Books Reviews: Lego Mindstorms NXT Discovery Book and Lego Mindstorms Inventor’s Guide

Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Inventor's guide book

The Lego Mindstorms NXT Discovery Book

The Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Discovery Book – A beginners guide to building and programming robots by Laurens Valk is an excellent introduction to the world of Lego robotics. The book is divided into three sections which rapidly introduce robots of increasing difficulty in a very accessible manner.

Part I introduces robots and moving them with a series of programmed commands. This section also introduces coding concepts such as looping for those with no programming experience. Part II moves on to more advanced robots that use sensors to navigate. The ultrasonic, touch, and colour sensors all feature. One of the things I like about this book is its attention to detail – for example, I didn’t realise (or maybe I had forgotten) that the Lego motor output can also function as a rotation sensor. The third part of the book deals with advanced programming techniques in the NXT-G environment (covering features such as blocks and variables), while the final part has instructions for three advanced robots: the snatcher, the hybrid brick sorter, and the compact chimney climber (CCC for short).

Within each part there are short exercises (“discoveries”) of various difficulties to test students’ skills. These typically involve writing different programs for the robot that was built at the start of the chapter, giving it new functionality. I like this approach – it helps emphasize to students that robots are nothing without software. Each chapter also includes build instructions for a couple of larger robot projects (there are 8 large robots featured in total).

All build instructions are “Lego-style” – that is printed from a CAD type program rather than being photographs, which makes them clear and easy to follow, despite being in black and white. As you might expect, the programming instructions all use the Lego NXT-G software (of which I am not really a fan), but this is of course a sensible decision and means everything works out of the box. Of course there is nothing to stop you building these robots and then writing the code in another language or environment (I have done this a couple of times).Overall, of the four Lego robotics books I have, I find the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Discovery Book consistently the most useful and engaging for building ideas and student tasks. The book is available in paperback, on the Kindle, and with free worldwide shipping from Book Depository.

Lego Mindstorms NXT Inventor’s Guide

The Unofficial Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Inventor’s Guide initially appears similar in style to the NXT Discovery book (not surprising since Lauren Valks is the co-author). However, on closer inspection there are number of key differences.

On the plus side, the instructions use the same CAD-drawing style and clear format which make them easy to read and follow. The 6 robots featured here are excellent, complex robots that will challenge builders and programmers, and the instructions for using the NXT-G programming software are clear and concise.

On the other hand, if you already have the Discovery Book you may find some of the material here somewhat redundant. You are unlikely to need the first third of the book, for example (the NXT-G programming sections). To be fair, this is a criticism that could be aimed at many Lego robotics books – they all need to include basic programming help to get users started, but this means many of them duplicate each other’s content.

If you liked the variety of mini-challenges (“discoveries”) in the Discovery Book, you will be disappointed to see that there are none here. In fact, the style of the Inventor’s Guide is much more of a reference work – the earlier chapters that discuss concepts such as gearing and building strong structures, for examples, do so in an entirely theoretical manner, without building an actual working robot to support the concepts.

As a companion to the Discovery Book, The Unofficial Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Inventor’s Guide serves me well, but as a stand alone product is is less helpful. The Inventor’s Guide available in paperback, on the Kindle, and with free worldwide shipping from Book Depository.

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