Enhance Your EV3 Robot Experience With The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book

Cover for The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press
Cover for The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press

I’m a rookie First Lego League (FLL) coach, so when I was offered the opportunity to review The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots by Laurens Valk, I was thrilled. I am very pleased to say that the book did not disappoint! Within 15 minutes of picking up the book, I had already learned 3 things I didn’t know. As I continued to read, I picked up many more concepts and tips to take back and share with my First Lego League team. Laurens Valk is very qualified to write about the EV3. He helps test new Mindstorms products, and one of his robot designs is featured on the EV3 packaging as a bonus project.

Johnny working on the EV3 EVR3STORM sample robot. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Johnny and friends working on the EV3 EVR3STORM sample robot. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I started working with the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot after my son, Johnny, received it for Christmas last year. Johnny and I installed the EV3 Software and set about building three of the sample robots (TRACK3R, EV3RSTORM, and R3PTAR) from the instructions. Then, in May 2014, I began the journey of organizing and coaching a FLL team. Although there are a lot of resources online, knowing what I know now, I’d recommend that each of my team members purchase a copy of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book. The book has an impressive 396 pages filled with all the information about the EV3 that you could possibly want to know. There is both a “brief” and a “detailed” table of contents covering 19 chapters that are divided into six sections. Each section contains a multitude of full color diagrams providing concise and detailed pictorial information about the topics being discussed. The book walks you through what’s in the EV3 box and the basics of using the EV3 software, then the book proceeds to explain in detail the robot sensors and more complex programs. There are additional sample robots to build (e.g., EXPLOR3R, FORMULA EV3 RACE CAR, ANTY, SNATCH3R, and LAVA R3X) as well as scores of activities to test your new found knowledge. Whether you already have some experience with the EV3 like me or are totally new to the EV3, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book has an appropriate starting point for you.

The Brief Contents of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press
The Brief Contents of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press

For a full run down on the EV3, check out GeekMom Marziah’s review. Although this book states that it requires the Lego Mindstorms EV3 retail set 31313, the vast majority of the book will also work just as well with the Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 Core Set 45544.

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Here’s a short list of some of the take-aways I had from this book.  It’s amazing how much you can learn even when you’ve been working with the robot for a while. I learned:

  1. How to go back and forth between the Lobby, my program, and the Content Editor in the EV3 Software. (page 29)
  2. You can double click on a program name tab to rename the program to something more meaningful. What a relief to finally be able to give our programs a name related to what the program does instead of just “program”, “program2”, etc. (page 30)
  3. How to use the hand tool to pan around large programs. It didn’t take long before our programs became so large that they wouldn’t fit on the visible computer screen. It’s very useful to be able to quickly move around and scan our entire program.  (page 31)
  4. How to create My Blocks. These are essentially what I’ve always called procedures. You can save a group of programming blocks that perform a specific task into one block that you can insert anywhere in your programs without having to recreate all the individual blocks. My Blocks can be shared among team members or groups too. (page 53)
  5. How to view ports and sensor values, and move motors, all right on the EV3 brick. I knew you could do a lot more on the brick itself, but I hadn’t run into any text describing the specifics before this book. (page 66)
  6. Switch blocks have tabbed views. If your switch block has a lot of cases, you can use the tabbed view to tidy up your view and analyze one case at a time. (page 72)
  7. About the unregulated motor block. From the book, “When you don’t want the EV3 to supply that extra power to maintain constant speed, you can use unregulated speed.” (page 101)

As I mentioned earlier, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book is full of color images and samples. Page 52 has an awesome example program showing a loop. I love how easy these examples are to replicate on my computer in the EV3 software and try out for myself. The examples are visually accurate and taken directly from the EV3 software, and the extra write-in comment boxes make the examples easy to understand and follow.

Page 52 of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press
Page 52 of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press

Besides having great example programs, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book also has fantastic exercises for you to try in the form of Discovery sections. My favorite was Discovery #32 in Chapter 7 “Using the Color Sensor” where the EV3 color sensor is used to follow a track that you can design for yourself. Check out this video of my robot in action trying to move around and stay inside a green rectangular track constructed from white poster paper and green electric tape. I would never have known to try this if it weren’t for The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book!

Whether you’re new to the EV3, a FLL coach, on a FLL team, or maybe your robot has been sitting for a while and you’re looking to breath new life into it, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book is for you! This book would also be great to include along with the EV3 as a gift this coming holiday season.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots retails for $34.95 but currently sells on Amazon for $22.10 (hardback) or $9.78 (Kindle).

In addition to The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book, No Starch Press has a large selection of Lego books including The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Idea Book due out in November. I can’t wait to check it out!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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