Way back in April of last year, LEGO Education announced the launch of 45678 SPIKE Prime, a new Scratch-based tool in classroom programming. After some delay from the original August 2019 release, it’s now available for purchase and we’ve been fortunate enough to receive a copy to review. We’re excited to see what we learn about this fascinating new set! LEGO Education 45678 SPIKE Prime is available now from the LEGO Education shop for $329.95 USD.
Additionally, with the 40th anniversary of LEGO Education this week, we’re also sharing loads of cool information about the history of the department and its contributions to STEAM learning (Covered over multiple articles). It’s not every day we get to dive deep into a set from a division of the company that has been mildly separated and not intended for general distribution. This division of LEGO is really getting into its stride lately, and the future holds exciting things!
The box and packaging
Our copy of the set was sent to us previously opened, and we were told that this was because they wanted to check to make sure everything was there and working properly before sending it. Everything was fine, but because it was open, we do not have pictures or complete commentary regarding how the set would normally look when you first obtain it. Instead, we’ll focus on some of the cool details about the box itself.
Like some other sets sold through LEGO Education, it comes in a sturdy plastic tote rather than a cardboard box. If I could get my hands on a couple dozen of these boxes I would be one happy camper! And it’s certainly perfect for continuous classroom use and storage. One of the best features is the set of sorting trays nested in the top. They have nifty pictures to aid with organizing parts. We learned mid-review that images came from a large sticker sheet so that you could place them yourself. (As a side note, the 603-piece, $99.95 expansion set does come in cardboard, unlike the EV3 expansion tote.)
There’s plenty of room in the bottom to add additional components, or even combine two copies into a single box (if you’re looking to take up less space). Just make sure you label the electronics to differentiate the two sets!
New and unique building elements
Past robotics sets have tended to be either heavily system based (like WeDo or BOOST) or Technic based (like NXT or EV3). Although it still contains primarily Technic pieces, this set has a solid handful of new elements designed to both make Technic building easier, and attempt to bridge the gap between the two systems. While a few are showing up in other new sets, they’re still fairly scarce. One of the most notable elements would be familiar to fans who purchased sets from the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) Designer Program on Bricklink several months ago. Those sets came with an exclusive printed 2×4 brick with axle holes on the top. This element is not printed in the SPIKE Prime set, but comes in five colors, with 3 of each.
While the set is intended for 6-8th graders, it’ll also have adult Technic junkies drooling. In addition to the 2×4 bricks, it contains several colorful, new, and somewhat exclusive elements; some of which we’ve been begging for forever. In fact, these parts were very briefly on Bricks and Pieces but were sold out so fast that many people still don’t know they exist.
The set includes two each of a pair of new Technic frame sizes (7×13 and 11×15), a set of four new wheels with solid, reduce-friction tires (the expansion set includes a larger version of these wheels for use in FIRST LEGO League competition), a new castor design, seventeen wire clips in six colors, and three 28-tooth bevel gears. But the best elements are arguably the eight 1x3x3 “Biscuits” (black and magenta) and two 11×19 yellow Technic baseplates. The designers tell us that last one was not only for young students, but also a nod to teens and adults who have begged for the part. So many possibilities! Hopefully we’ll see more color variety in the future.
Interestingly, our copy of the set lists 523 pieces, while the website advertises it as 528. It came with an unopened “extras” polybag containing pieces included in that total but not listed on the inventory sheet. Side note: the 3L pin (of which there are 10) was almost excluded from the set until a few lucky individuals who had extra early access were shocked it wasn’t included.
On to the super-fun stuff and one of the biggest reasons we wanted a closer look at this set! SPIKE Prime brings us a handful of lovely electronics that we just couldn’t wait to play with. They have the same connectors as the new Powered Up and BOOST elements, and they also look similar to those and other LEGO robotics systems. The thin cords eliminate the need for popping them on and off like the bulky NXT and EV3 ones. That said, they give you a fixed length. Fortunately we have those nifty new clips to contain them!
Most notably, the “Hub” is a great little piece of hardware that packs a decent punch for its small size. The included long-life, rechargeable, lithium-ion battery composes most of its light weight, and the “brains” take up a pretty small amount of space within the housing. There are plenty of building connection points as well as 6 universal motor/sensor ports, and it can be connected to your devices via Bluetooth or micro USB cord (included). Inside we have a 6-axis gyro sensor, which allows for many more programming possibilities. It also has a small speaker, and a 5×5 matrix grid screen, both of which we’ll come back to shortly. Fun fact: the designers chose yellow to pay homage to the original RCX Hub from LEGO Mindstorms.
The color sensor is similar to its predecessors, but it has updated technology for better accuracy, right down to a tiny dot. It also doubles as a light sensor and is half the size of older versions!
The force sensor is also similar to predecessors but smaller and updated. It can handle up to 10 Newtons of pressure, which is equivalent to roughly 1kg. When you press the button you can immediately tell the difference because it actually takes some effort to compress it (as opposed to NXT or EV3 touch sensors that have essentially no resistance).
A distance/ultrasonic sensor that looks very much like its cousins is included too. Using sound waves, it can discern distances from 1-200cm. The EV3 has the slight advantage, with detection up to 250cm. But the “eyes” of the EV3 are pre-set to glow or blink based on the action taking place, while SPIKE’s eyes can be programmed to react differently. The designers tell us this was incorporated after suggestions from many fans.
Rounding out the family, we have a trio of one large and two medium angular motors with integrated rotation sensors and absolute positioning. Their strength appears to be comparable to that of BOOST motors, but perhaps an in-depth comparison of this and other motors/sensors is best for another day.
