The LEGO® MINDSTORMS® 51515 Robot Inventor set was released a little over a year ago, and represents a conceptual shift in programming the LEGO Robotics platform. Offering both Scratch and Python-based programming, the core set comes with 5 models for construction and programming. I have looking to obtain a copy of this set for exploring the current MINDSTORMS paradigm. But I have my reservations about the LEGO group’s ability to provide comprehensive documentation for their automation platforms such as Powered Up and MINDSTORMS. These reservations were eased when, just as I was setting out to place my order for a copy of the set, I was offered a pdf copy of Danielle Benedettelli’s ‘The LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Robot Inventor Activity Book for review, by the publishers, No Starch Press.
Danielle Benedettelli has been involved with LEGO MINDSTORMS in some shape or form for the better part of 2 decades, both within the wider community, as well as helping The LEGO Group test and develop software for the LEGO MINDSTORMS Product line. He has published books about LEGO BOOST as well as EV3, and now works as a freelance model builder and high-school robotics teacher.
The book starts off simply enough, taking us through the contents of the box, including the hub, motors and sensors. After quickly touching on the app, and reminding you to check your device’s compatibility, the author explains how to use the book: each chapter builds on work in the previous chapters, both as far as building techniques, as well as programming the robots using the Scratch based app.
Over the next 7 chapters, we build a number of robots, with increasing levels of complexity from a simple ‘sense a ball and swing at it,’ through to a humanoid walking robot that transforms into a remote-controlled car. Further projects help to detect a jammed motor, play with a game of whac-a-mole, a pinball machine that incorporates the set’s cardboard box and a guitar, which uses the distance sensor to detect the player’s hand on the fretboard. All of the models described in the book can be built using only the contents of 51515.
For each project, clear building instructions are accompanied by source code. Using the word blocks in Scratch, we are also presented with a well-written explanation of what you are trying to achieve and how to achieve it. If you are time-poor or prone to transcription errors, the source code is available to download. Complex models, with multiple components, are tested and coded along the way. The closing section of each paragraph actively talks about both the new construction techniques and the coding blocks used in the model. If you feel you have not picked up on this, going back through the pictures (for building) or text (for coding) will typically bring you up to speed.
The final chapter challenges the reader to expand on the material that has been covered: consider learning to program in python (Not covered in-depth, as it was still in beta at the time of writing the book); consider investigating linking to other hubs and elements and even joining online communities to share your ideas. While many of these things are well beyond the scope of this book, links are provided to take the reader towards the appropriate online resources which will aid them in broadening their horizons.
The book’s Appendix contains a list of all the available word blocks currently supported by the LEGO MINDSTORMS app/Scratch and how you might use them: this is a reference sorely missing from the core documentation of the product and is also sorely missing from the current iteration of Powered Up software.
I will confess that, while I have read the book, I have yet to take the material for a proper hands-on test run. I have ordered a copy of the 51515 LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Inventor set, and look forward to taking the next steps with the aid of this book. That said, I feel confident to move forward with MINDSTORMS, knowing this book is close at hand.
The LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor Activity Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming LEGO Robots by Daniele Benettelli is published by No Starch Press, and is available as both an ebook or hardcopy version. The book is priced at $USD 34.99, and is available directly from No Starch Press or Amazon(affiliate link).
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The author’s passion for MINDSTORMS is palpable. At the end of every chapter, he reminds us what we have learned, from the points of view of both building and programming your robot. I recommend this book if you are starting out with MINDSTORMS, and if you are looking to try something beyond the included models. Certainly, it would be a great supplement for anyone getting the MINDSTORMS set for Christmas.
Have you been using the 51515 LEGO MINDSTORMS set? How have you enjoyed it? Why not leave your comments below, and until next time…
The Rambling Brick was provided with a prerelease pdf of the book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.