The Rambling Brick recently attended the LEGO Fan Media Days with our Extra Pieces Collaborator, Jay’s Brick Blog. As part of the event, Fleming Bjørn Jessen, product manager for Powered Up provided an update on the current roadmap for the platform.
It has been a little while since I presented any material on Powered Up, partly because I had been frustrated by the apparent lack of progress and, indeed, the lack of significant new material to discuss.
Powered Up refers to the connected ecosystem for use with LEGO toys: a combination of the Powered Up App; central hubs (some include motors, sensors, and/or lights panels); a hand held remote; sensors and actuators. Sensors include pressure; movement; rotation, light/colour and distant. Actuators include motors, lights and matrix light panels.
There are three fundamental pillars supporting Powered Up:
- Provide unlimited creativity through behaviour building and control
- Enabling new connected play experiences
- Ensuring longevity of Connected play experiences.
The first refers to using the app to provide control, either autonomous or in response to activating controls on a virtual remote (or even the physical remote)
The second refers to providing a ‘home’ for LEGO sets that might not be ‘big enough’ to get their own app. Particularly sets fitting into the LEGO Ideas; LEGO City; Super heroes; Disney; Creator Expert/ICONS lines.
The current connected DUPLO trains use the same underlying protocols, as do the LEGO Super Mario Connected bricks, however, they are all managed within their own app. Control +, which app designed to work with the connected LEGO Technic models is another example of a platform ‘big enough for its own app’
With regard to longevity, it is unlikely that any product will live for ever. However,We saw earlier this year that European law currently requires that any app is maintained to run on current hardware for two years after the associated products are retired (as such, expect LEGO VIDIYO to be available for 2 years after the brick based products were officially retired earlier this year. The vision is that retiring products with their own App will be migrated into Powered Up, ensuring relative longevity of the hardware, after explicit support has been discontinued.
So, what of the roadmap?
Aspects of the roadmap are necessarily vague – the LEGO Group are not in the business of discussing unannounced products. But announcing that we can expect something is interesting in its own right.
But changes are coming up, and many of the 2022 updates have already appeared.
- LEGO City Freight and Passenger Trains
- LEGO ICONS Holiday Main Street
- LEGO Star Wars Droid Commander Migration
- LEGO Coding Canvas upgraded to LEGO Behavious Canvas
- Other LEGO Powered Up features
- Down-In-Age Plug and Play
- Technic Free Play
- New LEGO powered up Product
- Other Powered Up App features
- Boost Migration
- Other LEGO Powered
- New Powered Up Products
- New Powered Up App Features
Flemming moved on to specifically discuss some of the changes that can be seen in this year’s contol panels, which we can see within the Powered Up App – Specifically the City Trains and the new ICON Winter Main Street. The panels now reflect a brick built control panel – reminding us of the intrinsic DNA of the product, and also to allow kids to build the control panel, should they wish.
2022 LEGO City Trains
The New city train panels embrace this Brick built aesthetic:
10308 LEGO ICONS Holiday Main Street
This aesthetic, with a holiday twist is carried over into the new 10308 LEGO ICONS Holiday Main Street control panel, in an update just released at the start of October 2022.
The Model is not, technically a powered up set, but is Powered up ready – it is relatively simple to install the powered up Smart hub, along with the train motor, lights and a some wheels – with or without flanges or tyres, depending on whether or not you are planning to run on rails.
Buttons on the left give us main street sounds, ring a bell, turn the lights on, and bring us snow, visible through the windscreen. The right slider is the throttle, and the left is the brake fo the trolley car. The red and white button is the emergency brake. You can jump through different tunes playing on the radio too.
And then at the end of a long day, you can have a wam cup of cocoa, reached for by a comically long minifigure arm.
Here is a video demonstrating the sounds and imagery of the panel.
LEGO Droid Commander Migration
THE LEGO Star Wars Droid Commander set was retired almost 2 years ago, and the associated App will reach the end of its supported life at the end of the year. As such, the core content will be brought over to the Powered Up App at the end of the year. The existing app is quite large: over 800 MB. As such, the story mode, with its associated programs and challenges will not be transferred.