One of the most important features about this whole family is how easy they are to build with. Their dimensions are not only compact — they slide perfectly within Technic frames and built structures. The flat cords fit into notches within the motor/sensor casing to prevent them from getting in the way. Plus they’re squared off, unlike the NXT or EV3 which both have awkward shapes and protruding beams for attachment. They also have plenty of connection points, reducing frustration while trying to fit things together.
The instructions and lesson plans
When you open this set, you’ll find that it contains a large graphic of the first three steps: insert the battery, turn it on, and head online to the LEGO Education start page. Here there is a wealth of information on getting started and troubleshooting. The tutorials are so straightforward, you can’t go wrong. And as soon as you’re ready, there are easy to use lesson plans for jumping right into learning. (Video used with permission from LEGO Education)
It was only a few days ago that many of the kinks from the beta app were getting fixed and it wasn’t available. Originally, we were working with just a program on a laptop running on Windows 10. Now that the app stores have it, we’ve downloaded it on an android-powered Galaxy S7 phone and an Apple iPad mini. All seem to be working well! The app itself is simple and very easy to navigate, though LEGO recommends not using the app on smartphones in the classroom due to typically smaller screen sizes.
From the app you can view four starter lesson plans, as well as download additional material from the library. The structure effortlessly guides you through each session with tips (for both the learner and the teacher). They’ll also give you a good overview of how long it should take and what goals you’ll try to achieve.
Selecting a tab labeled “Start” sends you straight into getting familiar with the set. It’ll walk you through connecting the Hub to your devices, navigating the Scratch-based programming tools, and using the building instructions.
Unlike traditional sets, all building instructions are digital. In addition to saving trees, it creates an opportunity to offer a large number of possible builds. Another plus is that kiddos will be less likely to accidentally jump ahead or get lost.
Building and programming
As previously mentioned, the easy-to-follow onscreen instructions walk the learner through both the build and programming aspects. This can happen at their own pace, starting from the simplest task to more complex challenges. No matter the familiarity with LEGO or programming, the lessons are fun and engaging throughout. Even an adult builder might find it elementary but still interesting.
The magic starts from the very beginning! When you press the middle button to turn it on, SPIKE greets you with a brief trill and pixel show. The resting state is a heart, instantly giving kids the sense of this being their new buddy.
When I first tried to connect, there were issues with the computer finding the hub via Bluetooth. After a few attempts, I tried with the cable and it struggled with that as well. I chose to close the program and restart, again with Bluetooth. When it finally did connect, it immediately said it needed an upgrade, but we were told by the team to only do this via cable connection. It wouldn’t allow the option to leave, and in my brief attempt to get out of the prompt without messing something up, the program froze. A complete restart of the computer and newly available upgrade of the program was instantly successful, and I haven’t had any issues since.
The first thing you learn doesn’t even involve building. Instead, you program a very simple emoji on the 5×5 pixel screen. It’s kind of neat how you wouldn’t know the screen is a screen until it lights up. It’s very simple, and some may say too simple, but it honestly seems perfect for the target audience. On the flip side, the built-in speaker only emits beeps and trills, and to get more complex sounds, you have to feed them through the program/app on your devices. It’s an example of how tethered the build is to the device you’re working with, but I have to begrudgingly agree that the reasoning makes sense: kids will try to overload the Hub with sounds, which will result in lengthy program downloads and stall the lesson.
As you explore further into the lessons, you’re encouraged to experiment and modify the build to accomplish goals in your own way. This is really special because it gives kids the opportunity to think outside the box, rather than simply follow instructions and be done. The learner may start with a build that doesn’t do much (other than this one that attacked me), but they learn how to tweak things to make them better or more useful. They’re set up for success, which builds confidence.
As previously mentioned, the coding platform is based on Scratch. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Scratch is used around the world as a visual, drag-and-drop, block-based coding language designed for kids. Actually, anyone who is brand new at learning to code, including adults, would benefit from playing around with it. The blocks fit together like the pieces of a simple puzzle and create something like a story line for what will happen in your program when you press start.
As students get better at coding, they’re also learning other valuable tools such as problem-solving and teamwork. These skills create a natural path into competitive robotics like FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League. And whether or not students choose to go down that road, the things they learn along the way fuel future STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) based education other than coding.
Conclusion & recommendation
Obviously, this set is not exactly made for adult fans and their personal consumption. Yet it’s awesome, and like all sets, adults can certainly have fun with it. Plus, holy moly, those parts are fantastic! Just keep in mind this isn’t a set you’re going to get as a parts pack unless you have bookoo bucks.
The average price per piece is a whopping $0.63! We tend to lean toward roughly $0.10 on average for most sets. Granted, that’s understandably skewed when it comes to robotics/electronics. For comparison, BOOST is roughly $0.19 average and EV3 is $0.58 average (at original retail value). Still, imagine that 25% of the piece-count is just connection pins. The Hub alone is slated to sell for nearly $248, which is roughly 75% of the set value. Ouch. If you’re an average collector, this one may not be for you. With the exception of the electronics, the other fancy parts will eventually start showing up in other sets. We also have few details, but a similar platform is rumored to replace EV3 in the future.
Instead, recommend SPIKE Prime to teachers in your life, because it’s worth it. If you’re an educator, homeschooler, after-school robotics facilitator, or someone else with a similar role, definitely consider this kit. Lesson plans that could last a whole school year and pretty much guarantee that it will help your kids excel is preciously valuable. Even though it’s expensive, there are grants and options out there to ease the burden. LEGO Education will even help you find those resources.
LEGO Education 45678 SPIKE Prime is available now from the LEGO Education shop for $329.95 USD. It’s may also be available via online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products guarantees neither coverage or positive review.