Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: Beautiful LEGO® 2 DARK...

Whether you are a fan of LEGO® building, or are fascinated by the "dark side" of creepy, the bizarre, the whimsical, the futuristic, or Steampunk; you will like Beautiful LEGO® 2 Dark edited by Mike Doyle (No Starch Press) 2014.
The models or should I say works of art are intriguing and mind-blowing; having one say, "OMG, how did they build that,? And that's Awesome!" 
On my tablet device I found myself enlarging the images to try & figure out what LEGO elements the builder/artist used. Their choice of elements is what makes the works so interesting & in some cases almost realistic - when looking at the book, hold it (or your tablet device if you have the eBook) at arms length, it's amazing. I also liked the use of light on the translucent elements, it creates quite an effect.

One of my favorites is Lukasz Wiktorowicz Midnight Training 2014,  I like the way Wiktorowicz used a mosaic background to go with the model.

I also like the Shadow Play art of David Alexander Smith.

Like the first book Beautiful LEGO (2013), Beautiful LEGO 2 Dark, edited by Mike Doyle (No Starch Press) is awe inspiring to look at & a testimony to what can be created with little, plastic, building elements.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: STEAMPUNK LEGO®...

I recently purchased STEAMPUNK LEGO® by  Guy Himber, (No Starch Press, 2014). It is a fascinating LEGO® & Steampunk book. Fans of Steampunk and/or LEGO® will really enjoy this book. Would make a great gift. too.

So what is Steampunk? For those who are not familiar with the term the author of the book describes it as: Steampunk is a creative genre that imagines an alternate history of 19th-century technology. Its devotees employ a fanciful blend of fantasy, science fiction, and historical adventure to tell their stories. Electricity has just started to enter the realm of the common inventor, but steam-powered machines are the tools of the day. Clockwork gears and mechanisms are often exposed for ease of service and ease of appreciation. Daring inventors float through the skies and roam the countryside in their fantastic contraptions. 
The creations in the book are amazing! I like the way the Guy Himber, author/editor, presented the models. It is written as if it is a Victorian age style journal with illustrations reflective of the period; with the look of old parchment paper, calligraphy writing, accents of that age, and a dash of LEGO® gear elements (not that LEGO was invented back then), but a nice touch. The fantasy journal talks about new inventions of the Industrial Revolution - trains, cycles, horseless carriages, ships & sea creatures, robots, airships (including those that will take us into space), beasties, armamentss, sundriess & cabinet of curiosities (for lack of a real category), and of course the SteamPunk world of floating rocks.
This book takes LEGO® building to another art form. 

I bought the book in hardcover printed form and No Starch Press gives you a free eBook of it - sweet. STEAMPUNK LEGO by Guy Himber, (No Starch Press, 2014) is a full coloured, beautiful & interesting tabletop book; as a wonderful gift & inspiration to the LEGO® builder. It reveals "infinite possibilities of little plastic bricks."

It inspired me to build The SteamPunky Buggy, this robotized SteamPunk vehicle pays tribute to the book and the LEGO® Mindstorms ®robotic systems; with at least one element from its Mindstorms kits from the RCX to the EV3, plus a bit of Technic, Bionicle, & classic bricks.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Lego Mindstorms EV3 Essentials...

There are several new LEGO(R) Mindstorms(R) EV3 books out now. Most of them cover the kit’s parts, some programming, and instructions on building models. One, The Art of LEGO(R) Mindstorms(R) EV3 Programming, covers (and very nicely) mostly EV3 programming. Another book was recently released, Lego Mindstorms EV3 Essentials by Abid H. Mujtaba, Packt Publishing (2014). This  one includes using leJOS programming.

The first three chapters: Introducing the EV3, Sensors and Motors, EV3 Brick Programming I felt were understandable particularly for the novice to the EV3 system. I did find it curious though that he used a picture of the NXT Ultrasonic sensor to explain how the EV3 Ultrasonic (they do work the same way, the EV3 is an improvement over the NXT). The author did make a note that it was not the EV3 Ultrasonic, but if he had the Retail kit, he should have just ordered from LEGO(R) an EV3 Ultrasonic to show in the book.

