Powered Up! community answers

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A month or so ago LEGO invited LEGO user groups to field questions they had about the new Powered Up! platform that has been introduced this year in the City Trains and app-controlled Batmobile. It's likely that next year it will replace the Power Functions system completely in all product ranges.

The answers to the questions have now been posted on the LAN blog and unfortunately there is not good news for those of us that were hoping for compatibility with the PF system and to be able to use the new motors and so on in, for example, Great Ball Contraptions.

There's no doubt it's a sophisticated system, what with Bluetooth control and auto-detection of peripherals etc., but in adding such sophistication it seems that some of the basics, and backwards compatability, have been overlooked.


"Backwards compatibility is not going to be included" and no products, e.g. cables, that enable the systems to be connected will be produced. Instead, LEGO will rely on the community to come up with solutions although it seems that the connectors are patented so how that will work I'm not sure.

Many questions are answered with "Without disclosing how we are going to develop and launch the Powered UP platform we can say that it is the future LEGO electronic building platform to cover products across both DUPLO, LEGO and TECHNIC building areas." which I guess is understandable but as a result we are really none the wiser about if, and how, the new platform will meet our needs as MOCers.

For example, it seems that currently it's not possible to "to just connect a battery to a motor (or a light), switch it on, and let it run" which of course is a necessity for GBCs or any other motorised model you might want to display. We can thus only hope that such basic operations become possible in the future.

Anyway, have a read through the Q&A and let us know your thoughts in the comments here or on the LAN blog, then go ahead and stock up on PF components which we are told "will not disappear from one day to the other and components will be available through [email protected] in an overlapping period."

 

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35 comments on this article

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By in Netherlands,

This is a real case of: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. PF served all the needs we had, especially the motors that are both studded and studless. Now, I can imagine getting rid of the receivers to have it either integrated in a battery box (bluetooth) or renewed as bluetooth in stead of infrared, but the white colors are quite ugly. Imagine Technic builds with white motors that are not even studless. Hopefully all they change is the wires and not the overal design of the motors.

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By in United Kingdom,

Literally Lego only needs to do two things to solve any negative feelings towards the new Powered UP system:

1. Release a conversion cable from PUP to PF. Then there's a path from PUP all the way back down to 9v, compatibility wise.

2. Release a battery box, without Bluetooth, with one (maybe two) of the new outputs, to drive motors without a phone or tablet present.

That's it. Community support for compatibility isn't good enough - I don't want to use non-LEGO components.

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By in United States,

When Bluetooth becomes obsolete, as all technologies do, PUP will be useless. A far cry from the flawless connectivity between a 2018 2x4 brick and a 1968 2x4 brick.

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By in United Kingdom,

Last I checked LEGO had some laughably broad claims on what the community can do with the WeDo SDK (they seemed to think calling their dlls made your code a derivative work ignoring that would mean Microsoft owned their own code), combined with this incredibly paranoid lawyer speak surrounding the new apps, and the requirement to have location services enabled during use (which would now be illegal when a child was using it without a parents consent given to Lego); I am very worried about the direction they are heading with this. Whether this is LEGO culture or coming from the people they've brought on board to develop this I don't know, but its anti-community and very worrying they are seeking so much control. I'd like to develop my own app to sidestep the shortcomings of theirs but I'm worried I'd get legal harassment over it.

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By in Canada,

As a programmer I have to say not supporting backwards compatability is a huge mistake. It may be a pain but you can't assume all you users are going to want to make the jump to the new system immediately.

I am not a Lego train enthusiast or into the whole ball contraption; but for those that are and have a large inventories this has to hurt.

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By in United Kingdom,

@curious Powered UP is actually really quite hackable. :) In fact I've been working on this: https://github.com/nathankellenicki/node-poweredup . No DLL's needed, it just sends commands directly to the hubs over Bluetooth. WeDo 2.0 is the same.

It has a lot of potential, they just need to get a few things in place before it can truly be a Power Functions replacement.

