Can I use a MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor hub with SPIKE Prime?


mindstorms spike prime firmware

In their press release at the end of 2022, LEGO announced the retirement of the LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor kit. They promised support until 2024, but we are nearing the end of that year now. What will happen to your MINDSTORMS app? Should you still buy such a kit? Will it be useless soon? Luckily, there are some alternatives. Read on to find out.

LEGO’s official press release

Let’s start with the full press release about the discontinuation of the set.

Billund October 26th2022: Since its launch in September 1998, LEGO MINDSTORMS has been one of the core ‘Build & Code’ experiences in the company’s portfolio, carrying with it significant brand equity and becoming a stand-out experience for the early days of consumer robotics and leading to current Build & Code experiences such as SPIKE Prime, from LEGO Education’s LEGO Learning System. 

However, now having a number of priorities in LEGO Education and other Build & Code experiences, we have decided to focus our resources and future plans by redirecting our MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor team and their expertise into different areas of the business.  

This means the physical MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor product (51515) and its related elements (88016 and 88018) are to exit our portfolio from the end of 2022, whilst digital platforms – such as the LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor App – will remain live until at least the end of 2024.  

We still have strong belief in the Build & Code proposition and will continue to support it through platforms such as SPIKE Prime, and we are continuing to hold on to the trademark for the MINDSTORMS brand and assessing our future plans together with LEGO Education.

The state of the current apps

Currently, the MINDSTORMS apps are still available in all app stores. I believe they will remain there for some years beyond 2024. The thing with app stores is that the organizations running them, add requirements for developers and develop new hardware all the time. To keep an app in the store requires continued software development. LEGO will not invest in these apps anymore. So they will gradually disappear or become unusable on newer hardware platforms.

Unlike plastic-only LEGO, the LEGO with electronics has a much shorter lifetime. Robot Inventor is probably one of the most short-lived products ever. That being said, for a toy company, LEGO is doing great. The average toy breaks down at gets dumped within weeks to years, leading to a lot of plastic waste. And traditionally, the MINDSTORMS brand has had a very long life. EV3 has lasted for more than 20 years and is still going strong in some communities.

SPIKE Prime software for MINDSTORMS hubs?

The MINDSTORMS hub has the same shape as the SPIKE hub, so you’d expect the firmware to be compatible. Until SPIKE2 — the previous major version — that was the case. But the current version, SPIKE3, stopped working. I was unable to install SPIKE3 on a MINDSTORMS hub. The SPIKE app tells me that ‘An error occurred’ as soon as I connect a MINDSTORMS hub.

However, I have never really felt the need to use SPIKE. I just tried it out of interest because there is a much better alternative to all LEGO apps: Pybricks.

Enter Pybricks: A Powerful Alternative

Pybricks has emerged as a powerful tool for LEGO robotics enthusiasts. It offers several advantages over the official platforms:

  1. Stability and Better API: Pybricks provides a more stable environment with less crashes and bugs.
  2. More Pythonic API: Pybricks has a superior API for teaching kids how to write code. It is easier to use and closer to real-life programming.
  3. Block-Based Programming: Pybricks has Word Blocks too. It’s great because you can convert blocks to Python, unlike in the LEGO app. This feature makes Pybricks accessible for beginners who prefer visual programming, while also providing an easy transition to text-based coding as they advance.
  4. Compatibility with most Smart Hubs and battery boxes: Pybricks has a universal interface and API for all abandoned and active LEGO hubs.
  5. Web-based app: No need to install software on your laptop. And it runs on Chromebooks!

Robot Inventor is still alive!

As we bid farewell to the LEGO MINDSTORMS app, it’s reassuring to know that alternatives like Pybricks are not only available but also offer enhanced features and stability. Whether you’re an educator looking for reliable tools for your classroom or a hobbyist eager to explore new possibilities in robotics, Pybricks provides a versatile platform that caters to both beginners and advanced users alike.

I really like the inventory of the Robot Inventor set — it is quite versatile — and I will keep developing one-kit models for some time. The price of the set has gone up a bit, as it has gone out of stock at all major retailers. You can still find some sets on Bricklink or second hand in your area. If you see a 51515 MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor set at a good price, go for it! It has awesome play value.

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