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Lego Technic 1996

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen

The Space Shuttle

1996 EU Technic catalog

10 new sets, the most ever for the theme, were released. These included several small sets, such as the 8207 Dune Duster, as well as several rather large sets, including the 8283 3-in-1 Car, the 1300 piece Space Shuttle.

As was typical in the mid 90's a number of new elements were released, including several fiber optic elements, transmission elements, and perhaps most importantly the studless beam.

The Modul system

The Modul System:
In an effort to increase the playability of Technic sets Lego introduced the Modul system. This allowed children to build simple modules that snapped together using 2 x 4 blocks with connectors and technic beams to create the finished model. For example the 8244 Convertibles included instructions for 9 different modules that could then be combined into a series of vehicles and aircraft. Over the next several years this construction method would become increasingly common. It was one of the first attempts to change the focus of the theme from construction to play.

US patent D374,465

The rounded beam:
The rounded, studless beam, was designed as an alternative to the traditional Technic beam. It consisted of a square body with connector holes and cross axle holes at either end. In many ways this was a radical departure from existing Lego elements. It had no studs, so other elements had to be attached with connectors or cross axles. It also had a different aspect ratio, 1:1 rather than the standard 6:5.

Initially it was used with traditional Technic beams in Technic models, but over the next several years it would become increasingly used on it own, resulting in a completely new system, and the next generation of model construction.

US patent 5,733,167

Fiber Optics:
The fiber optic system, an addition to the 9V electrics, was designed to simulate the flow of energy, such as the wires of an engine. The patent shows a light unit consisting of a housing with slits, containing a rotatable disc with an LED on one side and metallic conductor segments on the other. When the disc was spun, collector shoes would contact the conductors and alternately light the LED when it passed by the slits. Transparent fiber optic cables could be connected to the slits and would light up in sequence. Although mostly decorative, the fiber optic system was nevertheless an interesting idea and even found use in several non-Technic sets of the late 90's.

8480 Space Shuttle

8480 Space Shuttle:
The 8480 Space Shuttle is perhaps the only set as complicated as the 8880 Super Car and may be even more difficult to construct. The set consisted of 4 different motorized functions all controlled through an ingenious application of the Technic transmission. A single motor could open the cargo bay doors, allow 2-axis control of the Canadian arm and light the fiber optics of the rear engine. Additionally a small satellite had panels that retract/expand by use of a micromotor. Additionally the ailerons were controlled via a gear mechanism and the landing gear was controlled through a novel mechanism using a shock absorber to lock the wheels in place. In addition to the use of hinges the model used quite a few sloped bricks to model the nose, creating a highly realistic set.

This model had as much playability as any Technic set to date, but. like the Super Car, it was probably too difficult for children to assemble. It would be the last Technic set of this complexity, and, along with the 8880 Super Car, stands as the high point of Technic set design.

1996 sets:

8207 Dune Duster
8223 Hydrofoil 7
8230 Coastal Cop Buggy
8244 Convert-ables
8286 3-in-1 Car
8408 Desert Ranger
8425 Black Hawk
8443 Pneumatic Log Loader
8456 Fiber Optic Multi Set
8480 Space Shuttle

By Isodomus

Lego Technic 1997

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen

Code Pilot

1997 EU Technic catalog

15 new sets were released. These included several small sets, such as the 8205 Bungee Blaster and 8215 Gyrocopter, several medium sets, such as the 8250 Search Sub, and the large Bar Code Truck.

There were quite a few new elements released, including additions to older systems, such as a slip gear, a pneumatic air tank and new high torque 9V motor, as well as many elements designed for new systems, such as the angle connectors and bar code reader.

2 different Technics:
The sets of 1997 also mark the beginning of Technic into 2 different concepts. Small, easy to build and highly modular sets with high play value but limited functionality, and large, realistic and increasingly electronically controlled sets. This division would greatly widen over the next few years.

