Controlling the Liebherr R 9800

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View image at flickr

I started reviewing 42100 Liebherr R 9800 a couple of weeks ago and in part one I covered construction and the completed model.

However, that's only half the story because the digger is entirely dependent on a smartphone app to function: it's just an expensive ornament without it.

Thankfully, the Control+ app is very good indeed. It enables you to operate and control the model like never before.


I first took a look at the app in my review of 42099 4x4 X-Treme Off-Roader in August. It's now been updated to support both that and this set so on startup it now asks you to choose one of the two models.

View image at flickr


Pairing

Connecting to the model involves switching the hubs on one at a time and waiting for them to pair via Bluetooth. It takes a minute or so to do, but so far it has worked faultlessly, connecting first time and maintaining the connection for as long as I want it.

View image at flickr

View image at flickr

Confirmation that both are connected is provided before letting you loose at the controls.

View image at flickr


Calibrating

The first time you connect you are prompted to calibrate the model. The linear actuators are moved from one extreme to the other so that, via feedback from sensors in the motors, the limits are determined.

You can also recalibrate at any time from the main menu. I've had to do it a couple of times when things stopped working as I expected.

View image at flickr

View image at flickr


Controlling

The main screen provides controls for every movement. The sliders at the top move the caterpillar tracks forward and reverse, the joystick on the left rotates the body and operates one joint of the arm, the one on the right operates the other two joints while the small buttons next to it open and close the bucket.

The indicators in the middle show tilt and yaw when it's not on level ground.

It takes a bit of trial and error but once you've mastered it it's easy to manipulate the digger like putty in your hands...

View image at flickr

However, if you swipe left you'll be presented with an even easier way to control it.

On this screen you can move each joint with your finger and watch as the arm on the model moves in sympathy.

View image at flickr

The black 'shadow' in the background shows the current position of the arm which, as it moves, approaches the position you've set.

Controlling the model like this is very intuitive and a lot of fun, and certainly something that is just not possible with traditional remote controls: a single swipe of your finger sets up to four separate motors into motion to obey your command.

View image at flickr

If that was all that the app did it would be quite enough to satisfy most people, but it has a lot more tricks up its sleeve...


Programming

The most powerful feature of the app is the programming interface. Here you can program the model to perform a sequence of movements then play it back, save it, and even create your own blocks of movements that can be incorporated into other sequences.

There are 30 or so blocks for moving each of the motors by degrees or distance and as far as I can tell there's no practical limit on the number of them you can string together so you can create very complex sequences.

View image at flickr

When the program runs the current step is highlighted.

View image at flickr

If dragging and dropping steps onto a timeline is too much hassle there's an easier way: you can also control the digger in the normal way while recording its movements. When you click on 'Record action' you're returned to the main control screen where you can move the model about to your heart's content.

View image at flickr

When you've finished and pressed the stop button you are prompted to save the sequence and choose a symbol for the block. Then, you can drag it onto the program timeline as you would any other. This is a far easier way of achieving complex and compound movements.

View image at flickr

Saved programs can also be assigned to the four buttons on the main control screen for easy access.

However, there is no way (that I could find) to use loops or other programming constructs to repeat actions, which is a shame.


Challenges and achievements

There is a gamification/tutorial aspect to the app, too. I haven't delved that deeply into it but as far as I can tell you are challenged to perform increasingly complex movements and in doing so you learn how to do them. This is certainly something that youngsters would find fun.

View image at flickr


Turning it off

Unless I'm missing something, the only way to turn off the hubs -- certainly the easiest way -- is to turn off Bluetooth on your phone.


Verdict on the app

As I said at the start, the app is excellent. It lets you interact with the model in ways that until now have been impossible. It really brings it to life.

Pairing it to the digger in the first place requires a bit of faffing about: find your phone, turn on Bluetooth, start the app, turn one one hub, wait a bit, turn on the other, wait some more. There have been times when I've felt like given the earth mover a quick spin but have been put off at the thought of having to go through all that.