However, the remaining chapters are not for the novice, but for someone who has experience with possibly the NXT and the EV3 programming, because the book explains how to program in leJOs, the Java platform for EV3. Here the author covers what he feels are the advantages of using leJOs, how to install it on the EV3 brick, configuring your computer and the EV3, and writing your first program - "Hello, World!"on the EV3 brick's LCD. Next, the author shows how to program the large motor and the touch sensor. Finally, there is an extensive explanation of programming the robot to follow a line with the color sensor.

The eBoo is in color and the softcover book is in gray-tone, which I guess doesn’t matter much because there are not many pictures in the book where color would be essential, gray-tone is ok.
In summation, if you are new the Mindstorms(R) system and its programming, this is not the book for you, just yet. If you are interested in learning leJOs for the EV3, then Lego Mindstorms EV3 Essentials by Abid H. Mujtaba, Packt Publishing might be a good start for you. 

It is apparent that Mujtaba is very knowledgeable in programming, but I get the feeling he is new to the LEGO(R) Mindstorms(R) systems, because the robot he presents in the book are extremely simple (or perhaps it is because the focus of the book is on programming); and then, any true LEGO(R) fan knows you do not spell it Lego!

By the way, Packt Publishing is having a sale $5 on all eBooks until Jan. 15, 2015, go to:


Friday, November 21, 2014

Secrets of the EV3 Core set...

EV3 fans, in case you didn’t know Lee Magpili (one of the designers) has a fun series on LEGO Education’s website: LEGO Mindstorms Education Tips & Tricks called “Secrets of the 45544” (EV3 Core set) - it is pretty cool with trivia and great info too. 

For example, starting with the NXT kit and continuing with the EV3 elements color coded - “all the cross beams, 3m cross beams, double cross beams and much of the others in that
category...” so you can find a particular element easily. Unfortunately, it kind of limits creative style - suppose I wanted a red or orange double cross beam for my design (they do exist, red axle jointers perpendicular are in the 31313 home Mindstorms set, just not in the 45544 educational set).

Funny coincidence, I read the post of 8.12.14 about the color 3m beams - That’s the way I label and name my EV3 Intelligent bricks. Only problem is I’ve run out of 3m beam colors for the amount of EV3 bricks I have! Hey LEGO, add a few more 3m beam colors - orange, pink, purple maybe :-D

Here’s some trivia - I discovered that the track elements, with or without the track rubber elements,  make awesome looking  bracelets! 

Anyway, be sure to check out Lee Magpili’s “Secrets of the 45544.” I am sure it will challenge students and LEGO robotics fans to discover their own “Secrets of the 45544.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: The Art of LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Programming...

If you had the opportunity to to read Terry Griffin’s The Art of LEGO Mindstorms NXT-G Programming, then you know it is a great NXT programming book. Well, he has done the same for the new EV3 Mindstorms, The Art of LEGO®  Mindstorms®  Ev3 Programming, (No Starch Press), 2014. The new book follows the same format as the NXT book, sharing similar topics and information. However, the two Mindstorms systems are different, so the details are specific to the new EV3. For example
the “teaching” robots (which are simple, easy builds ) for the books are basically the same, but due to the new design of the EV3 Programming brick and motors the robots are slightly different. By the way, Griffin gives instructions for the robot for both the Educational and the Retail (Home) Mindstorms EV3 kits. Nice!

The big plus is, this book is in COLOR and COLOR makes it POP! It gives you clear, easy to read, in living COLOR diagrams that example and explain. If you are working with data wires, you will definitely appreciate being able to easily differentiate between the different types of wiring. After all, the software is in color on our computer screen!

The book starts off with a brief and concise overview of the LEGO EV3 Mindstorms kit and software. Then the book goes into an in-depth coverage of the software with lots of excellent diagrams, graphics, and examples of programming, of course. There is also a section on NXT and EV3 compatibility for those of you who have NXT experience. For those who have the Educational kits, there is a good chapter on data logging programming too.

