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A Smorgasbord of Technological Know-How.
on 29 November 2011
This book, whilst it has been around for some years and is now in its 4th thoroughly updated edition, must surely now be riding a wave of renewed success! It deserves to be.
I'll start with some background and then move into the specifics of the book.
The Maker Movement has caught fire in recent years, giving a focussing effect to the many people who were making their own "stuff" at home anyway, but also dragging people like me back into making things. A long time ago I used to make things just for fun, nothing huge, just little toys and gadgets. But, like so many others, I got to the point where it just didn't seem worth it any more when you could buy so many appealing things, so cheaply, off the shelf.
Then, there was the appearance of computer games in which you could do everything from build you own virtual car and then race it, to games that let you create whole civilisations and control their destinies. Such products satisfied - and continue to satisfy - the creative instinct in a whole new way.
But, as ever, the world moves on. New technologies appear, mature and become very affordable. New materials make it a lot easier to make good-looking home products, and even the current financial woes of the world help us to get back to basics, making stuff is getting to be all the rage again. The exercise of human ingenuity that is unleashed by such changes (take a look at some of the Maker movement websites or magazines for examples) is very encouraging.
One effect of the recession has been to cause many people to believe that a return to "making real things" - either at home or as a job - is highly desirable for our future prosperity, both personal and national. This seems to promise good future opportunities for those with the appropriate skills, whether gained at home or at school.
Although its aim is Robots and robotics, this book is really a smorgasbord of technological know-how. If you want to build a robot, at home on a low budget, or just build something that uses mechanical and electrical parts to "do something" - then this is the book for you.
Making "things that do things" involves many skills. For any given project you will need one or more of the "maker" skills. Maker skills include design and visualise, working materials (cutting, shaping etc), building, finding the parts you need, using computer tools for putting intelligence of some kind into your creation, understanding sensors and mechanical elements such as springs, pulleys, spindles, motors, gears and so on and on.
You won't need all these skills for every project and of course, very, very few of us are good at all these things, or can remember everything we need to know. That's where a book like this one comes in.
In a non-academic, practical way (precious few formulae here) with numerous photos and diagrams, this book takes you through the whole process of creating electro-mechanical devices. It covers choosing and using your materials, be it metal, plastic or wood. It covers mechanical concepts such as gears, pulleys & drives. It covers devices such as electric motors, servo motors: It has excellent sections on sensors, switches, LED and conventional lights. It covers concepts like robot grip, mobile robot navigation, sound, balance and many others. It covers the basics of electronics, it covers simple computer programming using small stand-alone computers such as Arduino to give your robot intelligent capabilities. It introduces concepts such as machine-vision and perception.
All of this is done in an approachable and practical way, with advice on how to apply it to whatever it might be you want to make. There is an impressive website to backup the book, containing extra information, additional projects, tools and software.
So, you may have no interest at all in building a robot, but if you want to make gadgets that really DO something, using movement or adaptive behaviour of some kind, you're going to find things in this excellent book to help you reach your goal. If you do want to build a robot, then you'll find absolutely everything you need here to get you started. I guarantee you'll be back to the book again and again as your reference point as you build more and more sophisticated machines into the future.
All in all, a highly recommended purchase for anyone building hobby machines of any type, not just robots.