Other than that, I can't really find anything to criticise, because it's worked perfectly and provides a very rich user experience which will keep you entertained long after you've finished building the model.


Overall verdict

42100 Liebherr R 9800 is a big, beautiful and expensive set. But, it's entirely dependent on the smartphone app which will not please everyone, and may well give many a reason not to buy it.

However, I believe it was absolutely the right direction for LEGO to take its technology platform because it opens up so many possibilities.

At the moment the Control+ hubs and motors can't be used in your own models because there's no way to control or program them, but that is set to change when the generic Powered Up app has been updated to support them. As far as I know it hasn't been announced when this will happen but I'd like to think it would be before the end of the year.

View image at flickr

42100 Liebherr R 9800 is now available at LEGO.com for £399 / $449. That's a huge outlay for a toy, albeit a very sophisticated one. Precedence suggests that the price will tumble and indeed it's already available for a 20% discount at Amazon.de so I suspect other retailers will follow suit in due course.


Thanks to LEGO for providing the set for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

35 comments on this article

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By in United States,

cool!

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By in United States,

Great review. I think you accidentally said that the app supports 42099 and 42110 (Land Rover), instead of 42100 (Liebherr).

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By in United States,

That's pretty amazing, just a little out of my price range...

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By in United States,

But will that app work in 5 years? As soon as LEGO drops support, Control+ is toast. Yet there are motorized sets from the '70s still going strong. My Power Functions are stored in damp basement, but always work when I need them (minus one motor with a broken wire). I was interested in getting into Mindstorms RCX since I'd been given a book with RCX projects, pleased that RCX stuff is cheap, only to learn getting it to work on any modern Windows variant is tricky.

The app does seem interesting. I'm most interested in programming the Liebherr (if I could afford it; add the fact I really need a decent tablet, and that's close to another $300 on top of the Liebherr) to be able to pick up a load, dump it in a drop area, then repeat.

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By in United States,

@cody6268, that’s my fear with anything that starts relying on internet and various new technologies. With handheld remotes, the only thing you rely on is the controller itself, something that you have total control over. With a smartphone, you’re relying on not only the proper software to work but that it will always be around...which it won’t. As you said, sets from the 70’s still function.
It’s how I feel about video games as well; the increasing reliance on internet and factors out of our control worries me about future enjoyment. I don’t buy my Legos sets to just use a few times for a year or two, I want to be able to use them for many years in the future, and at $450 that’s expensive for possibly limited use.

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By in Costa Rica,

@huw: FYI, Amazon.de has a 20€ discount, not 20%.

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By in United States,

The thing about whether this system will last in 5 years or not is really dependent on technology. 10 years ago when PF was used, not very many people had smartphones. Now with technology being used on a daily basis and developed at a much quicker rate, it's out of The LEGO Group's control whether future combatibility is possible since they're a dedicated toy company and not a technology company. In 5 years, maybe everyone will be into some new technology.

At least for PU, I believe LEGO has open-sourced the system for developers (like BuWizz) to expand it as they please.

What makes PF so friendly with compatibility is that it's mostly an analog system, but it lacks the controls and sensor systems that make PU stand out and make sets like the liebherr such a perfect set to implement it in.

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By in United Kingdom,

I still don't know whether I'll get this set or whether this will be the first Technic flagship I haven't bought for about 20 years... I guess I will watch the price on Amazon and if it goes to 40% off (as they usually do eventually if only for a very short time) I will think about it properly. Gone are the days where I day one bought these sets - I think the prices are too high for that now.

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By in United States,

@Huw ,
You can turn off the unit by shutting down the app. No need to shut down Bluetooth :)
Edit: Tested on an iDevice. Not sure about Android.

