Since creation, there have been four generations of the Mindstorms platform: the original Robotics Invention System, NXT, NXT 2.0, and EV3. With each platform release, the motor and sensor capabilities expanded. The latest system, Lego Mindstorms EV3, was released on September 1, 2013. Some robot competitions use this set, such as the FIRST Lego League and the World Robot Olympiad.
The hardware and software roots of the Mindstorms Robotics Invention System kit go back to a programmable brick prototype created at the MIT Media Lab in 1987, based on the Lego/LOGO programming environment. A second prototype series was developed in the mid-1990s before the final device was released in 1998.
Mindstorms is named after the book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert.
The first generation of Lego Mindstorms was built around a brick known as the RCX (Robotic Command eXplorers). It contains an 8-bit Renesas (then a part of Hitachi) H8/300 microcontroller as its internal CPU. It included 32K of RAM to store the firmware and user programs. The brick is programmed by uploading a program (written in one of several available programming languages) from a Windows or Mac computer to the brick's RAM via a special infrared (IR) interface. After the user starts a program, an RCX-enabled Mindstorms creation can function independently on its own, acting on internal and external stimuli according to the programmed instructions. Also, two or several more RCX bricks can communicate with each other through the IR interface, enabling inter-brick cooperation or competition. In addition to the IR port, the system includes three sensor input ports and three motor output ports (which can also be used to drive other electrical devices such as lamps and so forth). A built-in LCD can display the battery level, the status of the input/output ports, which program is selected or running, and other information.