To help you understand developing a program, Griffin takes you through several programs: from basic
(ThereandBack, AroundtheBlock, RedorBlue, IsItBlue, LineFind,) to intermediate (BumperBotwithButtons, DoorChime, GyroTurn, BumperBot, Line Follower, WallFollower, GenericStop. SoundMachine, SpiralLineFollower,) to brick display programs and games (DisplayTimer,  MemoryGame) to advanced programming
 (PowerSetting, ArrayTest) to data collecting programs (SteeringTest, VerifyingLight-Pointer) and there’s more…

I like the layout of the chapters; not a lot of reading to do - concise and to the point with supporting graphics and diagrams. There are notes and tips referring to the different software versions. He also includes some pseudocode to describe how the programs will work. To practice what you are learning
Griffin includes some Challenges for you to try. At the end of the chapters there are a few activities you explore, Further Exploration, and a Conclusion (short) summarizing what was covered in the chapter.

The book covers most of the programming blocks, however he only mentions a couple of the blocks in the Advanced palette - File Access and Data Logging. I would have liked to see some program examples for Bluetooth Connection and some of the other Advanced blocks.

Otherwise, The Art of LEGO Mindstorms Ev3 Programming by Terry Griffin (No Starch Press) is definitely a good teaching and resource book on EV3 programming to have in your library and eBook for your tablet. 

By the way, one of the Technical Reviewers for the book is Daniele Benedettelli, LEGO robotics extraordinaire, who also has a new book out: The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Laboratory - No Starch Press (see review).


Monday, October 27, 2014

B2B Lab: Happy Halloween...

Just in time for Halloween...

The Krypts of the Roaster

In the deserted part of town a skull points you to the Krypts of the Roaster. It is there zombies, witches, skeletons, ghosts, spiders, scorpions, and other creepy creatures rule the world of horror.


One of my students, Luc, at Brics~2~Bots Academy built this graveyard scene for this video. He programmed a LEGO Mindstorms NXT brick to control the flying ghosts & the blinking light from in back of the graveyard. Alumnum foil was used to make the light from the LEGO lamps visible from behind the walls. Luc merged two sound clips in iMovie with the video. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

Be a FIRST Volunteer...

NYC FIRST Robotics Volunteers
(No experience necessary, just your time)

During January - February - March the NYC FIRST Champions will be taking place with over a thousand young people competing. Be a part of this exciting experience that will help influence a young person future; volunteer as a judge, referee, crowd management, assistant; there is a job waiting for YOU!

January 10, 2015 - Jr. FLL Expo @ NYU PolyTechnic School of Engineering, Brooklyn 
Jan. 17, 2015 Fll Manhattan Qualifier - City College in Manhattan
Jan. 24, 2015 FLL Queens Qualifier - George Ryan JHS in Queens
Jan. 25, 2015 FLL Brooklyn Qualifier - NYU PolyTechnic in Brooklyn
Feb. 7, 2015 FLL Bronx Qualifier - Horace Mann School in Bronx
Feb. 7, 2015 FLL Staten Island Qualifier - New Dorp HS Staten Island
Queens Qualifier - TBA
February 21, 2015 - NYC/LI FTC - Dalton School Qualifier - Manhattan
March 1, 2015 - NYC/LI  FTC Championship NYU Poly School of Engineering
March 14, 2015 - FLL Citywide Championship - Jacob Javits Convention Center
March 13-15, 2015 - FRC Championships - Jacob Javits Convention Center 

Please be advised, under the new volunteer registration & the Youth Protection Program, every volunteer needs to register on VMS and be screened before they can volunteer for any of our upcoming FIRST events this season, from Jr.FLL to FRC.

Go to the links below to find out more info & to sign-up:

Youth Protection Program Info: 

VIMS User Guide can be found here:

VIMS can be accessed here:

Be a FIRST Volunteer & Witness the Excitement of Learning!


Monday, October 20, 2014

B2B Lab: LEGO Record & Play Set...