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By in United Kingdom,

I haven't used my RCXs for some time, but I know there's a version of RobotC available for free which works with it, and the tower was supported up to Windows XP, which can still be used (although it is no longer supported). RIS1.0 set 9719 was released in 1998, so that's not a bad lifetime for a piece of computer hardware compared to the life of an average PC.
I still use my NXTs which were released in 2006. Lego hardware tends to be good quality.
If the system is good there will be a community around it that extends its life by producing their own drivers, hacks etc. i bet there is already someone reverse-engineering the Control+ system and its Bluetooth protocol.
Basically worrying about using it a few years down the road (when there will undoubtedly be something new released as well) is not really worthwhile.

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By in United States,

Note that in some cases you have to update your hubs before anything will work.
In the case of this set (as well as 42099), an older version of the hub will not let you connect at all if you don't have all motors connected to it (i.e. using all 4 ports).

Here's a video where this was discussed. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of it when I built mine:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trjg0SqwFSQ
Look at the 4:25 mark.

At the end of bag 3, I opened wrappers of all motors and plugged them in. You need to to use them in bag 4 anyway :)

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By in Germany,

I have heard from several people who had massive problems trying to get the thing to work, even though they have phones that are supposedly able to.

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By in United States,

@AustinPowers, see my comment above. You often need to connect all motors, apply a firmware update, and then it'll work. I had to do that with 42099 and 42100.

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By in Japan,

Unless future firmware update messes up the hub, they will continue to work as long as BLE is supported.
The problem is finding the right controller. Something akin to Arduino 101 should work.

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By in United States,

The thing with the being able to move each joint with your finger is really cool, but this is still WAAAY out of my price range

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By in Germany,

I got it after all to test it by myself. Sorry, but no. The app works with Android 6, which is pretty astonishing (unlike the Hidden Sight app, which does not, effectively cutting of more than 50% of all Android devices), but not on all devices. It installs on my Android 7 based tablet, it works on my iPhone, but that is it, on the Android 6 phone, nope. And by "works" I mean I can install it. The app constantly loses the connection. Or it does not find one of the hubs. And yes, I have updated the hubs, they do that by themselves when set up anyway.
This is beta software at best, but in no way market ready unless you are bit of nerd and do not mind the additional time needed to set it up. But usually beta testers are either paid or given another incentive. For a non-tech savvy family or kid, this will be a disaster.
Additionally - WHY do we still have to use batteries?
The "programming" is useless, sorry. Where is the fun in putting together a few pictures and then see the vehicle do everything by itself? With Mindstorms, okay, because it actually resembles programming, but here you just have a few moves.
The whole concept is a sad, bad joke. The vehicle itself is ok, but the Control+ interior will go on ebay asap. I will modify the Liebherr to work with something decent like the Sbrick.
Also - what use is the Control+ "openness" when you only have the app that allows control of these sets?
This is a low point.

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By in United Kingdom,

My hubs had their firmware updated when I first connected to them but it worked first time.

@Mickitat , I'm surprised you're so negative about it. The software and programming interface might have its limitations but it's been designed so that anyone can use it.

It's not particularly 'powerful' as programming tools go but the Powered Up app should, eventually, fill that need. It's a shame it's not doing so already, and that is a valid criticism.

@Gustavo2809 it was 360€ earlier, but it's gone up again now.

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By in United States,

@Cody6268: There are ways to control this and other Power Functions 2.0 systems (like Boost and WeDo 2.0) without the dedicated app. All it takes is a Bluetooth connection (an open wireless protocol compatible with many wireless electronic devices) and a program that can send compatible signals. There are already several "homebrew" controller apps available for this purpose, so you needn't worry about these systems becoming outmoded even if/when Lego makes their "official" app unavailable.

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By in Germany,

@Lyichir : while that is certainly true, we are still talking about a toy basically. Yes, the price point makes it rather unlikely that this set will find its way into too many "normal" kids' hands (and by that I mean kids with parents that have a "normal" disposable income, not some of us who can afford the luxury of the occasional high price LEGO folly).

