Powered Up 3.0 will provide us with plenty of scope for expanding the way in which we can use the Powered Up elements.

In conclusion… plus the Powered Up team want our help

I am excited to see the forthcoming improvements in the next version of the Powered Up App. Multi hub access, as well as access to the relatively new Technic Elements are features that people have been crying out for for some time. In the mean time, there are still some features to consider to make static displays, without connected devices, a feasible option.

In the mean time, the Powered Up team are keen to get feedback on the new software (other than ‘when will it be here…’). I’d love to hear about your experiences when it arrives ( hopefully in the next week), and will pass on any comments to the Powered Up team, as they roll in.

I’ll update this post when the new software arrives, and will look at some of the new features once I have had a chance to play with it.

Until then…

Play Well!

The Powered Up Hub and M-Motor used in this post, as well as Classic set were provided by the AFOL Engagement Team of the LEGO Group for experimentation and review purposes. Boost elements ( servo motor used as a speed control; and the distance sensor) were purchased by myself.

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