New LEGO Education SPIKE Essential Set (#45345)

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We were excited to get to play with this 45345 LEGO Education SPIKE Essential Set. You can have fun learning about building LEGO machines and motorizing them with your own programs with the help of LEGO minifigures Maria, Daniel, Sophie, and Leo. Although this robotics set is geared for younger audiences than the SPIKE Prime or Mindstorms, it’s a great set for learning to love robotics and comes with lots of awesome new pieces! Even adults may prefer using its smaller sized hub for compact building projects. We will give you an overview of the set and the software and let you know some of the aspects we really liked about it.

Hardware Included in SPIKE Essential

The hardware that this set comes are the SPIKE Essential hub, a light matrix, two small angular motors, and a color sensor.

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The new SPIKE Essential hub has an embedded gyro similar to the SPIKE Prime hub. Unlike the SPIKE Prime, the SPIKE Essential hub only has two ports (an EV3 has 8 and the SPIKE Prime has 6). The SPIKE Essential hub looks like a younger sibling of the previously released LEGO robots. We lovingly call ours “Baby SPIKE” and sing its little song to the tune of “Baby Shark.” It is physically much smaller than the EV3, SPIKE Prime, and Mindstorms Robot Inventor, allowing for smaller robots or a way to easily program the motion for a small LEGO model.

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One exciting new hardware edition for the SPIKE Essential Set is the introduction of the small angular motor. It is shown on the far right below. As you can see, in comparison to the large angular motor and medium angular motors previously released with the SPIKE Prime set, this small angular motor is much more compact — again a huge advantage in both LEGO mechanical build projects and in LEGO robotics.

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As you can see from the technical specifications below, the small angular motor has significantly less torque and speed than the other SPIKE motors. However, if you don’t need a lot of torque or speed for your application, or need to fit a motor in a very small space, this motor is perfect for you!

Motor Type Maximum Torque Maximum Speed
Small Angular Motor 1.8 Ncm 85 RPM
Medium Angular Motor 3.5 Ncm 135 RPM
Large Angular Motor 8 Ncm 135 RPM

The color sensor that comes with this set is the same as the color sensor from the SPIKE Prime set, with no new functions. The light matrix has nine separate LED lights that can be changed to nine different colors. This new light matrix makes up for the SPIKE Essential hub itself not having a light matrix. We personally love the light matrix and look forward to using it beyond our robotics work. It will make a great disco light for our minifigures’ VIDIYO performances!

All of SPIKE hardware, from both SPIKE Prime and SPIKE Essential, can be used together. For example, SPIKE Prime can use the light matrix, and SPIKE Essential can use the touch sensor. Also, you can buy SPIKE hardware separately through LEGO Education.

Pieces and Organization

The SPIKE Essential has stickers to apply to your trays to help organize bricks by color. We weren’t sure how we felt about this when we first opened the set. We are used to sorting by piece type. However, when we started using the set by trying out some of the unit lessons, we found that the sorting by color worked really well. Sorting by color can help younger kids find pieces easily while following the unit lesson instructions. We also like that the set comes with a full-size LEGO storage bin. The extra room helps prevent overcrowding of LEGO pieces, which would have made it harder to dig and find the correct pieces.

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Also, this new kit surprised us by coming with an extra pieces box in case pieces are lost when building. These extra pieces will be especially helpful when these sets are used for schools and camps, where pieces my accidentally roll away or become lost. You could also simply choose to use these pieces to make your own builds bigger and better.

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The SPIKE Essential kit has many cool pieces, so this extra pieces box may be of use to your FLL team.

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Cool New Pieces

The SPIKE Essential comes with many new pieces. We already mentioned the smaller hub itself, the light matrix, and the small angular motor, but there are some other new pieces that are worth discussing.

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The new small wheel piece (65834) is 5 holes in diameter (differing from 39367 which is 7 holes in diameter and 49295 which is 11 holes in diameter). This wheel just as sturdy as the other SPIKE wheels, and will be helpful when making small robots. All three of these wheels have the advantage of having their diameters be exact to a beam hole size, aiding greatly in making level robots.

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There is also a really cool new stud-to-connector piece (65826).

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This piece is similar to older stud-to-connector piece (4274), but instead of a stud protruding out of the connector, it has a hole for a LEGO stud to connect.