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By in United Kingdom,

Not supporting backwards compatibility seems almost against the idea of lego?
The standard product being something that lasts almost indefinitely- bricks from the 50's connecting with bricks from today.
I'd expect the lego group to implement that in other areas including electronics.

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By in United Kingdom,

@Mr Hobbles

Yes I'm aware its all standards compliant GATT services and can extract the service IDs for those, I hope they will just publish these at some point without restriction. Reusing the official dlls has a lot of advantages (although obviously you would have to point people at the LEGO site to get them and not ship them yourself). I would be hesitant for example to write my own code for flashing firmware, at least not without a serious amount of reverse-engineering effort and testing.

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By in United Kingdom,

@curious Agreed, I too hope they publish documentation on the protocol - the fact that they state in that blog post that "technical information will come later in the year" leaves me hopeful.

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By in United States,

From a technical standpoint I can see how backwards capability would be difficult. Remember that the wires going into the motors, lights, and sensors of Powered Up aren't just power wires, but signal and maybe data wires. The smart hub can identify what is being plugged in such as a motor or train motor (which behave differently, as train motors have speed regulation) and adjust accordingly.

If such an adapter between Powered Up and PF exists, how would a Powered Up Smart Hub know a PF Motor is being plugged in if the motor only uses 2 wires (4 wires are in PF wires but only 2 are used in a PF Motor), and it's probably just power and ground wires? I'm not saying that it's impossible, but I can see the technical limitation between the goals of what Powered Up has and wants that PF doesn't.

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By in United Kingdom,

I don't think there would be much of a need to use PF motors with PU hubs, which as you say is likely to be tricky. But, being able to use PU motors with PF battery boxes/cables and thus 9v controllers would allow them to be used in the way that PF ones are now for displays/GBCs etc.

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By in United States,

If I understand all of this (and I'm not sure I do) I would need a smartphone or tablet to use the new CITY trains. Well, no more LEGO trains for me, I guess.

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By in United States,

You do not need a smart device with the new trains. A small Bluetooth remote controller is included!

The smartphone functionality is an alternative to the included Bluetooth remote.

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By in United States,

@henrysunset Thank you for clarifying that for me! So all I would need is one of the new trains, and some batteries? I don't need Wi-Fi, or anything like that? (I don't know how Bluetooth works!)

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By in United Kingdom,

PU->PF is pretty simple, you just need a new PU peripheral that can deliver power out of a PF port, the PU Hub doesn't need to care about anything but providing the right power output. This is not even close to difficult that part just needs producing and LEGO for whatever reason have decided not to make it. The sensor data from the PU peripherals is useful and nice to have but not essential.

PF->PU should be possible the motors etc still receive modulated power via the power pins, the data lines are just for the onboard firmware to send sensor info back to the hub, and for firmware updates. I'd avoid this setup especially if you just want on/off control (the HUB firmware can likely be modified to do this anyway).

Perhaps the main complication here is that you end up needing two different peripherals, or one with both PU connectors and sockets, capable of switching based on whether power is applied to the PF port. Not impossible but something that could cause electrical problems. They should be able to make a PU->PF connector easily enough but maybe they are worried people will keep asking for PF->PU which they'd have to refuse or worry about how people wire things up.

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By in United States,

@560heliport: put simply, Wi-Fi connects devices to the internet without needing to be physically attached to a modem/router. Bluetooth works on a similar principal, but instead of connecting to the internet, Bluetooth enables compatable devices to “communicate” with each other. If you’ve ever used a wireless headset to talk on your phone, or seen one used, that’s Bluetooth.

In conclusion, you do not need Wi-Fi, or any internet connection of any sort, to use Bluetooth, as they perform two different functions.

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By in United States,

@Huw, I see. I suppose what we're also looking for is to use the PU Motors with PF or 9v Power supply systems for just power. There doesn't seem to be much technical limitation there, but it would make the PU motor serve a single purpose of just spinning, which makes sense in GBC/display models with moving features, but it it seems too simple of a desire to come from the complex system of control that Powered Up presents. I do see this being a problem since PF is to be discontinued at some point in time.

