The world of LEGO Mindstorms can be a daunting experience for those who don’t know about robotics, engineering or even Technic LEGO building. On the other hand, playing with LEGO robotics is a rewarding experience in and of itself. In comes the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory, a book that will take you step by step from nothing to a very good fundamental grasp on this wonderful new world!
The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory Book Review
The LEGO Mindstorms world can be overwhelming to newcomers. Unlike the “normal” Systems LEGO sets, the Mindstorms has different types of building and features. The pieces follow a different pattern. They have different names and methods of connection as well. Beyond, there is also what makes the Mindstorms special: the Intelligent Brick and programming capabilities.
This can get overwhelming quickly. For a total newcomer, it can become too much, even discouraging.
That’s where The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory Book, published by No Starch Press, comes in. It introduces the reader to the Mindstorms world step by step, from set to complex builds, in an easy and engaging manner that encourages even total newcomers (or people who are just curious) to try it out.
The structure of the book
The whole book follows a frame story about a young robotics apprentice. We follow the character from his first day in a scientist’s lab, through his step by step progress. As the character, we learn as we go, making mistakes and fixing them.
The frame story appears in beautifully rendered comic book panels, inserted within the book’s text and contents at appropriate moments. The story brings a much-needed relief and engagement to the contents, which can appear complex at the times.
Still, the book is very engaging and easy to follow. It shows five recipes for robots, as we build and learn from them. This includes ROV3R, the “poster robot” for the Mindstorms EV3.
The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory Book is very thorough and very complete.
In fact, it’s so thorough that the first chapter is all about Mindstorms EV3 itself. It begins by teaching the reader the basics of Mindstorms building (which is not the same as Systems LEGO building) and the names of the pieces. This is important as, for more complex projects, one might need to buy pieces and understand how Mindstorms works. If you’re familiar with these pieces and building, you can skip this chapter without greater issues.
Once past that, the book guides you straight through the building of the ROV3R robot. ROV3R is the example robot for EV3, and it covers both the basics of building and the basics of programming. Building the ROV3R (and configuring it in different ways) shows the reader the basic building techniques, programming, working with sensors and other tips and tricks. It works as a great laboratory example to learn from — proving the book’s name right!
The book teaches readers to program both with just the EV3 Intelligent Brick, and later, with the computer app. It goes in depth enough to explain some of the math behind the programming. This, of course, helps people new to robotics and EV3 mechanics how to troubleshoot their own creations, once they move past the experiments of the book and into their own thing.
It also provides some principles of LEGO building, such as basic LEGO geometry, how to work with angular beams, and more. As a more technical book, it focuses on the principles of building more than on the building itself, although it does use examples to explain the techniques shown. The comic book panels chronicling the progress of the EV3 Scientist’s Apprentice help break the heavier moments of the book.
Beyond the ROV3R, the book includes several other, more complex robots descriptions and step-by-step instructions. These recipes showcase more sophisticated techniques such as building legs, motors, and more.
The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory Book is massive. At 403 pages, it’s heavily illustrated, and very eye-catching even to just flip through. While all the illustrations are in greyscale, there are colour-keys so you can properly identify every LEGO piece. Mindstorms have different types of pieces in different colours, and they perform differently, so it’s important to pay attention to the instructions.
As with all No Starch Press LEGO books, this comes in both digital and print formats. The print version is very sturdy and looks great. Many of the instructions for the experiments are full-page diagrams, which makes them easy to find.
Even more interesting is the gorgeously illustrated frame story spread throughout the book. The comic style looks great and is very expressive, entirely in tune with the theme and tone of the book.
Daniele Benedettelli, the author of the book, is an experienced LEGO master. He’s also a world-famous robotics engineer, so, the fundamentals of robotics are no stranger to him. He aids the LEGO Group in testing their robotics solution and helped to develop the Mindstorms EV3 sets themselves — no wonder he knows so much about it. You can find more about him and his projects here.
The comic book panels, on the other hand, come from Arte Invisibile, a non-profit association of artists who teach about comic book design, screenplay, writing, and much more, aimed at young people. You can find them here.
As mentioned above, this is an extremely educational book. Surprisingly, perhaps, though, it isn’t boring: the images and the comics definitely provide a good break to the more intense explanations and diagrams of the book and gives a welcomed levity and character to the book itself. It elevates the book from just educational material to something people (especially younger people can relate to).
While more experienced LEGO Mindstorms builders might still find some interest and new tips and tricks in this book, this isn’t quite a book for inspiration. For that, we would recommend the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Idea Book, which we reviewed here.
In special, the language and humour in the book also make it far more accessible than other materials dealing with such a dense subject could be. This book is excellent for beginners and even people who want to learn more about robotics as a whole or to brush up their skills.