Stepping back in time... 

While rummaging through my LEGO collection in search of some part, I came across a LEGO Record and Play Set # 4095 (dated 2003). This was a Creator set which contained some very rather unique elements. It had a brick (Electric Technic Motor) that could record motion using two built-in rotation sensors, so that when you attached wheels to the brick, turn it on to record, and move the brick in pattern, it would record the movement. Upon pressing the playback button the motors would move the brick in the pattern it just recorded - Cool!  It also had a nice 90 degreesTechnic Gear Box (one of my FIRST LEGO League teams actually used it in a FLL tournament). So I thought if would be fun to use it in a project with a couple of my students at he Brics~2~Bots Academy

The project was called Weird Cars; after looking at some really weird cars on a YouTube video my students designed their own weird cars using the Electric Technic Motor brick as the chassis of the car. After putting the final touches on their car, they recorded the desired car movement, then let it rip! It was great fun and they learned a little about robotics What is a robot? - A mechanical device, electrically powered, that is programmed (Record movement), from a sensor (rotation sensor), to perform a task (Play).

Here are their robots and what they wrote about them:

Jonas - age 8: “This is Bob. He has a crazy car. He has a helmet so when he crashes, he won’t die.”He also has a Laser to shoot anything in sight. The light makes him see, so he can shoot (the target). He has a ‘springy thingy’ so he can fly and touch the clouds to be his friends.”

Olivia - age 10: “This car has a outdoor garden (with
a pond). I made the little boy (the) driver, because it is weird for a boy to drive. I like the pond the best. There are four lights on it. The hatch (to the buttons to control the car) is right in front of the boy, so sometimes he can’t see anything (that could be a problem). The woman (passenger) is relaxing in the garden.”

P.S. Say LEGO, why don’t you bring the Record and Play Set back, it is a great introduction to robotics!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Gift of Education - A Noble Prize Winner...

"I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way," are the words from a song recorded by Whitney Houston. These words ring true...

Two years ago I posted an article about a remarkable 15 year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, form Pakistan,

who was outspoken activist for girls' right to education. After surviving a near fatal terrorist attempt on her life, she bravely continued her fight for girls' rights and most recently went to Nigeria to campaign for the release of girls kidnapped by the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram.
Now 17 years old, she has become the youngest Noble Peace Prize winner for her courageous work. Read about her in the  New York Times article dated Oct. 10, 2014.

P.S. What does this have to do with LEGO robotics?  Give a girl a LEGO Mindstorms Robotic kit and maybe one day she will win the Noble Prize in Physics for robotic engineering.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book...Updated

If you have had an opportunity to read Laurens Valk’s LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Discovery Book, then you know it is a good intermediate/advanced book for the NXT robotics enthusiast. Well, with the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit out, Valk has published an excellent “learning manual” for the EV3 kit – The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery BooK, No Starch Press, 2014. What makes this book stand out from Valk’s other great books is COLOR – lots of color pictures, drawings, and diagrams makes reading this book visually better to understand.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book is a complete, “beginner-friendly” and introductory guide and reference book to the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit (Retail version - #31313), however, if you have the Educational version of the kit, the book can be used as an additional reference guide as well, because the programming language is the basically the same (except: Retail has programming for the IR Sensor & IR Remote/Beacon and the Educational has the Gyro Sensor).

In this book, Valk shows you how to build a very simple robot, Explor3r, and with it you will learn the basics of motors, sensors, and beginning EV3 programming. He begins with a color diagram of the list of building elements that you will need and because it is in color, you can clearly tell which pins, and axle pins to use. All the diagrams are excellent; they show you step-by- step what to 
do. The Figure 4-7 diagram of the Move Steering block and how the robot and its wheels are moving is great, particularly for explaining the action to youngsters (and some adults ).
The EV3 has a new file management system where you save Projects, which can have related Programs saved with the Project. This is a nice organizational tool for FIRST LEGO League teams – all mission programs in order, in one folder, Nice! With Valk’s explanation of the EV3’s file management system it is easy to understand. Also, along with instructions on how to use the programming blocks, Valk includes practice challenges and tasks called Discovery. These are a nice practice activities for FLL teams who are just learning the software. These Discovery experiments challenge you to enhance the example program that was just explained in the book or even possibly create a new similar program. 