US patent D384,986, et al

The angle connectors:
The angle connectors, a modification of the earlier axle extender, were sleeves with cross axle holes in one or both ends and a connector peg hole in the center. The series, numbered 1-6, allowed 2 cross axles to be connected at any angle from 90 to 180 deg in 22.5 deg increments. The result was a functional replacement for the old toothed connectors and plates, albeit much stronger and more widely useful. Although one early design patent shows a 4-way connector, this element was never produced.

These new element marked the end of the toothed elements and over the next few years many of them would be replaced with non-toothed equivalents.

US patent 5,962,839

Code Pilot:
The bar code reader, marketed as the Code Pilot, was the first of many highly integrated microprocessor controlled systems that would be introduced over the next few years. The device consisted of a housing with an LED reader, several buttons, a speaker and 2 9V electrical connections, one serving as an input and another as a output. Inside was a battery holder and PCB with a Zilog 2998 microprocessor, The device could read and store bar codes which could then be executed by the reader, causing it to perform various actions.

The Code Pilot could accept input 2 ways: by using the LED to read a barcode or timing wheel, or by using a sensor, such as a touch sensor, attached to the input port. It also had 2 ways to output: by tones from the speaker or by electrical output to the output port. additionally, a number of programs, tones and synthesized sounds were stored in ROM.

The Code Pilot represented a major technological jump from the Control Center, but was still rather limited. Almost as soon as it was released it was seen as a stop gap device before the release of the RCX. It was only available in the 8479 Bar Code Multi Set.

8205 Bungee Blaster

8205 Bungee Blaster:
The 8205 Bungee Blaster was the smallest set to date and a good indicator of the new, small sets designed with play value as the primary goal. The set built a small dragster that included an elastic cord that was wound on a spool connected by pinion gears to the rear axle. By pulling the model backwards the cord would wind on the spool, then unwind when let go. A Technic version of the rubber band car. The same set was also marketed in red as the promotional 2129, allowing children to buy both and race them. Overall, a surprisingly fun, well designed small set.

1997 sets:

2129 Bungee Blaster (red)
8205 Bungee Blaster (yellow)
8215 Gyro Copter
8216 Turbo 1
8222 VTOL
8229 Tread Trekker
8232 Chopper Force
8250 Search Sub (8299 Search Sub)
8277 Giant Model Set
8299 Search Sub (8250 Search Sub)
8414 Mountain Rambler
8437 Future Car
8459 Pneumatic Front-end Loader
8479 Bar Code Multi Set
8735 Technic Motor

By Isodomus


Lego Technic 1998

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen


1998 EU Technic catalog

No less than 25 new sets were released. These included quite a few small sets including a Shell promotional set and a series of 6 "micro" sets that were available only in Europe, several medium sets, such as the 8417 Mag Wheel Master and large, electronic sets such as the 8483 Cybermaster and 9719 Mindstorms set.

There were quite a few new elements released, including the corrugated tubes, new low profile tires, the spring loaded cannon and projectile, as well as the Cybermaster and Mindstorms electronics.

Cyber Slam

Cyber Slam:
A new theme, marketed as Cyber Slam in North America or Competition in Europe, was the first Technic theme since the Arctic Action Sets more than a decade ago. The new theme involved robot-like models that could fight each other, typically with spring loaded projectiles that would strike an opposing target and cause an action figure to spring off the model. The initial series consisted of 4 sets with 2 more released in 1999. The theme is an example of the move away from construction based to activity based sets.

Mindstorms RIS 1.0

1998 also saw the release of Mindstorms, the first fully programmable Lego sets. The history of Mindstorms begins in 1989 when Lego began to fund a chair for learning research at the MIT Media Lab. One of these projects was a programmable interface for Lego robots - the Programmable Brick. Lego took much of this technology and developed a commercial product, the RCX.

