Book review – Learn Robotics with Raspberry Pi (by Matt Timmons-Brown)

Sometimes, a book comes along that exceeds your expectations. When I saw that Matt Timmons Brown (“The Raspberry Pi Guy”) had teamed up with No Starch Press and that he had a very well-known and respected (though he’d never admit it) Technical Editor in Jim Darby, my expectations were sky high.

TL;DR – If you want a book on Raspberry Pi robotics, this is an excellent introduction, and much more.

Contents

Following a rather nice foreword from Raspberry Pi’s Eben Upton, the book is split into 8 chapters. They are:

  1. Getting up and running
    All about setting up your Pi and getting to a screen where you can start programming.
  2. Electronics basics
    A great chapter to help you understand basic components, how to light up LEDs, how to read button presses, etc. All basic knowledge for your journey into inputs, outputs and command-and-control.
  3. Building your robot
    Takes you through the physical construction using the components you’ve purchased. This includes making the Raspberry Pi and the robot run from the same power source using a cheap buck converter and running the motors using a cheap motor controller board.
  4. Making your robot move
    Includes sections on rudimentary, autonomous movement along a pre-defined route and, happily, turning your robot into a remote-controlled vehicle using a Wiimote.
  5. Avoiding obstacles
    A section about using an ultrasonic sensor to detect obstacles and autonomously drive away from them.
  6. Customising with lights and sound
    A fun chapter showing how to add LEDs and a speaker to your Raspberry Pi to make your robot more attractive and, well, loud!
  7. Line following
    This is all about using a purchased line detector module to follow a black line autonomously.
  8. Computer vision
    This chapter uses a Raspberry Pi camera module and OpenCV to detect and follow a coloured ball.

There are also appendices with a GPIO diagram, a guide to resistors and welcome tutorials on soldering and how to run code on start-up.

The tone of the book

I want to congratulate Matt and his editors on striking just the right tone with this book. It’s conversational, without being “chummy” and has detailed explanations, without getting so technical that you can’t understand anything.

Layout and quality

Remember those “high expectations” I mentioned earlier? As I said, this is a No Starch Press book, and it’s in full-colour, which really makes the diagrams “pop” out of the page. Congratulations to the publishers for producing a really excellent publication.

Here’s a sample page. You can see the quality I’m talking about:

Does it do what it sets out to do?

TL;DR: Yes.

The chapters of the book are well-ordered and their contents well-structured to take you, step-by-step, through the “bread and butter skills” you need as a robot creator. Each component is explained in detail (but not too much detail, as I said before) so that you learn why things work as well as how they work. In other words, it doesn’t tell you what to do to get something working without first telling you about the basic building blocks to get there. It’s a great approach, although it may prove too much for younger readers without adult guidance. I think that’s fine, though – robotics tends to be something which young people don’t get into until they are aged 11+, by which time the tone and content of the book should be within their grasp, albeit with a lot of concentration.

The remote-control section using a Wiimote is, of course, slightly basic (although it does get into using the on-board accelerometer to change the driving speed) but I’m glad it’s there – it will be something people will want to do.

The “meat” of the book, though, is those autonomous sections – distance sensing, line sensing and object following. These are excellent additions as it pulls you into the basic skills that you will need to take part in something like Pi Wars and also prepares you for taking your skills into professional industry.

Conclusion

This book really is an excellent introduction to Raspberry Pi robotics but is also for people who have built their robot already and want to move into autonomous sensing and movement. It is well-written and very accurate, thanks to Matt’s efforts and Jim’s technical editing and is stunning to look at, thanks to No Starch Press. Bravo to all concerned!

Buying it

In the UK, you can pick it up for around £17 at Amazon.

In the USA, you can pick it up for around $25 from No Starch Press (or Amazon).

2 comments for “Book review – Learn Robotics with Raspberry Pi (by Matt Timmons-Brown)

  1. PerranMan
    6 September 2019 at 8:11 am

    This looks interesting and is begging for a followup advanced edition
    dealing with a purely autonomous Robot (for a patrolling Gas/Fire/intruder detection for example).
    Many of the simpler Robots get boring after a short space of time and cry out for expansion.

  2. Mike Makers "makersgeneration"
    8 September 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you for the share Michael. The pi is kicking it. 🙂

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