An easy and fun robot presented in the book is ANTY, a robotic
ant. Not only does he show you how to build it, Valk explains the walking mechanism of the robot (an excellent lesson for students). This robot also makes use of the IR Sensor, Color sensor, and Touch Sensor. He then presents increasing sophisticated robots, such as The SNATCH3R autonomous robotic arm, LAVA R3X - a humanoid robot that walks and talks, and even a game playing robot - SK3TCHBOT. All of these will help you learn building techniques which you will be able to apply to your own creations. With the increasing complexity of the robots you will be learning immediate and advanced EV3 programming. In all, there are about 150 building and programming challenges in the book to inspire you think creatively in designing and programming your own awesome robots.
The book is loaded with clear explanations of operating the EV3 Brick and programming, robot-building techniques, and troubleshooting. I highly recommend this The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book, No Starch Press, 2014 for LEGO robotics fans who are just getting into the Mindstorms EV3, teachers planning to use the EV3 in their classrooms, and FIRST LEGO League teams planning to use the EV3 in the tournaments.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

FLL - World Class: Robot Game Rules Highlights...

In this year's 2014 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Challenge Handbook there are some new "Rules Clarifications." List below are the highlights from the Robot Game Rules. Coaches and teams be sure to read the Handbook carefully.

Status Definitions
26 - Autonomous  Offline - * Following every time you start (or restart) the robot, it is “autonomous” and allowed to perform. — All strategic changes to the field outside Base must be caused by an autonomous robot (never by an offline robot, and never by your hands). When you next touch your autonomous robot, it is “offline” and must be restarted from Base. * While offline, the robot is okay to handle per Rule 41 and restart per Rules 39 and 40 when you’re ready.

Robot Action Rules
29 - Success, Loss, Failure, and Chaos - Anything your autonomous robot does to your field outside Base (good or bad) stays that way, unless the ROBOT changes it. Exception: Rule 50. n Mission models are not fixed or reset. Stray objects are not moved out of the robot’s way. * Cargo the robot loses contact with outside Base is left/stranded wherever it comes to rest. So… The robot can ruin its own opportunity to accomplish tasks, and can even spoil previous results.
30 - Model Damage - * Model damage is when a model outside Base is made defective and/or its Dual Lock is separated by an autonomous robot. (It can also happen when a fashion runway collapses!) * Model damage is not repaired during the match (Rule 29). Exception: Rule 50. * If a model is put into a scoring condition, but is damaged in the process, the mission marked scoreless. * If instead the scoring model gets damaged during an obviously unrelated action later (even just seconds later). If the scoring condition is still visible, it can still score. * If the scoring condition is no longer visible, it can not score. * Any scoring success which obviously depended on model damage is marked scoreless. * Any model damage obviously due to poor field setup/maintenance is scored with benefit of the doubt.
32 - Junk Penalty - A junk penalty is given at the end of the match for each strategic object abandoned outside Base.
33 - Sprawl Penalty [Match End-Based] - * A sprawl penalty occurs at the end of the match if either: n the robot’s max dimension is obviously greater than twice the (south/north) width of Base. * a strategic object extends out of Base obviously farther than the (south/north) width of Base.
Penalties If a Robot, Sprawl, or Junk penalty earned (as described in the Rules), the referee keeps account by obvious placement of these penalty markers in some manner as to stay out of the way of you and your robot. Loss of cargo is its own penalty. Robot, Sprawl, or Junk Penalty: -10 EACH (Max Penalties Of These Types = -80)
39 - Start/Restart Position - * For the match start and all restarts: n EVERY BIT of the robot, including its installed attachments & wires, and everything touching it, and any objects it is about to move or use, must ALL fit COMPLETELY in Base. * The ROBOT may be touching objects it is about to move or use, but your HANDS may not. * The robot’s program may or may not already be running, but everything must be motionless. * If the robot is about to move a mission model from Base, you must be able to pick that model up and have NOTHING come with it (only do this if asked). * You may design/use a LEGO frame/“jig” to aim the robot, but its use must be completely in Base at all times, and you must let go of it prior to starting/restarting. You may not mark the mat nor use paper for aiming.
50 - Reversible Changes - * When things such as a sleeve, table-bump, renegade offline robot, or illegal action disturb the field in a non-trivial way, the referee physically reverses the change if he or she feels that’s easy. In cases where the change is too hard to undo… * If the accident was the team’s fault, negative scoring effects stand, and positive scoring effects do not. * If the accident was not the team’s fault, the team gets benefit of the doubt on all dependent scoring.