Taking this into account I find it rather sad that LEGO's out-of-the-box solution for such an expensive item doesn't offer from the get-go what those third-party apps or tools might have to offer. TLG should really have put some more thought and effort into Control+, so that it would be far more usable for a wide variety of customers and not just tech nerds and LEGO geeks like the majority of us that frequent sites like Brickset.

That is not to say that I don't see potential in this new system, but otoh I love backwards compatability, and from that aspect I would have preferred a set with standard PF components.

Side note: speaking of the term "I would have" I have noticed that quite often users write "I would of" in the comments and was wondering why they use "of" instead of "have". Do they use speech recognition on their phones to dictate the comments, and the system misunderstands their pronounciation of the word "have"? I have noticed this very often now on many sites, not just Brickset, so this has to have some rational explanation.
As a non-native speaker of English I find such things especially fascinating. Call me extra-nerdy if you wish ;-)
*endofftopic*

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By in United Kingdom,

Not sure what's with all the negativity towards the app-based control...
The control protocol spec is open, so even if Lego abandons development, you will still have 3rd party apps that can be used. BuWizz has already implemented support in their app for the Powered Up hubs. I'm pretty sure 3rd party standalone controllers will come along soon.

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By in Belgium,

I've never been interested in this set, because I'm not a big fan of its looks (which Liebherr is responsible for, not Lego), but learning that it can only be controlled by an app reinforces my lack of interest. As I have an old smartphone, I'd never be able to make this work unless I buy a new model, which then would be outdated within a few years anyway.

It's a bit like the Disney train, though there is also the possibility to buy a remote.

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By in Germany,

Yes, I have to admit, I am pretty negative about it. In my view the Technic line has been in decline for some time, with very few highlights. Some sets look great, but their functionality is not good (like the bucket wheel excavator - the one motor just does not cut it). I was extremely looking forward to finally seeing IR being replaced by BT. But the way it is done completely killed my enthusiasm AND it does not work like it should - easy, simple, out of the box. I do not want an app to control my Technic set. I want a controller. I do not want my kids to play on a phone, I want them to play with the set with the controller in their hands and not in front of their eyes. At this price point, it should be included. All my old Technic sets I can take apart and build something new AND control it with the controller. With this set, I am limited to what the app offers. This set is bad as a Technic set and bad as a remote controlled vehicle set. For that price I get an (or rather two!) outdoor compatible, water resistant vehicle(s) with a 2,4Ghz remote AND decent rechargeable battery packs and a charger. I do not want the promise of "eventually you might" be able to use the app for your own stuff. Lego is trying to compete on a front where it can only loose - it is too expensive and too limited in what it does compared to the competition. The core ability or feature of Lego is not in app-based toys nor in do-one-thing remote controlled vehicles. It can (and will) only fail if it tries to compete there.

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By in Germany,

@zmarkella - we are talking about a toy here. People buy these sets and build them and they should work out of the box. This does not. It is no use that there is some third party app that does everything the original should do. I wrote it before - it should be usable by people who have no idea about even how to install a third party app. Old sets I can buy at the flea market and they will work, no matter what - even the oldest ones.

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By in United States,

@Mickitat , that’s what I think some people don’t understand about our complaints. While I’m not as negative as a whole, I understand your issues. Regardless of someone else picking up the app and keeping the functionality going, the fact that you STILL would need some type of smartphone or similar device is the issue. With a regular controller you would be able to use this forever and ever if your phone stopped working or wasn’t useable anymore.

Now, I also understand that said scenario will likely never occur and people that truly would buy this don’t have an issue. But, the general trend of moving away from controllers and moving towards smartphone devices is worrisome in many regards.

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By in Germany,

I heard the model can also be controlled with the BUWhizz APP. Did anybody try this and already has some experience?

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By in United Kingdom,

@Mickitat I have to disagree - this is not a toy. It may be produced by a toy company, but something that costs £400 is far from being a toy.
For this to work out of the box, you'd need 2 remote controls, which would add £££ to the price. Would you be happy with a generic remote (like the old PF ones)? The Volvo Wheel Loader came with 2 of those and it was as crappy to control as it gets.

