Extreme Mindstorms: an Advanced Guide to LEGO MINDSTORMS

The LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System is fun. Serious fun. But like any product, there are some limits to what it can do. And of course there are ways to take it past those limits. That's what this book is about - taking Mindstorms to the next level.

Although "Extreme Mindstorms" is not strictly a sequel to "Dave Baum's Definitive Guide to Lego Mindstorms", the two books are complementary. The "Definitive Guide" covers many basic construction and programming techniques. These techniques are a good foundation for any work with Mindstorms. "Extreme Mindstorms" dives into more advanced material, exploring custom RCX 2.0 firmware, pbForth, legOS, and custom sensors.

The book is divided into four main parts. The first part provides some background information on Mindstorms and some details about the RCX itself. Instructions are included for building a simple demonstration robot, called Seeker, which is then programmed using RCX Code and NQC. An additional chapter covers the new features introduced with the RCX 2.0 Firmware, and shows how some of these features can be used to improve Seeker's program.

The second part provides an extensive introduction to using pbForth. These chapters explain the fundamentals of the Forth language, the unique features of pbForth (a version of Forth for the RCX), and develop a complete program for Seeker using pbForth. The chapters are very interactive (much like the Forth language itself). Concepts are introduced gradually, each building upon some of the earlier ones, and accompanied by numerous sample programs.

The third part explores legOS - the most powerful way to program the RCX. LegOS is based on the C programming language, and these chapters assume the reader is already reasonably familiar with C. The most common features of legOS are presented, including some tips for debugging programs. Once again, a program for Seeker is developed. In addition, instructions for a second robot are given, which is then programmed with a machine learning technique called Q-learning.

The last part covers custom sensors, with numerous projects ranging from a simple coin detector to a sound sensor. By following the clear step-by-step instructions, even beginners should be able to build these sensors. More than a simple "how-to" book, these chapters also explain how the various parts and sensors work, resulting in a very enjoyable way to learn basic electronics.

Even the most experienced Mindstormer will find some interesting material in this book. I learned a lot about pbForth and legOS while reviewing the chapters written by Ralph and Luis. I also had a great time building the various custom sensors in Mike's chapters. If you're curious about making your RCX do more, then this book will open some doors for you.

 [Dave's Lego Site]