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Below, is a picture of the new connector piece in use.

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So far, this piece only comes in green but LEGO will most likely create other colors to use in newer sets.

Software

One thing that is really cool about the LEGO SPIKE series is that both the SPIKE Prime and the SPIKE Essential are programmed in the same software. This will allow for users to easily transition from the SPIKE Essential (geared for ages 6 and up) to the SPIKE Prime (geared for ages 10 and up). You can simply choose which robot you are using when opening the SPIKE software (or later on if switching mid-programming session). See below where you can change the device that you are using.

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A new feature that came out for the SPIKE Essential, is the new Icon Blocks software. This new Icon Blocks programming language type can be used with either the SPIKE Prime or the SPIKE Essential. This software is similar to the old WeDo programming software, having all icons with no words. It is much easier to use and understand for a younger age range using SPIKE, especially for those still working on reading skills. The SPIKE Essential can be used with either the new Icon Blocks or the old Scratch-based Word Blocks. However, the SPIKE Essential cannot use the Python programming language (SPIKE Prime has that added option).

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The Icon Blocks language has five main tabs: Events (yellow), Motors (blue), Light (dark purple), Sound (light purple), and Control (orange).

The Events blocks are a play block (that starts the program), detect color block (using the color sensor, you can also choose which color that you want to detect), a detect hub movement block (using the embedded gyro, you can also choose which sense of movement to wait for), a detect sound block (from the sound around hub using a microphone, you can choose how loud the sound that you want to detect), a send message block, and a receive message block (you can change the color of the message blocks too). The message blocks are similar to broadcasts in the regular Scratch-based Word Block programming software.

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Motors blocks include a set speed block (for the motor), two directional movement blocks (a counterclockwise movement block and a clockwise movement block), and a stop motor block.

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The Light blocks are a customizable light up block (for the light matrix) and a random light block.

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Sound blocks consist of an animal sound block, an effect sound block, and a music sound block, all with different sounds to choose from. The Sound section also has a block where you can record your own sound. All of the sound blocks’ sounds will only play on the device used to program, not the hub itself.

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Control blocks include a wait block (using seconds), a loop block, a repeat forever block, and a stop all block.

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Please note that these blocks we mentioned are the only blocks available when using the SPIKE Essential hub selection. Other/different Icon Blocks are available when using the SPIKE Prime hub selection instead.

Similar to the SPIKE Prime programming, this new block software has more blocks that appear available for use when clicking on the extension tab. These extensions include Display (teal), Bar Graph (also teal), and Movement (pink). All of these extensions are similar to what they are in the regular Word Blocks language.

The Display blocks section has blocks to display test and images on a mini screen. One thing that differs from the old WeDo software is that you cannot display test and an image at the same time.

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The Bar Graph blocks include ways to log and visualize data on a bar graph.

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The movement function has more options to move motors and setting a drive base to control the direction of the movement of your robot, or change speed.

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Below is an example program that we wrote to help explain the new software. First, a playground image will appear on the screen that the next block will make fullscreen. Next, it will play music sound number eight (which is “medieval music”) until the song is done. Then, it will send a message with the color pink. When the pink message is received, it will turn the motor counterclockwise six rotations, followed by turning the motor clockwise six rotations. When a red object is detected by the color sensor, it will stop the other scripts in the program and minimize the playground image.

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Below, is the equivalent of the code using the Word Blocks language instead. The software unfortunately does not automatically convert your code from one programming language type to another. We needed to reprogram the same program functionality ourselves.

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Unit Plans and Building Instructions

The SPIKE app also comes with unit plans for the SPIKE Essential. Each unit starts with a story explaining the challenge. Next, it gives building instructions to create a robot to solve the problem, and gives code to make it work (sometimes, kids will need to experiment with certain values to make the robot work). Lastly, it gives some ideas to modify the robot or make it your own.

Below, you can see the “Units” tab on the left.

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After clicking on this tab, it will lead the different unit plan themes. After clicking on one of these themes, it will show the units and you can choose which one to do.

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We will talk more about the unit plans in another article coming soon.

We got into LEGO robotics using the original WeDo, but the SPIKE Essential is even better than WeDo in some aspects. We really like how kids can use the same SPIKE app to transition to the SPIKE Prime as they grow up. We hope that you enjoyed this article!