I for one applaud Lego that they finally started going down this road. It was long overdue to move on from IR.

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By in Denmark,

For the vast majority of those actually buying this set the availability of the needed app in five years time is totally irrelevant.

It is a toy for "dad" or "dad+son/daughter" and not an "investment". After a few years it will be totally forgotten and/or written off.

Also, the vast majority of those shelling out the needed cash will have an appropriate phone.

What people at Brickset think is of absolutely no relevance when TLG plans what to offer.

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By in Germany,

Regarding the claim that the Control+ Bluetooth commands spec is open... Could anyone please point us to the document/documentation on the subject? I haven't been able to find it by searching the web.

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By in Germany,

@iriz : I beg to differ. This is a nerdy toy that is only within reach of a limited public with high spending power and appreciation of technology. I most definitely have hard time imagining that most people will be quick to shell out ~500 pieces of eight (not to mention the huge time investment to construct the monstrosity) without giving a thought to the longevity/quality of the product. Especially in light of LEGO's history of dropping their mobile apps without any explanation (such as EV3 3D builder app).

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By in United States,

@Mickitat: If the argument is now that Lego should not be making products that require external technologies, then it is an argument that is way, way overdue. Lego has been relying on non-included technology for consumer-targeted products since Lego Mindstorms way back in the 1990s. The fact that in the future using these products may be more complex (involving third-party software and/or hardware to replicate the functionality of these products at launch) is simultaneously accurate (Lego cannot be realistically expected to update and maintain older software in perpetuity) and more or less irrelevant (since people who are able to jump through the extra hoops of purchasing long retired sets are just as capable of either seeking out compatible third-party software or using a guide to emulate Lego's own programs that are no longer as readily available on modern devices).

This would be a very different conversation if Lego were militant about encrypting or obfuscating their wireless protocols or militantly litigating the republication of their copyrighted software. However, ever since Lego first became aware of the hacking community that sprung up around Lego Mindstorms, they have taken a rather benevolent approach even to "unauthorized" uses of their electronic toys, both providing the programming documentation to create compatible software and taking a rather laissez-faire approach to the archival of retired software including applications, games, and web-based media.

@zmarkella: Regardless of the price, it is still a toy. It is an product with the sole purpose of being played with—it serves no functional purpose beyond leisure and active entertainment.

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By in United Kingdom,

If I'm reading these comments right, I would be able to continue to use a PU system in the future even if the app drops off the face of the Earth and my phone is unrecognisable - and possibly installed inside my skull. All I'd need to do is... know how to install a program to a miniature computer, know how to connect components to a miniature computer, and know how to debug a miniature computer. None of these are skills I have, nor skills I expected to need in order to play with a toy - and yes, regardless of price, this is, first and foremost, a toy - in 20, 30, or even 40 years. I guess I'll have to pay someone... or just play with the RC Tracked Racer which came with its own controller.

Maybe I'm a darned cynic who grew up in the wrong era, but attempts to 'improve' technologies at the cost of reliability have always frustrated me. If I buy something I want it to work reliably until the physical pieces involved break, and ideally I want that to take quite a long time. I don't want to live in a world where every firmware update for my phone means something I like using might never work again.

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By in Germany,

@zmarkella Thank you for sharing. Glad to see the actual spec is out already. This eases off some of the concerns about accessing the controllers some years into the future. I just keep fingers crossed that Lego will not drop the control app like they did with the EV3 build app since this one is an integral part of the set.

I suppose the Liebherr is to Control+ what 8275 Motorized Bulldozer was to Power Functions - an early showcase of capabilities based on a large industrial tracked machine that is built for power more so than sleek looks. Markus has once again done a marvelous job at bringing to life a behemoth. I can't say I am a fan of its looks, but the articulation and power curve is impressive (based on Sariel's video review). A very promising start. I'd be curious to see what the future holds for Technic.

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