The 9719 Robotic Invention System, the first Mindstorms set, was released in the Fall of 1998, Although they were clearly Technic sets, Mindstorms was marketed as a separate product line and given 97xx series set numbers. The RIS was soon followed by 2 expansion sets. Lego underestimated demand and the initial 80,000 sets were sold out well before Christmas.

US patent 6,461,215

The corrugated tube:
The corrugated tube was a flexible tube molded out of soft plastic with a uniformly grooved cross section and perpendicularly cut ends. The inside diameter of the tube allowed a connector peg, cross axle or Lego stud or similarly shaped element to snugly fit by friction. This allowed the tube to be connected at both ends and assume various shapes, including curves. Also because the tubes were uniform it was relatively easy to cut them to the desired length.

This element is a good example of the new decorative elements and, along with the flexible cross axles released in 1999, represent a new class of elements that could mimic the outline of a curve. They would both be widely used in Technic construction.

The RCX in situ

The RCX:
The programmable interface, marketed as the RCX, was easily the most complicated device that Lego had ever produced. It consisted of a housing with an LCD panel, several buttons, a speaker and 6 9V electrical connections, 3 serving as inputs and 3 serving as outputs. Inside was a battery holder and PCB with an Hitachi H8 microprocessor and 32K of RAM, The device could accept information from sensors attached to the inputs and execute programs created by the user, causing it to perform various actions.

The programming for the RCX was done on a computer using an updated graphical version of Lego's Logo programming language. These programs were then downloaded to the RCX by an IR transmitter and stored in RAM on the RCX.

The RCX put Lego in the unusual position of being a computer hardware and software developer, so when the hobbyists reverse engineered the electronics and published software tools, Lego wisely released the SDK's. It was this step, perhaps more than any other, that resulted in a successful product line

9719 Robotic Invention System:
The first of the Mindstorms sets, the 9719 Robotic Invention System v1.0, included the RCX, the IR transmitter, 2 motors, 2 touch sensors, a light sensor as well as a number of conducting leads, even a PC serial interface cable. The manual, called a 'Constructopedia' included typical construction techniques and the software included several simple projects.

In many ways the RIS was a return to the Universal sets of the 1970's, rather then present elaborate models the set offered only partial models and suggestions. It was up to the user to design and build their own models.

1998 sets

2544 Micro Bike
2854 Bungee Chopper (magenta)
3038 Spider Slayers (8266 Spider Slayers)
3054 Motorcycle
8202 Bungee Chopper (teal)
8203 Rover Discovery
8204 Sky Flier 1
8208 Custom Cruiser
8209 Future F1
8213 Spy Runner
8217 The Wasp
8218 Trike Tourer
8219 Go-Cart
8226 Mud Masher
8233 Blue thunder vs the Stinger (8239 Cyber Challenge)
8248 Forklift
8245 Robots revenge
8257 Cyber Strikers
8266 Spider Slayers (3038 Spider Slayers)
8417 Mag Wheel Master
8428 Turbo Command
8462 Tow Truck
8483 Cybermaster
9719 Mindstorms Robotic Invention System
9730 RoboSports Expansion Set
9732 Extreme Creatures Expansion Set

By Isodomus

Lego Technic 1999

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen

The Rise of the Robots

1999 NA Technic catalog

29 new sets were released, a number only exceeded in 2000. The new assortment included several small promotional sets, 9 Throwbot sets, 3 Mindstorm sets as well as several traditional Technic sets, including a new auto chassis, the 8480 Super Street Sensation. The theme received a new, more modern logo and box design starting in the middle of the year.

In addition to a completely new series of Throwbot elements other new pieces included the flexible cross axles, fairing panels, a new pneumatic cylinder as well as several new Mindstorms electronics. For the most part the new elements tended to be either decorative or electronic, mirroring the widening division in the theme.

The Throwbots:
The Throwbots, called Slizer in Europe, represent not only a completely new type of construction as but a new philosophy by Lego as well. The small sets, typically containing 30-50 pieces, were simple to build and had only 2 functions: To throw a spinning disc from a flexible arm and fold up via a series of gears. The sets contained only a few traditional Technic elements, such as cross axles and pinion gears, most of the model was constructed using new, decorative elements.

