Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review: Learning LEGO Mindstorms EV3...

Since the advent of the LEGO® Mindstorms® EV3, manuals about how to build with it and program its robots have appeared in eBooks and printed books. A few are rewrites of previous Mindstorrms NXT books adapted to the new EV3 kit. Then there are a few written from a new perspective and in some cases a little more detail, which is definitely more helpful to the novice Mindstorms builder. Learning LEGO Mindstorms EV3 by Gary Garber, Packt Publishing 2015, is one of those books.

I must say the author has touched on just about everything you might what to know about learning the EV3 system. There are easy explanations and lots of diagrams. So let’s take a look at some of the topics Garber covers…

 A nice feature about this book is that for each chapter there is a brief introductory statement and bullet list of what is being covered in that chapter. So if you are one of those folks (like myself) who does not read a manual from the beginning, you can check out the beginning of each chapter to see if it has the information you are looking for; thank you very much…

 Another nice feature of this book is that the author addresses both the Home and Educational editions of the MIndstorms EV3 kits. Other EV3 books mostly focused on one edition of the kit or the other. In the discussion of Drive Train and Chassiss, chapter 3, examples for a basic vehicle (the author refers to them as a chassis, but to me a chassis is a very basic framework to which wheels, sensors, wires, and other parts will be added to make a working vehicle/robot) is given for both the Home and Educational editions of the EV3. 
Something I have been doing for years when teaching robotics is to have my students maintain an Engineers Notebook; I actually keep on myself when building LEGO Technic® and robots. Now, the EV3 has an Engineer’s Notebook (the Content Editor) included in the software, wonderful! So I was happy to see that the author has a discussion of the Content Editor. He actually devotes a whole chapter on the features and use of the Content Editor, which is excellent.

The chapter on Mechanical Design is very good in that it compares the two motors in the kit, the Large Motor and Medium Motor. It also covers gearing, starting to write a program, and a brief discussion of using (data) wires and parallel threads with nice pictures of examples. Garber mentions the use of the Stop block and that it really is not required, which it not, but when teaching Mindstorms programming to novices is a nice touch and a reference point indicating the end of a program.

The chapter on Sensors covers all the different LEGO® sensors found in both editions, as well as, third-party companies such as, HiTechnic, Mindsensors, Dexter, Verner, etc., which is nice because it lets you know what sensors are found in the two kits and the possibilities of other third-party sensors. Note, only the Educational edition has programming blocks for all the EV3 sensors that LEGO manufactures, including the Energy Meter, Temperature sensor, NXT Sound sensor, and Bluetooth Messaging, but the author does not discuss the programming of these – sigh.

Moving from the basic introductory aspects of the EV3, chapter 5 covers Interacting with EV3; brick buttons, IR  remote/beacon, bluetooth with a smartphone ( a later chapter discusses bluetooth communication between robots), Wi-fi communication, and intermediate programming. After covering image displays, brick lights, and sound output, the author introduces the reader to some advanced programming, data logging, and other programming languages for the EV3. And if you are interested in using the Gyro sensor, there is a chapter on the LEGO Gyro Boy and its programming.
Mr. Garber is a teacher, he teachers Physics and Engineering, and perhaps he is directing this book  to teachers and instructors of Mindstorms robotics and not just the hobbits. This book takes you past the “tutorials” of the LEGO Mindstorms software and accompanying, but limited manual. It helps the teacher/instructor of EV3 robotics understand the system and offers ideas for teaching it. If you purchased the printed book from Packt Publishing, you will have an account, which allows you to download, for free, example code files from the book. If you purchased the book elsewhere (for example Amazon) you can contact: and register to have the files email to you.

Note: On software compatibility, the author states, “As a caution, in version 1.1.0 of the LEGO MINDSTORMS software, Bluetooth communication for the EV3 brick is not compatible with newer versions of Mac OS X.” However, updates have remedy most of the problems except those using Snow Leopard for Mac OS X will experience problems in connecting to Bluetooth. Those with Maverick or above seem to have no problem with either the Home or Educational editions connecting to Bluetooth.

So far out of all the EV3 books I have perused, Learning LEGO Mindstorms EV3 by Gary Garber, Packt Publishing 2015, seems to be the most detailed book on using the EV3, which is excellent for the novice, in particular teachers/instructors, and even former users of the Mindstorms RCX and NXT. I feel the only drawback of the printed book, is that it is not in color. However, you download color images from Packt Publishing: 


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