Book Review: High Tech LEGO Projects, by Grady Koch


High Tech LEGO Projects
by Grady Koch, 184 pages, full-color
$29.95 USD, $39.95 CDN

LEGO building is often an exploration of creation. Using a selection of parts, a person can build items of many scales and uses, from a building model thta fits in the pals of a hand to a life-size car. With electric components, morts and lights can add even more to the mix. With No Starch Press’ book High Tech LEGO Projects, devices and gadgets outside of the LEGO ‘system’ of building are added to make many offbeat creations.

What makes this book interesting is that it takes advantage of LEGO as a way to prototype contraptions using real-world items that have a complexity that is higher than the usual LEGO project. LEGO parts are built to a standard set of measurements that lend themselves well for somewhat precise, but more importantly consistent construction. Projects include a laser security fence, and automated insect trapper, and an infrared thermometer.

There are 16 projects in the book, and almost all of them require items that are not sold by LEGO. While rounding up all of the components may be a daunting thought, they can be broken down by project, and some projects lead to others. The skill set needed for this book is a little more advanced than just building too – a knowledge of basic electronics and shop skills. The book explains techniques needed for making circuits, but having a general understanding coming in would be helpful.

All of the projects require a MINDSTORMS EV3 set – this was written and published just when the newer MINDSTORMS system came out, so there is no support for the newer system. In most ways, this is a good choice – the EV3 brick is more suited to the projects, as it has a screen display that can show readouts. However, since the newer system is now being launched, the EV3 software was also revamped. This new software is completely different and is based on Scratch. The older EV3 software (LEGO MINDTORMS EV3 Home Edition) is still available, though, and can be found here. For Mac users, you cannot use the older software if you are using an OS later than Mojave (10.14).

 

Building LEGO-based adapters and housings for devices is easily shown and followed with the instructions provided.

Because almost every project requires more than just LEGO parts, there’s a bit of rule-breaking involved in building, from using glue to altering parts. There is only one project that uses only an EV3 (the Morse Code Transmitter) . You’ll get to work with things that most makers are familiar with, such as LEDs, breadboards and sensors. Other items required for projects may be a bit pricy (an SLR and compatible remote control for the animal cam, for example) or ‘different’ (a hinged storage box for the insect trapper project), so look over each project before you begin.

This shows you how to program the project – as you can see, it’s the old EV3-G blocks.

Each project has instructions and insight into the device being built, so building is also a lesson. Some of the lessons are pretty easy – understanding using the infrared distance sensor for the animal cam, for example. Other projects are a bit more complicated, notably the Tower of Eratosthenes, a project that takes maybe an hour to build, but months to complete.

This project is easy, but requires patience – you do a set of measurements over a months-long period!

The projects are also diverse, with appeal to almost any maker. For the LEGO builder, there are three projects that will appealing: hacking LEGO light bricks, making a flickering fireplace, and the laser light show. All of these could be used with a LEGO model and displayed at home or at an event. The other projects have a broader appeal to inventors and tinkerers.

For additional projects, No Starch Press has a webpage: www.nostarch.com/high-tech-lego/ Two additional projects can be downloaded: a car tracker and a satellite spotter.

With all of the projects included in the book, High Tech LEGO Projects is a good starting guide for those who want to go beyond the LEGO range of machines and contraptions. An entirely new level of sophistication is opened up with the addition of lasers and temperature sensors to the MINDSTORMS assortment, thanks to this book. The most fascinating item to me is independent of a MINDSTORMS system – it a BlinkM programmable LED.

Now if we could only find a way to animate a minifigure…

High Tech LEGO Projects is now available from No Starch Press, along with their extensive collection of LEGO-related books.


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