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By in United Kingdom,

@Spartan Ghost

Wi-fi is a networking standard just like bluetooth, they don't perform different functions they do it at different power levels, providing different connection speeds.

You could connect LEGO devices together with WiFi but the parts cost more and consume a lot more power, for some crazy reason people did this with Lightbulbs and then make them accessible via the internet??? Bluetooth would have made more sense especially as putting your lightbulbs on the internet is not something you should really want to do.

You can connect to the internet via bluetooth but it usually doesn't make sense to because the speed is so slow. Bluetooth is now low power enough on its latest version that it makes sense to power off 9V batteries and be part of the LEGO system, we saw about 3 third-party hubs before LEGO got there.

The provided controller thankfully just uses bluetooth and needs only batteries but last time I checked if you tried to use the app it wanted both an internet connection and location permissions :/. You only need one of those.

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By in United Kingdom,

^^ Part of the fun of GBCs is designing them to work with just a single rotating motor which it seems at the moment isn't possible with PU.

Of course PU opens up many other opportunities for GBCs and the like, which no doubt will be exploited.

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By in United States,

@Huw. True. I'm sure LEGO has good intentions on where this goes and what can be done with PU, even for simple tasks. We'll just have to see where it goes since the system is so young right now.

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By in United Kingdom,

For me, their biggest 'crime' is inventing their own proprietary socket, meaning 3rd parties are going to have a difficult time making legal adapters or peripherals.
"We love standards so much, we created our own".

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By in United Kingdom,

The just-released Duplo trains now have Bluetooth control too, incidentally.

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By in United States,

So those delightful large train layouts are out, as there's no always-on setting and it'll shut off when out of range (somewhere between 3-10m)? Unless of course you can mount the controller onto the train itself, perhaps?

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By in United States,

Unfortunately, this isn't too surprising. While the brick is one of the best examples of "backwards compatibility" Lego doesn't have the best track record when it comes to backwards compatible technology...

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By in Netherlands,

I would like to add to all the eloquent and well thought out comments above by simply stating this is stupid. They obviously needed a little more time to develop the new system, but didn't.

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By in Australia,

There was absolutely NOTHING wrong with Power Functions. (at least for me). This new system is stupid. Trains that can't go backwards. Very nice.

Typical 21st century mindset:"WE HAVE TO MODERNIZE EVERYTHING EVEN IF SOMETHING IS PERFECTLY FINE THE WAY IT IS"

The only thing that needs to be 'powered up' (or better still replaced) is the ninnies in marketing or whatever that thought up this dumb idea.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think @MrHobbles has come up with the best solution to take this forward - a simple dumb battery box that matches the current PF one, with one or two PUp outputs you can switch on or off, and a directional switch (or a speed dial like the rechargeable PF box).

Then - although not 'LEGO-legal' - it would be a simple matter for someone in the community to adapt these in bulk to take a regulated 9V mains input. Or if the top-half matches the design of the PUp hub then maybe the bottom-half (holding the batteries) could be swapped out for a rechargeable module.

Failing that, a simple extension cable that signals to the hub it should be 'always-on' when the hub is switched on. Or a polarity switch that signals it should be 'always-on'. This could drive a motor or lights on a continual basis.

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By in United States,

@Brickchap I hear that, but at the same time understand that Lego has to compete against other toys. For today's kids you have to have "an app for that" or you don't exist. For the rest of us just stock up on enough PF kit to last until you're senile! All my 9V train kit is still serving me just fine, for example.

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By in United Kingdom,

Having read a lot more of the Q&A and thought some more from a user standpoint the things that stick out the most are the lack of PU->PF adaptor and the 2 peripheral limit.

I don't think my point about confusion on the adaptor is actually an issue, everytime they switched systems before they released an adaptor to allow you control old peripherals with new control hubs. Creating the adaptor is trivial so why aren't they doing it?

