Powered Up vs. Power Functions
The recently introduced LEGO Technic 42099 4X4 X-treme Off-Roader set has some new components, a 4 port Bluetooth hub and new L and XL motors. In this video I’m testing the new motors and try to compare their performance with their Power Functions counterparts:
Why these motors are acting weird with the Powered Up app?
There are 3 types of motors in the Powered Up family at the moment.
- The simple motors like the M motor or the train motor have one mode: Power
- The “tacho” motors (The Boost hub’s internal motors or the Boost M motor) have 3 modes: Power, Speed, Relative Position. Relative position “zero” is wherever it is from turn on/reset, and it endless in degrees. The motor can report back the turning speed and the turning angle.
- The “smart” motors (like the new Technic L and XL motors) have 4 modes: Power, Speed, Relative Position and Absolute Position (Absolute position has a mechanic zero, and range of + 179/-180 degrees). These motors can be used as a return to center servo, since they have a fixed zero position to be used as a reference point.
Speed, Relative and Absolute Position are “sensor” modes, it is the Hub that uses these sensor values to then control/regulate Power to get the set Speed/Position etc. functionality. If the app (or the code block) is not prepared to use a more advanced mode like Absolute position for a motor that has the capability then it will use the Relative positioning instead. That might be the reason why the servo/steering functionality is not working yet properly with the Technic L motor in the Powered Up app. Once the app is updated with blocks for the new motors they will act properly.
What about the new hub?
The new hub for Technic has 4 ports compared to the AAA version that only had 2. You need 6 AA batteries to run it. Apart from the basic functions this hub has a 6 axis sensor (3 gyro and 3 accelerometer sensors) built in, so it can provide useful data itself without additional sensors attached.
C’mon LEGO, AA batteries again are you kidding me?
LEGO is using AA/AAA batteries for a good reason. First of all these batteries are available all around the world so customers can buy them easily. Rechargeable AA/AAA batteries exist for a long time so you don’t even need to use alkalines. On the other hand if LEGO sets would have batteries built it that would make the logistics much more challenging (just try to order anything with a LiPo battery inside online) and it would increase the cost. A non-removable rechargeable battery might look like a good idea for the first sight but what if something happens to the battery? You’ll need to have the whole hub replaced.
Additionally, if you check the structure of the new hubs the storage compartment for the AA/AAA batteries is removable. This still leaves open the door for a rechargeable battery unit that could be inserted in the same slot. LEGO won’t comment on future products so we don’t know if it will come but I’m sure they are considering it.
So is it Control+ or Powered Up or…?
The naming convention might be confusing for most of you. The app that controls this set (and that will control also the 42100 Liebherr set) is called Control+. This will be the set-specific app for Technic, but it only has controls for the specific models and there won’t be customization options in it.
The new hub and the motors also belong to the Powered Up family, so they share the same port and protocol like the Powered Up, the Boost and the Spike Prime sets. The app that will be the platform to control all these in the future is the Powered Up app. It has some set-specific control interfaces for the train sets and the Batmobile, but the main feature is the free play coding area where the components can be controlled with Boost-style program blocks. There’s already a simple 2 slider control interface that can be customised, we can expect more control elements and support for the new parts soon here.
Control+ has no custom controls, is LEGO killing creativity?
Control+ has no custom controls but that is intentional, that will be the role for the Powered Up app. We can soon expect support for multiple hubs, a way of creating control panels and support for the new components. For now this means that the Powered Up platform is not yet ready for MOCs or customised sets since it only has the 2 slider customisable interface that is limiting the type of vehicles you can control. This is not necessarily a bad thing since we still have Power Functions around until the end of next year, and I’m sure you won’t all run to switch all of your PF gear to Powered Up anyway.
LEGO needs first to roll out the sets and make sure the app designed specifically for the set works ok and you can have some awesome playtime with it. Once that’s assured and the new components will be also available separately then they can focus on the free play possibilities with the Powered Up app.
It is very clear now that LEGO’s primary focus is on the sets, then they gradually extend the functionality like we saw it with the Powered Up app. Initially it had only profiles for the trains and the Batmobile, then came the free coding area and now the customisable slider control interface. We can argue if the approach is good or bad, but apparently this is how they do it.
I want to emphasise again, the platform is constantly evolving. Now we have a solid base of hardware components, we only need the software side to catch up to be able to fully use its potential. With the open protocol there are also multiple 3rd party apps like the great BrickController 2 app that already supports the new Technic hub so I’m sure we’ll have more alternatives soon.