Installing the Lego EV3 Software on a Chromebook

My kid is going to robot camp next week and I wanted to send him with the Lego EV3 software installed on his Chromebook. Lego only provides Windows and OS X binaries, so it required a bit of hacking.

His Acer C720 i3 is setup with a crouton chroot for Trusty with LXDE (Lubuntu) so he can play Minecraft and other games. Terraria already required Steam and Wine, but Wine 1.7.x is still missing some functions required by the EV3 software1.

The solution that I found was to install VirtualBox using the instructions here. This is somewhat non-trivial because VirtualBox requires the ChromeOS kernel headers, which requires either building your own kernel, or using a precompiled kernel from the crouton devs. But the instructions are fairly straightforward.

Getting a minimal install of Windows installed also turned out to be simple once I discovered that you can download a XP virtual appliance in OVA format for web dev testing directly from MS2. This appliance has a 30 day license and a possible rearm for another 30 days. The 1GB download has to be unzipped to a 1.5GB OVA, then VirtualBox will convert it into its own format, where it is another 2GB - so there is potentially some space juggling required to unpack it. Make sure to install the VirtualBox USB Extensions (why is this an extension?) and add yourself to the vboxusers group3.

$ sudo usermod -G vboxusers -a $USER

Once XP is running, install the VirtualBox guest additions, then shut down the VM and enable 3D and 2D graphics acceleration (otherwise the animations will be jerky). I also bumped up the RAM to 2GB and the video RAM to 128MB. The Lego EV3 software is another 700MB download, it unpacks itself to temp files, and then installs yet another copy, so have at least a couple of GB of disk free for that process.

Our own Lego EV3 kit arrived the same day. After some cajoling, we got the firmware updated and it seems to be working with the EV3 tools in VirtualBox. I continue to be impressed by the power in that little Acer i3 - although I did order an SSD upgrade. And thanks to the crouton devs for making Linux on Chrome so easy!

  1. I tried this myself and can confirm the same issue. 

  2. I also tried the Windows 7 build, but it wouldn't fit in the meager free space. 

  3. This was actually a big headache to figure out, and I forgot the -a flag the first time I tried it, which reset all my groups and required a crouton update and a reinstall of VirtualBox to fix. Googling around, I found this post from someone who struck on a similar solution and had similar issues. Moreover, once I got things working, I heeded their warning and did the firmware update on an OSX machine.