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!