End of Match/Scoring 
51 - The Scoring Process n END-OF-MATCH SCORING - * Most of your score depends on the conditions at the exact time the match ends. n The field is the evidence of most of your score... When the match ends, PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING! The referee first needs time to record the condition of the field on a score sheet and come to agreement with you (kids only) about what points were scored or missed and why. * Points aren’t given for results the robot produces during the match but then trashes before the end. * Points are not given nor taken away for results produced after the match end signal ends. * If you agree with the score, you sign the sheet, and the score is final. * If you don’t agree, tell the referee nicely. Referees can be wrong, and when they are, they want to know. * After a short discussion, if the referee is not sure about the score, the head referee makes the final decision. n MID-MATCH SCORING - Sometimes part of your score is permanently determined during the match instead of at the end. EXAMPLE: When a mission is required to be achieved through a specific method, but is achieved by some other method, it is marked scoreless. Please don’t try to show video to the referees. EXAMPLE: If the robot puts Model A into a scoring condition by destroying Model B, the Model A mission is marked scoreless. EXAMPLE: If the robot is required to drive over something in the middle of the match, the referee will mark the score for that when it happens, since no lingering evidence will be visible. * TIE BREAKING - Ties are broken using 2nd, then 3rd highest scores. In the rare occasion of a tie across all three matches, tournament officials decide what to do. Options include simply awarding multiple same-place awards. * ACCIDENTAL REMOVAL - Please don’t walk away with mission models from the competition field, and bring them back quickly if you do. Thanks.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

FLL - World Class: Mindstorms Tutorials...

FIRST LEGO League Rookie teams (and new instructors to LEGO Mindstorms Robotics) looking for some good tutorials for LEGO Mindstorms robotics RCX (yes, some folks still use it sometimes - I do), NXT, and the new EV3?

Check out: 

It presents in video/slide presentations the basics of programming for these Mindstorms kits. It also has a little challenge exercise at the end of some of the programming lessons. Once you have gone through the basics, there is also an Advanced Section for Intermediate to Advanced programming.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Laboratory...

The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory by Daniele Benedettelli, No Starch Press, 2014 is a rather different type of “unofficial” manual for the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit. It is a manual introducing the reader to EV3 robotics building and programming, with a comic story to make it fun reading as well. The story is about an apprentice (Dexter Zifu) coming to study under Mr. Daniel (a.k.a. the author) at the EVolution 3 Lab. Dexter, as many young impatient apprentices soon discovers that there is much to learn.

The book is written for use with the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Retail kit #31313, however, it can be used with the Educational version #45544 also known as the Core Set – the actual programming software is "basically" similar except the Educational version has programming blocks for Gyro sensor, Temperature readings, Ultrasonic sensor, and an Energy Meter; the Retail/Home version does not. There are also a few different building elements. Although the Infrared sensor block is on the Educational software version, the Remote IR Beam and IR sensor elements are not in the kit, but they can be purchased from LEGO.  

