Monday, 27 January 2014

“First the living room! Then the world!” Review : 31313 LEGO Mindstorms EV3 (Part 1)

Like many people, I believe that one day I shall take over the world.  Although while they’re not going to, I am.  And my plan has just got one step closer.

Things will change when I am ruler of all that I survey.  For example:
  • Any TV programme that involves the audience phoning in and voting, via a premium rate phone number, will immediately be cancelled and replaced with a science programme.
  • Anybody who is bumps into another person while in public, because they were looking down at their mobile phone will be cast into the bog of eternal stench. (1)
  • Everybody will be required to learn how to juggle.

There will be plenty of other changes.  You will be informed at the appropriate time.

So in order to achieve this, I clearly need an army.  And what better than a robot army? (2)

Fortunately, for Christmas, Mrs Boo bought me the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 set.  Build and programme your own robots.  And nowhere in the instructions does it say “May not be used for taking over the world.”


So a couple of nights ago I figured I’d better see what’s what and learn the basics.

Opening up the box, this is what we find…

Bags full of goodies!

The EV3 Brick

Two large motors

Cables for attaching the motors / sensors to the EV3 brick and the PC cable

Medium motor, sensors and tracks

The instruction manual

Static laden sticker sheet!

The artwork shows five robots than can be built with the box contents, but only one of them, TRACK3R, has the instructions actually in the manual.  The other four need to be downloaded from the Mindstorms website.  In fact when you get to the download page on the site there are seventeen sets of build instructions - the five originals plus twelve developed by the user community.

So as a kind of Mindstorms 101, I decided to start with TRACK3R.  With the exception of the EV3 brick, the motors, sensors and the cabling, all the actual LEGO bricks appear to be standard Technic stuff.

To begin, we break open the large amount of batteries that we’ve purchased and put six AA batteries in the EV3 brick, and two AAA batteries in what later turns out to be an Infra Red remote.

Then we build a frame and attach the two large motors…

Frame.  With motors.

The EV3 brick goes on next...

The mighty brick in place!

...followed by some wheels and then tracks are attached, driven by the motors.

We have tracks!

Next up some of the cabling is run.  The top of the brick has four ports marked A - D, which  are for hooking up to the motors.  The bottom of the brick has another four, 1 - 4, which are the ports that the sensors attach to. (3)  Here we’ve hooked up the two large motors to ports B & C, and then added some bodywork.  I put the stickers on as I went, and that was probably the most awkward part of the build.  The static between the sticker and the plate was incredible.  As soon as the sticker was within an inch of the plastic, it pulled itself onto it, and when you’re holding the piece still with one hand, and holding the sticker with the other it’s fairly problematical!  More by luck than judgement, all four that I had to apply went on pretty straight.

...and we're mobile!

At this point you actually get to fire up the brick!  Following a pictorial guide in the manual, you choose a demo prog that come pre-installed on the brick.  This simply moves and turns the robot a couple of times, presumably to ensure you have everything wired up before you get too far along.

After a successful test it’s back to the build and at the other end, the next step is to attach the medium motor and cable it up...

Medium motor, cabled up.

A few more minutes of construction and we have whirling blades of spinning plastic death!

None shall stand before me!

Another demo prog is run at this point to ensure that the medium motor has been hooked up correctly, and TRACK3R ambles around the living room carpet, spinning it’s blades and frightening any small animals that get in its path. (4) 

The last step is to attach the IR sensor to the back of the robot and run a third pre-installed piece of code.  This allows the robot to be remotely controlled by the IR transmitter / remote / thingummybob.  There’s a channel switch on the remote, and by putting it in the first position you can drive the robot around.  There are four switches, which gives you forward and reverse control over both tracks, much like a tank, meaning you can drive forward and backward, but also spin on the spot by moving one track in one direction, and the other track in the opposite direction.

Flipping the channel switch onto the next position gives you control over the whirling blades of death.

Soldier 0000001 in the Boo army

And broadly speaking, that’s as far as the manual takes you.  If you want to understand more, you’ll need a reference.  There are some instructions on the Mindstorms website, but I’m a bookish sort of person, and so I’ve picked up a copy of The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory by Daniele Benedettelli (5)   

I recommend this book if you know nothing (or indeed something) about Mindstorms

(Image courtsey of

Since then I’ve had a go at writing and downloading some simple programs, and now it’s just a case of buying 100,000 more EV3 sets, fitting them with weaponry and programming them all, and I can take over the world!

Assuming I can afford the batteries...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) The bog of eternal stench, seen in the film ‘Labyrinth’ is (currently) a fictional creation, which “is a seething swampy body of "water". The bog regularly emits unpleasant gurgles, belches, and other noises, and sends forth an repulsive odor. Brackish muddy fluids and bubbling openings dot the area, and sunken tree branches and swamp poke out from the horrid depths. Legend has it that if you put so much as one toe in the Bog you will smell bad....forever.”  My scientists will toil, night and day to create such a bog, into which thoughtless mobile phone users will be cast.

Quoted from

(2) I’ve seen Terminator.  Robots are badass!

(3)  There are a couple of other ports too.  A mini USB, marked ‘PC’ is the port that you use to hook the brick up to your computer to download the programs you write, although you can do this via Bluetooth.  I say ‘you’ can because I’ve tried it, and the ‘pairing process’ is utterly incomprehensible to me.  There’s also a full sized USB port which is used to slave other EV3 bricks and finally there’s an SD card slot which (I believe) can be used as a memory expansion slot.

(4) We don’t have any small animals, so no small animals were frightened.  I’m just assuming that if we had, they would have been.

(5) Who, apparently, prefers to be known as Danny because otherwise people assume he’s a girl.  The book, what I've read of it so far, is excellent.  It assumes no prior knowledge, but goes into plenty of detail for those who want to know more than the basics.

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