The sets were the first attempt by Lego to create a true action figure where play, not construction, was the key to the toy. The sets were also marketed with randomly packaged discs, encouraging children to collect all of them. Clearly a response to the popularity of toys such as Nintendo's Pokêmon. The Throwbots represent the most extreme example of the growing division in Technic.

Lego Star Wars

The Lucasfilm License:
In yet another philosophical leap, Lego entered into it's first ever license agreement. This agreement with Lucasfilm for the rights to market construction toys based on the Star Wars movies would last until 2007 and reportedly cost Lego upward of 20 million USD. Lego began producing sets that ran across all of their current product offerings. In 1999 the first Star Wars Mindstorms set, the 9748 Droid Development Kit, was released. This would be followed by many more Technic sets in the coming years.

US patent D423,061

The Throwbot arm:
There was an entirely new class of elements designed for the Throwbots. These elements were highly detailed but also highly figural and less generic than elements to date. The result was an element designed for a specific function.

The Throwbot arm is a good representation of this new design. The arm consisted of a 3-flanged end that could hold a disc and on end and a new large ball joint connector at the other. A molded spring in the center allowed the arm to flex and when sprung back to its original position, release the disc by inertia. The amount of detail molded into the element made it difficult to use for any other purpose.

These new figural elements would form the basis of future robot type figures such as the Roboriders and, finally, Bionicle.

1999 EU catalog

8448 Super Street Sensation:
The 5th auto chassis. Although not a technically complex as its predecessor, the 8448, nevertheless included 4 wheel independent suspension, front wheel rack and pinion steering, a 5-speed transmission with a reverse gear and an 8 cylinder engine that could be mounted either in front or back. Several different body styles could be built with one featuring pneumatically dampened gull wing doors.

What the 8448 really represented was a styling exercise. Lego sponsored a design project at Coventry University and used those ideas in creating the model. They used rounded beams and new fairing panels to suggest body panels and the new flexible cross axles and corrugated tubes to create a curves that were simply not possible with older construction techniques. The result was by far the most realistic looking of the auto chassis.

This use of rounded beams, fairing panels and flexible elements for the superstructure would become typical for 4th generation models. The designs, however, were never quite as successful as they were with the 8448.

1999 sets:

1257 Tricycle (3000 Trike Buggy)
1258 Buggy (3001 Propeller Buggy)
1259 Motorbike (1268 Bike Blaster, 3003 Motorbike)
1260 Car (3005 Piston Car)
8246 Hydro Racer
8247 Road Rebel
8251 Sonic Cycle
8252 Beach Buster
8253 Fire Helicopter
8255 Rescue Motorbike
8268 Scorpion Attack
8269 Cyber Stinger
8444 Air Enforcer
8445 Indy Storm
8446 Crane Truck
8448 Super Street Sensation
8450 Cybermaster Mission
8500 Torch
8501 Ski
8502 Turbo
8503 Scuba
8504 Jet
8505 Amazon
8506 Granite
8507 Electro
8520 Millennia
9735 Robotics Discovery Set
9747 Mindstorms Robotics Invention System v1.5
9748 Droid Development Kit

By Isodomus

Lego Technic 1978

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by Super User

In Europe, 2 new models, a small go-cart and a large crane, as well as a new supplementary set were released. The theme was finally released in the US under the name "Expert Builder" and were given 900 series set numbers. The initial release included 4 models, the motor set and a supplementary set. This difference between US and European availability has become standard Lego marketing practice, in fact there has never been a year with a common retail Technic assortment.

In addition to the new 16t gear, chain links and gear reducing blocks were introduced in set 872. The blocks connected to the 4.5 V motor and allowed for a 1:20 gear reduction in a much smaller space than would be required with Technic gears.

