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New NZ research proves LEGO is more complex

New NZ research proves LEGO is more complex

If you have been struggling to complete a new LEGO set these holidays you are not alone, and there’s a reason why. New research from the University of Canterbury (UC), data-mining 10,953 LEGO sets, has shown that the world-famous range of plastic brick toys have increased in complexity and size over the years.

In a recently published journal article, LEGO products have become more complex, UC academics Associate Professor Christoph Bartneck, of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ), and Associate Professor Elena Moltchanova, Head of the Statistics Consulting Unit, prove that LEGO sets are becoming larger and more complicated by data-mining 10,953 sets ranging over 60 years.
“LEGO is a toy that everybody can relate to. Many of us played with it when we were young and many have bought sets for their children or grandchildren. Many of us will have thought that the LEGO today is different from what we had years ago,” Assoc Prof Bartneck says.

“We have been able to mathematically prove how the LEGO sets have changed.”

The LEGO Group has become the largest toy company in the world and they can look back to a proud history of more than 50 years of producing bricks and other toys, he says.

“Starting with a simple set of basic bricks their range of toys has increased in complexity over the years. We processed the inventories of most sets from 1955 to 2015 and our analysis showed that LEGO sets have become bigger, more colourful and more specialised.

“The ‘vocabulary’ of bricks has increased significantly resulting in sets sharing fewer bricks. The increased complexity of LEGO sets and bricks enables skilled builders to design ever more amazing models but it may also overwhelm less skilled or younger builders.”

Among the University of Canterbury researchers’ findings:
• The number of bricks and sets that The LEGO Group (TLG) produces each year has increased by around 7% annually.
• The size of the sets, meaning the number of bricks in each set, has also increased by an average of 1.9% per year, while the number of bricks of the largest set in each year increased on average by a staggering 5%.
• There is also a significant shift towards larger sets per decade. The number of bricks TLG offers per year has increased exponentially.
• The sets also include more diverse bricks. The average number of brick types in a set has increased on average by 2.4% per year and the maximum number of brick types in a set has even increased by 4.1%.
• The bricks have also become more specialised since their expected occurrence in the five-year period following the sets release has decreased by 4.8% annually.
• The sets have not only become larger and more diverse, they have also become more colourful. The number of colours in a set has been increasing at the average rate of 2.4% per year and the maximum number of colours in a set has been increasing at the average rate of 3.5% per year. Overall, the number of colours has increased exponentially at average annual rate of 4.4%.
• Sets have also fewer parts in common. The commonality has decreased at an annual rate of 2% and is today at an absolute value of only 0.09. This is in line with the observation that the set sizes have increased and that the bricks have become more specialised.
“This is an interesting example for data mining and applied statistics,” Assoc Prof Bartneck says.
“We made the data used in this study available so that UC students can download the files and explore the data to come up with new insights into the product history of the LEGO company.”
• The article is available online: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190651

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