Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Zero (Richard Grimmett) – Review

David Whale lent me a copy of this book for review. Thanks David!

The author

Richard Grimmett is an Idaho-based electrical engineer who has worked in the radar and telecommunications industry and now teaches computer science and electrical engineering. One of his hobbies is robotics and he has used his not-insubstantial knowledge in that area in his book Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Zero, published by Packt.

The content

To start with when I opened the book, I was thinking “Same ol’, Same ol'” as it started with the standard information on setting the Pi up and getting an image written to the SD card. It’s very well-done, well-written, but nothing I haven’t read before. However, I was then pleasantly surprised with what he then did. He moved straight on to a crash-course in Python, programming constructs and libraries and an introduction to the GPIO, including hooking up various sensors. My surprise stemmed from the style and quality of the writing as well as the commitment to getting the ‘good stuff’ up-front and early. Several Pi books I’ve read spend a great deal of time on very basic stuff, but Grimmett wasn’t afraid to get stuck in with GPIO programming virtually immediately.

The book gets better because the author has recognised one the central lessons of getting people enthused with the Raspberry Pi: Robotics! He has written in-depth chapters on building wheeled robots and also a walking robot. He goes into the fine detail, such as which components you need to buy, and uses both a simple H-bridge chip as well as an off-the-shelf motor controller board, in this case the RasPiRobot Board v2 (version 3 is now out, but I’m sure the instructions won’t differ).

The following two chapters deal with adding voice recognition and synthesized speech to your robot and hacking an existing remote-controlled device such as an RC car or robotic dinosaur.

There is then an intriguing chapter on creating a robotic hand from 3D printed parts with servos. The hand is then used to play a game of rock, paper, scissors, together with a short piece on image recognition using OpenCV.

The final chapter deals with adding a Zero to a quadcopter. This is the least in-depth chapter (as the subject is rather large) with most of the chapter dealing with using MAVProxy to plot flightplans.

Summing up

Overall, the book is extraordinarily well-written and well-researched. Grimmett has obviously done all of these projects himself (as opposed to just doing them in theory) and has taken copious photographs, and created lots of circuit diagrams, to go with the written material. His background gives you the confidence that he knows what he’s talking about and the projects are interesting, well-thought-out and well-documented. I have a few minor caveats:

  • The projects are not necessarily Pi Zero-specific, although with these projects you might find size is a relevant factor. This isn’t a bad thing, actually, as it means the book is relevant for all Pi owners, not just owners of the Zero. The book title is not misleading as such – I just thought it was worth pointing out as hopefully it will mean the book can be ‘pushed’ to all owners.
  • The parts and the shops used to procure them are USA-based, although I’m sure you can find them in the UK or import them without much hassle.
  • The book is printed in black-and-white. It would really benefit from colour photos, although they are available to download in colour from the Packt website. When you’re dealing with circuit diagrams and photographs of circuits, colour (although expensive) would add significant value to the book.
  • Circuit diagrams could be clearer, as could the photographs of the circuits – most of this is down to the lack of colour.
  • Quadcopter chapter wasn’t as interesting to me compared to the rest of the book and could easily be left out. I felt he could have gone into a bit more detail as to how the Zero could’ve actually been used (or not!) to control the quad.

The book is priced at £19.99 (for printed) and slightly less for just the e-book. I would say that this is a little high, considering the lack of colour, but I do understand that Packt’s publications tend to be a little more expensive as they are a smaller publisher. I would not object that much to paying that amount for this book – it’s detailed and thorough enough that you feel like you’re getting value-for-money. In terms of the colour, I do know that Packt don’t generally print in colour, but I feel it’s something they should consider for a product of this quality.

Addendum: I’ve since been contacted by the publisher, Packt, who have told me that when you buy the paper-based book, you get a free copy of the colour e-book as well. This helps to redress some of the issues with lack of colour.

Rating: 8.5/10 for UK people, 9/10 for USA people (just because of the USA-based sources of components).

You can buy the book from Packt or from Amazon (where you can use the Surprise Me function to see some sample pages).

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