1978 US ad

Lego Technic 1977

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by Super User

Technic sets were first introduced in Europe in September 1977 under the name Technical Sets. Advertising, such as in catalogs, called the new theme "Technical Sets" although the boxes didn't have any name on them.

These sets, intended for older children, expanded the Lego range into much more complex mechanical models, or -as early advertising stated- models "as technical as the real thing". The original series consisted of 4 models, including a 590 piece Auto Chassis, and 2 supplementary sets. In Europe they were given 850 and 870 series set numbers.

Several of these new elements, such as the cross axle and universal joint were holdovers from the earlier Gear wheel sets and were changed very little. Several other elements were new, more refined versions of the Gear Wheel elements, such as the technic beam that replaced the 2 x 4 brick with holes. Still other elements were entirely new, such as gears, the connector peg and piston rod. The 2 original supplementary sets included examples of all of the new elements.

example parts

The crown gear:
The original crown gear is a good example of how the new Technic elements replaced earlier elements. The Samsonite and Lego gear wheels could act as either a pinion or crown gear due to the relatively large size of their teeth. However, the smaller Technic gears required a new design. The crown gear featured a tooth similar in profile to a claw, (or a "bird's head" according to the 1976 UK patent application). Acting as a pinion it could mesh with the bottom of the tooth or as a crown gear with the top of the tooth.

UK patent 1543128 UK patent 1,543,128

Lego Technic 1986

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen
The Arctic Action Sets
1986 NL Technic catalog
8 new sets were released in 1986, the most in a single year since the line began. In addition to a go-cart and tractor model, 2 new Universal Sets as well as the Arctic Action sets were released. These were the first sets to appear in the US under the name of Technic, replacing the Expert Builder name. New elements included the worm gear, the action figure and several action figure accessories, such as skis, helmets and chairs.
The Arctic Action sets: The 4 Arctic Action Sets comprise the first Technic theme, based around a polar expedition. The series included a small ski car, a helicopter, a 6-wheeled truck and a pneumatic helicopter base and were given 8600 series set numbers. From the 1986 Lego press release: "Imagine a Mountain Rescue Base with a pneumatic powered helicopter platform. Or Snow Ranger vehicles with snow ploughs, and the new action figures which can even wear skis. They all add up to a really exciting new build-and-play idea."

The Arctic Action theme
The Arctic Action theme was the first attempt to add play value to the sets beyond just their construction and technical functions. It was the only Technic theme until the Competition/Cyberslam theme of the late 1990's.
The Action Figure: Lego had been producing figures in some form since the early 1970's, but the action figure was the first to be fully articulated. The head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and feet were all movable to some degree. The patent for a new ball and socket joint, originally filed in 1985, shows a hip joint that consists of a pin with a ball at the end. The ball fit into a hollow socket on the thigh, allowing rotation. But the thigh also squeezed against the pin with enough force that the joint could remain in any position by friction, allowing the figure to be posable. This joint formed the basis not just of the Technic figures, but also of several other Lego dolls.
DK patent 157,062
8620 Snow Scooter:
The smallest of the Arctic Action sets and the smallest Technic set to date, the 8620 was scaled for the new action figure. The model had only one real function-the rack and pinion steering. The steering used not only the typical toothed plates and steering arms but featured an angled steering wheel held in place by cross axles and toggle joints. This small buggy would form the prototype for an increasing number of smaller vehicles over the next several years.

1986 sets:

8035 Universal Set
8055 Motorized Universal Set
8620 Snow Scooter
8640 Polar Copter
8660 Arctic Rescue Unit
8680 Mountain Rescue Base
8842 Go Cart
8849 Tractor
By Isodomus

