Interspecies Communication

by chris101

Published on April 25, 2015

littleBits modules are very accommodating - they will hook up to almost anything. With one notable exception - Lego's Mindstorms EV3 robot kits have their own system  - it's similar to I2R, but different enough that it's very difficult to communicate with from outside the EV3 ecosystem. But their motors and sensors are really interesting - I want to use them in a littleBits project, but until now, I've had little success.

In order to hook my EV3 to littleBits, I used the same technology as in my Klein Bottle project: one half of the system is inverted and fead back into the other half. In this case the littleBits half pushes the EV3's button, which in response pushes the littleBit's button.

Here's the littleBits schematic:
    p3 - i3 - w1 - i17 - w10 - o11 - o2 

The EV3 brick has a touch sensor attached to input port 1, and a medium motor on output port D. The two devices are juxtaposed using the Lego stuff that comes with the EV3 student kit. Look at the pictures to see how the motors interact with the buttons.

Let's follow a button press:

  • * The littleBits button is pressed for about a second, which emits a pulse from it's output.

  • * The pulse goes through a wire to a timeout bit. The timeout is set just slightly longer than the minimum (which is no delay), and in off-on mode.

  • * When the pulse escapes the timeout it is inverted, and sent to a servo motor.

  • * The inverted pulse moves the motor to press the EV3's touch sensor (it's a button.) When the pulse ends, the motor returns to its 'not-pressing the button' position.

  • * Pressing the EV3's button triggers the medium motor to turn forward then backward. This motor is attached to a screw gear which moves a plastic rod about a centimeter forward, then back to it's starting position. The round trip takes a little over a second.

  • * The rod is positioned directly above the littleBits button, so that when goes through one reciprocation, the littleBits button gets pressed.

  • * Repeat.

This just keeps happening until I pull some of the wires apart. It's doesn't have an off switch. Power is supplied from the EV3's lithium ion battery. The littleBits take's it's power from the EV3's USB port, so there is no external power connection. The device is also gravity independent - it functions the same in any position, even under acceleration.

How To Make It


Make a Lego device that translates rotary motion into something that can push a button. I got Yoshihito Isogawa's excellent picture book, _The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Idea Book_, and it's great for that kind of thing.


Program the EV3 so pushing a button makes the above device activate once. The EV3 system is excellent at debouncing the button press, so a very simple program works fine.


Assemble the littleBits circuit as described above. Rig the buttons and actuators so they interact, and do not cause much strain on the mechanical connections. I added a long LED, that turns on when the servo motor is energized.


Crank it up, and launch it into space. Let any aleins who find it know that they will need to do something similar in order to communicate with us.

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