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