Lego Technic 1987

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen
A Transforming Robot
1987 EU Technic catalog
For the 2nd time in 3 years Lego released only 1 new set, the 8852 Robot, as well as the 3rd Idea book. Perhaps after the number of new releases in 1986 Lego had saturated its retail outlets. But whatever the reason it would be the last off year for Technic.
8852 Robot:
The Robot represents probably the last of second generation sets. The model was a truck that, when the wheel on the back was turned, transformed into a robot. The set featured a rather complex gear train consisting of a worm gear, several reinforced spur gears and a long rack. Turning the pulley wheel simultaneously raised the cab and shortened the wheelbase. In addition to the now standard use of beams, steering arms, toggle joints and cross axles, the model also used a number of non-technic elements, such as claws and train windows.
A rather unusual subject for the Technic line, the design was no doubt influenced by the popularity of robots, especially Transformers, in the mid 1980's, and represented another attempt to add additional play value to the model.

1987 sets:

8852 Robot
8890 Idea Book
By Isodomus

Lego Technic 1988

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen
The 3rd Generation Sets
1988 EU Technic catalog
5 new sets were released, including the 3rd major auto chassis. Lego also updated the packaging with a new box and manual design showing a CAD drawing on a dark blue background. This design would serve as the basis for Technic packaging for the next 10 years.
There were several new elements introduced in 1988, such as the propeller assembly and steering arm. Model designs were becoming more complex and realistic and 1988 marked the beginning of ultra-specialized elements. Rather than construct the functional equivalent out of more standard elements, Designers began to use these specialized elements to increase the functionality with compact assemblies.
US patent 5.071,384
The steering gear:
The new steering gear assembly is a good illustration of these new highly specialized elements. The assembly consisted of a rounded plate with a toothed bracket, a rack/steering rod and a pinion holder. The pinion holder would engage the teeth of the bracket, allowing it it remain fixed in various positions. Because the rack had a rounded profile the pinion could rotate around it and remain engaged. This same functionality would require a much bulkier assembly if constructed out of separate elements. This steering gear has served as the base of steering, especially in small models, to the present day.
The 8855 Prop Plane:
This was the first Technic airplane and still stands as their best. By this time Technic sets had mostly lost their block-like construction and were starting to become quite realistic in appearance. The design of the prop plane, especially of the wings and rudder, look like a cutaway of a real plane. This technique would become the staple of 3rd generation set design. The joystick in the cockpit realistically controlled the ailerons and rudder through a series of cross axles and universal joints. The final result is a model that captured the prototype in both form and function. It is perhaps the most underrated Technic set ever.

1988 sets:

8712 Technic Action Figures
8832 Roadster
8853 Excavator
8855 Prop Plane
8865 Test Car
By Isodomus

Lego Technic 1989

On 01 Jan 1970   Written by aefferen
The 2nd Generation Pneumatics
1989 EU Technic catalog
7 new sets were released, including 4 new Universal Sets and 3 models. The new 80x4 series of universal sets included a pneumatic set and the short-lived 8054 Motorized set. 2 of the 3 new models featured the new pneumatic system.
2nd generation pneumatics
The 2nd generation pneumatics:
The 2nd generation pneumatic system included a new spring-loaded pump and cylinder, as well as the older pneumatic switch and tubing. The new cylinder was double-acting; it had an intake port on both sides of the piston. By directing air to either port the piston could be raised or lowered. This system resulted in simpler and more reliable circuits then the single-acting system. This arrangement has served as the basis of Lego pneumatics to the present day.
8862 Backhoe:
Considered by many the be one of the best Technic sets, the 8862 was the high point in a long line of construction vehicles. The front scoop could be raised and tilted through a series of cross axle/triangle links. The back hoe was operated via 3 separately controlled pneumatic cylinders arranged exactly as in the prototype. Finally a set of rear stabilizers could be raised and lowered via a pinion gear arrangement. The now common use of beams attached with friction pins was used to create the cab framework resulting in a model that not only successfully duplicated the functions of the prototype, but looked realistic as well.

1989 sets:

8024 Universal Set
8034 Universal Set
8044 Pneumatic Universal Set
8054 Motorized Universal Set
8835 Forklift
8854 Power Crane
8862 Back-Hoe
By Isodomus