The 2 peripheral limit is crippling even on trains i'd like at least 4 connectors to allow for 2 sets of lights and a sound brick or sensor along with the engine. I have extensive experience with serial comms, this is not an issue of communication bandwidth, I did some rough calculation (in a message that got lost to a session time out), we should easily have ample bandwidth for 4 devices and 16 is probably fine too assuming LEGOs firmware coding is of a good standard. So why the limit to two devices?

I think the only thing that makes any sense is the new peripherals and hub use a significant portion of battery capacity to run. So even 4 peripherals or however many PF devices you try to plugin is just too much and you drain the batteries in under an hour. The accountants are also happy because you have to buy more new hubs and peripherals but I suspect the power problem is the main issue here. Which likely means technic will get a larger hub with more peripherals later, and this is why LEGO talk about dialogue with the train community... we are coming off the worst from this.

Has anyone done any measurements on the power draw of the different systems to see what the difference between PU and PF is?

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By in United States,

I am way too uninformed to add much of anything to what's been said above, but Bluetooth?

For a train setup where you're actually in the room maybe, but an 'RC' car? BT range is only like 30 feet or something. My wife bought me a Parrot Sumo a few years ago (the jump function broke after like 2 days btw..) but it actually creates it's own wifi network, no router needed. That seems like a much better idea than Bluetooth.

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By in United Kingdom,

Having read the blog post, I still don’t understand whether it’s possible to drive 2 trains, each with one motor only and no lights, from the same remote controller (not app), with the left buttons for one train and the right buttons for the other, for example. Or whether it’s easy to change channels. There doesn’t seem to be any channel selector in the remote controller, all seems to be done on the battery box. It looks like it’s 1:1 controller to train, unless one faffs around the battery boxes in the trains. Did I get it wrong? Thanks in advance for any clarifications.

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By in United Kingdom,

Which Bluetooth?
I had 3 different devices, all with Bluetooth (but different versions) & tried to get something to connect with them.
1 refused to acknowledge it's existence, another saw it but refused to talk to it & the third one would connect.
They also wouldn't talk to each other.

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By in United Kingdom,

@kinto
Wifi uses a lot more power than bluetooth and it already needs too much power for 9V batteries. Theres not much they could do about the range given the power constraints, although you can buy bluetooth repeaters if you have a really large RC car course you want to run.

@Michel W
The faq formatting is bad but they did answer all those.

"How can one single BT remote be used to control multiple receivers or switch among them? Will this be possible in the app?
You can link up to 5 devices (Smart Hubs or Smart Controllers) together."

"With the first Hub and the Controller ON and connected you can add extra Hubs to the network by turning the new Hub ON and then press both green buttons simultaneously on the new Hub and one of the components in the network (Hub or Controller). The new Hub is now added to the network with the same channel color as the currently selected channel. Again toggle to another channel by pressing the green button on the Hub. When more Hubs on different channels are added to the network you toggle between the different channels by pressing the green button on the Controller."

Once you've set all that up plug the first train motor into hub 1 port 1, and the second motor into hub 2 port 2. And you should have your controller layout.

@Toc13
Its BLE aka Bluetooth 4. Your Phone/PC/Tablet must have Bluetooth 4 to control them, older Bluetooth won't work.

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By in United Kingdom,

Please can LEGO use some common sense and just develop a Bluetooth receiver for Power Functions and stop relying on user groups to develop their products. The PFx Brick (fxbricks.com) provides this function (and more), so it can't be beyond LEGO to come out with their own version similar to the IR receiver (8884).
Power Functions currently also provides power to models without having to replace the batteries all the time. Also, I don't think those who have invested money in Power Functions will want to spend more money on a new system that does exactly the same thing but costs more and requires the re-design of models to fit new motors.

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By in United Kingdom,

Just got the batmobile but didn't realise that there was no Bluetooth controller and that the hub requires Android 5.1 or above. My newest device only has Android 5.0.2 so I'm left with a paperweight for the time being. Not a very impressive start from LEGO here with their new kit.

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