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Our trip to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

These are a few images from a weekend visit to Chicago in February 1998

big boat

The front entrance has a captured WW II U boat. Quick, how many grey bricks would it take to build it?

Lego on the Farm

Duplo farm equipment is used to keep the newly hatched chicks happy. Lego influences and small models were everywhere in the museum. Good tie ins and product placements!

The layout

A few shots from the famous Museum of Science and Industry Santa Fe layout.

Container Yard

First up is a container yard and oil refinery.


A doublestack car from the container operations showing side clamps.

Top View

Another view of the container yard. This is from the second floor.

Street Railway rolling stock.


A Horsecar. This was a pre-electric streetcar, pulled by a single horse or a team of two. I plan to try to do a small streetcar that looks similar. It's a good candidate because of how small it is. Actually putting a horse in front may be challenging though.

Enclosed Horsecar

Another Horsecar. Many of these horsecars were electrified in the 1880s and 1890s.

Duplo Experience

Duplo Bridge

Nik got a chance to build a duplo bridge, he's not a bad engineer. With a few hints from guess who, he built one that supports his weight.

Note the two buildings in the left rear, those are the John Hancock and Sears Tower, built entirely from Duplos. They're both a good 6 feet high.

Mindstorms Experience

The Mindstorms sessions on the day we went were about robot competition. Each team of 2-3 people (from the same family, typically) are tasked with building a robot that has to follow the black lines, then dump one or more balls into a bin. The competition is to see how many you can do in 3 minutes.

Other days, the sessions are to play with the Mars Rover. I would have preferred that one, but I suspect the robot games are more popular with the kids.

Liz the Mindstorms Guide

This was Liz, our guide and faciliator. She is explaining the playing field and what we are going to try to accomplish. Each session lasts about 40 minutes. I think I scared her a bit with some of my questions... (some veiled references to RTL and idle threats that there might be some hacking the IR port specs or some such drivel... grin )

She is standing in front of the playing field. Each robot can be set to follow the straight line (but then has to climb a small hill) or the squiggly (but level) line from the start point to the goal.

The green bin contains the robot parts.

Robot Parts

Here are the parts you get. On the right is the robot, tricycle gear underneath the brick which forms the bulk of the body. Since we only had 40 minutes, the parts are mostly preassembled. The GUI walks you through what little assembly is actually required.

The robot uses a light sensor (blue and grey at the top middle of the bin) to follow the line. You can choose either right or left of the black within the GUI If you start the bot too far away from the line, it gets confused and spins in circles. Cute but frustrating. Some decorative elements and extra gears are below the robot.

You have a choice of 3 different ball carrying/releasing mechanisms.

Several mechanisms for reaching the pit exist.

GUI showing program

This is a screen shot of the GUI that we used to learn about the robot construction, make choices about which launcher/carrier to use, and program the actual steps the robot carried out. There are motor commands to go straight, turn, run the launcher, sleep, etc. The program actually showing will follow the line on the left, (that's the red block on the left) until a timer goes off (red block on the right) then (in sequence, reading down the 3 green blocks) turn left for 5 seconds, wait for one second, then play sound 1.

Single Ball 'bot

This is an early version of our robot, carrying a single ball, just about to reach the pit. The eyes and dragon wings are purely decorative. You can see the line following light sensor between the wheels. You can also see the light at the end of the line for one of the goal detection mechanisms. Around the pit is the bar, about 10 inches above it. that the wand will detect. The wand is visible (a yellow claw is at the end of it) to the left of the bot. We are about 2-3 seconds away from ball launch at this point. The ball is the most blurred because the bot is turning. (the two course lines, squiggly and hilly, merge at this point)

Team and robot

Here are Taya and Nik watching the robot do another run. They're smiling because their daddy's the best programmer there. This shot gives a good view of the start of the courses showing zags and hills.

The winners

Here is the winning team. We came in second. They used the three ball mechanism as well. We would have aced it, because our robot was programmed to turn after it sensed the pit, ensuring all three balls went in each time. Theirs was getting 2 on average. However I crushed the mechanism about 1:30 into the 3 minute competition taking the robot back for its third run, and it cost some time to rebuild. (about 40 seconds, to be exact...)

Clearly, our loss was due to HARDWARE problems, not software


Thanks for sharing our weekend with us. We had a lot of fun at this museum, we decided to become members even though we live 150 miles away. I hope this tour has given you a sense of what a great time it is.

You can visit the MoSI too, follow this link: The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

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