It starts with chapter 1 covering the kit and building techniques - the difference between stud and studless building. Later, in the book there are more building techniques; the “basics of LEGO geometry, like how to build sturdy structures, make functional gear trains, and transmit and transform motion.” Next, he introduces
you to various building elements – how to use beams, gears, sensors, and motors. He also touches on mathematical, and robotic engineering concepts. He leads you through the building instructions for Rov3r, a teaching model robot for the book. Now, this is where color would have been very useful. Color building instructions are so much easier to follow. The book is in black and white and gray-tone. 

In chapter 3, programming with the Program App on the brick controller. Benedettelli takes you 

step-by-step through writing a simple program with the Program App, with clear diagrams; I particularly like the paralleling with a flow chart. Chapter 4, is devoted to Advanced Programming with the Brick Program App.

After exploring programming with the Brck Program, Benedettelli introduces you to EV3 computer programming. If you love math, you will appreciate the chapter, The Math Behind the Magic! – it has an excellent explanation of the Math blocks. Matter-a-fact, math is used in quite a few explanations. 

Since Benedettelli is using the Retail version of the EV3 Mindstorms, there is a chapter on the IR Sensor and using the Remote IR Beacon. There is a cute comic story to go with it too.

Throughout the book are sidebars, “Digging Deeper” to explain some advanced topics in depth and there are nice "Experiments" for you to try at the end of the chapters; a good way to re-enforce what you are learning and challenge you to discover on your own. As a bonus, if you go to Benedettelli’s website: and put in the password codes from the book, you can download additional models and programming.

The remainder the book give building instructions, Brick Program App, and EV3 programming for more advanced robots: WATCHGOOZ3, SUP34 CAR, SENTIL3L, and T-R3X; again, this is where color would be very helpful for easily identifying the different color-coded programming blocks in the palette and building elements. The printed book has gray-tone images, however, the eBook versions are in color, so I would definitely recommend you purchase the eBook; plus, eBooks on tablets are great, because you can zoom in on details and you can easily read your tablet (no trying to hold the book open) while programming on your computer. By the way, if you really like having the printed book for your bookshelf, but would also like an eBook version, order from No Starch Press and get the free eBook with the order of the printed book.

If you have Mindstorms NXT experience, I would definitely recommend The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory by Daniele Benedettelli to get you started with the Mindstorms EV3. Newbies to Mindstorms robotics "might" be a little overwhelmed with this book, so I would recommend another book (reviewed on this blog) first, and then get this book for more in-depth learning.

P.S. If you are unfamiliar with Daniele Benedettelli’s work check out his website and see his awesome robots.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

FLL - World Class: To Tire or To Track, That is the Qestion...

The FIRST LEGO League 2014-2015 World Class Learning Unleashed challenge is upon us and some teams will be using the Mindstorms EV3 kit. With the Mindstorms EV3 Educational kit comes Tracks and you can also purchase from LEGO Education Rubber Studs that can be inserted into the tracks. If you have Retail Mindstorms EV3 kit you can purchase both Tracks and the Rubber Studs at . Now, the question may arise, what is best to use on this year’s smooth field mat – Tires, Tracks, or Tracks with Rubber Studs????

Well, with the help of my student assistant Brandon, we ran a number of tests on the field mat, using an EV3 robot with 2.125 Balloon Tires and another robot with Tracks & Tracks with Track Rubber Studs. The tests and his observations are as follows:

Balloon Tires (2.125) 
The first three tests were with a robot with 2.125 balloon tires (we used the Pivot Ball as the third wheel). The robot was programmed to move forward 4 rotations with the Move Steering block and with powers at 50, 75, and 100; the performance was excellent. The moving backwards with Move Steering and the results are powers at 50 and 75 the tires are excellent. however, at 100 power it was very good; there seem to be a little friction. We tested turning forward and with powers 50, 75, and 100; turning was excellent. The second three tests with the 2.125 balloon tires using the Move Tank block, the results were exactly the same.

In the first three tests using tracks; moving forward with Move Steering at a power of 50; the tracks the performance of the robot was very good on this power. Then we ran the test again with power, 75; the result was also very good. The last power was 100 and the result was poor, indicating slight slippage and reduce speed.  The moving backward with Move Steering results at 50 and 75 power were very good, but again 100 power was poor. Turning with the Move Steering block, with 50, 75, 100 power gave a fair performance. The second three tests using the tracks and programming with the Move Tank block and turning produced the same results as with the Move Steering block with tracks.