We will get another update of the Powered Up app towards the end of the year, carrying over control panels for the three droids included in 75253 Droid commander: R2-D2, Gonk and Mouse droids. We were given a sneak peek of what the control panel for Artoo might look like:
LEGO Behaviour Canvas
We will not only see the Droid Commander migration later in the year. We will also see a complete revision of the Creative Canvas user interface. Part of the goal is to make the system more intuitive to use, along with fitting in with Web Accessibility guidelines: ensuring icons have better contrast, making them clearer to kids and adults with vision issues, including colour blindness.
Behaviour blocks – as they will be known, lets be honest, they dont actually involve the generation of code – will also gain built in help: A long press on the block will reveal an information icon: tap that to get a panel explaining how that particular block works.
This behaviour has long existed in the LEGO Boost App, and it cannot come to Powered Up soon enough. These information panels may not exist for all behaviour blocks on day one, but we can expect them to roll out over subsequent updates.
There will also be some changes to the tools available in the interactive controllers too – again, changing to a brick built aesthetic. We can probably also expect video examples, similar to LEGO Super Mario, appear with time.
This is certainly a more ‘LEGO Like experience than the current offerings for controllers in the Powered Up App, which don’t have a huge ‘LEGO Feel’ at all.
Going forward to 2023, there were 2 items we received minimal information about: Down-Ageing Plug and Play – I presume this is introducing some simple controls for use with minimal coding for younger/less experienced kids. Will this be a simple throttle and and steering controls auto populating the control panel, depending on what motors and sensors have been plugged into the hub? Or something else?
Likewise, we have heard little about the ‘Technic free play’ controls to be introduced next year. I expect that model specific controls will remain within the Control+ App, and this might just be ‘simple’ custom controls to allow people to animate a Technic MOC.
The Fate of Boost Creative Toolbox 17101
I really appreciate this set, providing a great opportunity to mobilize your models, and the plan to migrate the Boost App content to Powered up in 2024 makes me think that the set is due to retire at the end of the year: with the app being required to be maintained for 2 years after the physical product’s retirement before its migration to Powered Up. The hub itself is, of course, currently supported by both the Powered up remote, as well as the remote control.
Q&A: Virtual machine, avoiding obselescence
One of the ongoing problems brought up is the issue of using Powered Up in the public Expo environment, where bluetooth interference, and issues with models going out of range can be significant. Since 2019, there has been talk of a virtual machine being introduced, allowing MOCs to continue to run without being in contact with a smart device or remote control. This continues to provide the development team with difficulties, particularly in establishing just what can be saved to the Powered up hubs. This functionality is available, to an extent, using the Pybricks firmware, a third party product which allows programs to be installed on the hubs, so the obstacles in the way of the development team are not entirely clear in this case. Perhaps it is, in part, having the hub accessible to the app, as well as having room for programs installed using a virtual machine.
Another challenge affecting the use of models in public displays is their dependence on batteries.
The issue of hardware not being supported in the future has previously been touched upon. One aspect that was touched on by Flemming was the ability of the Powered Up app to address the IR capabilities of the Boost light/colour sensor, allowing IT Control codes, compatible with power functions to be transmitted. I experimented with this a little a year or two ago, but didn’t post on the topic. I will aim to visit this in the next few months.
I am glad to see where things are heading, but I do feel that some aspects, such as the in-app documentation have been a long time coming. That said, the team have limited resources, particularly for the ‘non product based’ functionality of the app. I am a little disappointed by the overall content: with the exception of the new trains, and ‘Brick Built’ controllers, not much has changed from the ‘coming soon’ from last year. We do appear to have a more concrete date for the Behaviour Canvas Update, in Early December, it this was previously promised for ‘before the end of 2021.’ However, since the 2021 update, there has been another round of AFOL consultation, so perhaps that update will arrive as promised.
What do you hope to see implemented in Powered up? Why not leave your comments below (I will aim to pass these on to the development team in a few weeks) and until next time,
To attend the RLFM days, I travelled to Billund at my own expense. I am grateful for the opportunity provided by members of the AFOL Engagement team to attend, and to Jay from Jay’s Brick Blog for extending the invitation to accomapnay him. we shall have new content on Extrapieces pertaining to the Trip to Billund Real Soon Now.