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Sometimes robots just need a little TLC

We have used Lego MindStorm robots in the classroom for about five years now. Students apply programming techniques by writing short routines causing the robots to perform basic maneuvers. We had seven of them in service when the LCD displays began to act up on two.

Without a functioning LCD they were basically useless so the options were to dispose and replace them, send them in for repair or attempt a do-it-yourself fix. Tossing them and buying new ones didn't fit our budget so that left repair as the direction to take.

On-line research showed two things. First, I could find no official repair service for the robots not even from the Lego Company. Secondly, I found a malfunctioning LCD is quite common among the robots and after a little more searching came across a promising do-it-yourself repair procedure.

I contacted the colleague who uses the robots and discussed the findings. We agreed to meet between the fall and spring semesters and give the procedure a try; after all we had nothing to lose. When he arrived with the broken gadgets, we immediately started the repair. The steps of the repair dictated we open the unit, disconnect the LCD screen to gain access to the reverse side, and resolder bad electrical connections.

Having some micro/miniature soldering experience, I knew to inspect for cold solder joints. Upon disassembly of the first unit we found and resoldered suspicious looking joints. After reassembling the unit we powered it up and happily found the repair had been successful. Repeating the process on the second unit worked equally as well.

We were happy with the outcome. The landfill is spared, operating costs are contained, but the real winner is the student who gains the valuable hands-on time that is so important to learning.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in company repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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