Tracks with Rubber Studs 
Next we added Rubber Studs to the Tracks. The first three tests using Tracks with Rubber Studs, moving forward with the Move Steering block, at the power of 50; although the traction is good, the performance was fair in relation to the speed of the robot. We then ran the test again with next power of 75; the result was also fair. The last power was 100 and the result was fair too. Moving backwards with Move Steering, the results at speeds of 50, 75, and 100 was fair. Turning using the Move Steering block, at 50, 75, and 100 were also fair. The  second series of tests with Tracks  and Rubber Studs; moving forward, backwards, and turning revealed the same results as with the Move Steering block. Note: traction was “bumpy,” but very good using Tracks with Rubber Studs, but very slow even at 100 power.

With this year’s World Class: Learning Unleashed field mat, it seems that wheels with tire treads work the best as far as traction and speed is concerned. It is recommended that teams try out different tire types and sizes. However, teams should not dismiss the use of Tracks because they do give a pretty good performance at 75 or less power. As for the Tracks withe Rubber Studs attached (experiment with different configurations of Rubber Studs attached to the Tracks - less, different patterns, etc.); the traction is good, although  bumpy and  bit slow, but if you have to go over an obstacle its excellent - “Look out! Tank coming through!”

Move Steering Moving Forward


Friday, August 1, 2014

FLL - World Class: Field Set-Up Kits & Missions Instructions...

Robot Performance Field Set-up kits are being shipped.

Go To:

Mission Building Instructions are now available!

Remember: August 26, 2014

Challenge Release!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

FLL - World Class: NXT or EV3...Update


To NXT, or to EV3, that is the question… Well, that still is the question as the new FLL (FIRST LEGO League) tournament season, World Class; starts with registration now open (May 5, 3014): 
EV3 Educational & EV3 Consumer Versions

The new LEGO® Mindstorms® EV3 has been out for almost a year, so any “bugs” in the software should have been resolved (although setting up Bluetooth on a Mac w/Snow Leopard can be very "sometimes", but the USB connection works fine); and the problem with the rechargeable battery has been fixed. So, teams with the LEGO Mindstorms NXT might be wondering should they shelve the NXT, switch, and buy the latest Mindstorms - the LEGO Mindstorms EV3? Well, consider the following (as Bill Nyes “the science guy” used to say)... at the NYC FLL Finals 2/3 of the teams used the NXT with some teams using the motors from an EV3 (and non-electrical parts) with their NXT which made for some rather interesting robots. However, the new EV3 does have some nice new features, some of which cannot be used in FLL competition, but the parts design and new programming platform with some interesting new blocks makes it a very attractive choice for FLL. So, just from my point of view, if you can (financially), definitely ADD the EV3 to your Mindstorms robotics kits collection and consider this…

     For robot design purposes,
          EV3 motors can be used with the NXT controller
          NXT motors and sensors can be used with the EV3 controller
         If you are new to FLL or Mindstorms robotics and do not have a kit yet, consider buying the EV3 kit and maybe add some NXT motors and sensors for design enhancement (NXT motors and sensors can be purchased separately).      
         Of course, all non-electrical parts work with ANYTHING LEGO.

And if your team can’t buy the EV3 right now, does that mean they will be at a disadvantage?  Not really, in the finally analysis it is not so much the type of Mindstorms kit that they use; it is how a team uses its building skills, programming skills, strategy, and creativeness to build a successful robot. 

So, be creative…

P.S. note: if you have students/team members who have some visual impairment, the EV3 display screen is a nightmare to read (it has a slightly larger screen, but smaller text); the NXT display screen, although slightly smaller, is a little bit better to see. Highlighting an item for selection is almost unreadable, so one will have to memorize the display menu. I actually have to use a magnifying glass/glasses to read the display!