Review: Robotics Programming 101 by Scott Preston

Posted 15 Jun 2011 at 21:23 UTC (updated 15 Jun 2011 at 21:29 UTC) by The Swirling Brain Share This

The Swirling Brain has been in the background lately but yes, I'm still around. Recently, I've had the pleasure of getting to read Scott Preston's new book "Robotics Programming 101". A while back, I also read and reviewed another of his books called "The Definitive Guide to Building Java Robots". When Scott asked me to read and review his new book, of course I said I'd be happy to since I loved his previous book. I expected the new book would be similar to his previous book. I was expecting a hard bound 400+ page book. Instead, what arrived in the mail was a thin paperback book with a cute little robot on the cover who was typing at a computer keyboard! I was puzzled at first at the size of the paperback and then after thumbing through it I was very intrigued. More after the jump...
Review by Jim Brown

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Title: Robotics Programming 101

Author: Scott Preston

ISBN-10: 146113594X
ISBN-13: 978-1461135944

Number of Pages: 106

List of Sections and Chapters:

Getting Started
1. Quick Start
2. Planning
3. Brains
4. Languages
5. Operating Systems
6. Sample Robots

Controller Programming
7. Serial Ports
8. Servo Controllers
9. Microcontrollers
10. Sonar
11. Compass
12. Everything Together

Speech & Vision
13. Text-To-Speech
14. Speech Recognition
15. Image Acquisition
16. Image Processing

17. Motion
18. Navigation
19. Wrap-Up

I felt it was weird that it took me a moment to realize that it was OK that the book was a smaller size. But, when I thought about it, I realized that there were plenty of benefits from the new book's form factor. It is very concise, affordable, and a quick way to get someone up and running on building a robot. I also like the idea of only having to read about a 100 pages rather than 400 pages. I was able to easily read the entire book cover-to-cover in an evening!

Scott writes in a very easy to follow plain and simple English. Reader's young and old can easily read and understand the topics in the book. The book gives a nice road map of where the book will be taking you and then takes you there covering many relevant topics for building your personal robot. Building and programming robotics does require several disciplines as well as the finances to purchase parts, but I think Scott did a great job describing various platform options for both hardware and software to accommodate most every skill level and purchasing ability. The book seems to be intended for a person who may know how to program somewhat but perhaps is just getting started into the world of building and programming personal robots. Hence the title, Robotics Programming 101. So the book would be appropriate for just about anyone from late teens to old timers who may be a beginner or intermediate robot builder and wanting a useful quick-start guide to building robots.

The book gives options and informed recommendations on the best choices for parts and languages to select for planning your personal robot build and what it takes to program it. Some of the options you can choose are based on your skill level or based on the money you have or even on the time you have to spend. Scott will help you to choose when to use off the shelf solutions or when to roll your own or when you can use code that he has made for you. Scott also helps you understand when you should use a microcontroller and when it's better to go with a PC for certain cases. He points out many important things to consider for anyone wanting to be a successful robot builder.

Topics in the book include how, why, when and where to use various parts you would use for your robot. Parts including serial servo controllers, and differential drives as well as sensors like a sonar or a compass. Some of the advanced topics include how to use text-to-speech, voice recognition, image acquisition and image processing. The book includes plenty of sample code to show how to interface to these devices and functions as well as all example and free driver code that can be downloaded from his website. Scott has spent a lot of time making code that you can use on your robot that will save you a lot of time and effort and that can be a valuable resource.

The book is contemporary and it doesn't bore you with the history of how things used to be old-school back in the day. Instead, any history is limited to a sentence or two and then he gets right on to how things are done today. The book is complete with resources throughout that tell you where you can locate parts or where to download software you may need. At least once I wondered where some example images were, but then immediately as if he was reading my mind, I saw where he had a link to his website for a plethora of example images and video that could be perused. This is a very well thought out book.

While reading the book, you'll want to bookmark many of the examples. After a while, though, you'll notice that you'll have bookmarked a lot of the book! You'll find lots of short-cuts, great advice, information and resources. Of course the small paperback size is sure to help you to get up and running quickly. It's all great stuff and certainly worth the price!

Thanks for the great review!, posted 16 Jun 2011 at 00:46 UTC by scottpreston » (Master)

My robot website is Feel free to send me a note if you have a question.


Great books get great reviews!, posted 16 Jun 2011 at 02:27 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

It was my pleasure to read and review the book. Good job. I think it's a great resource for robot builders! Thanks for getting the correct website link above also. The flip side of that is that if you ever send me a sucky book, watch out! ;-l I don't expect you would do that though. You have a great track record so far. Your website is a best kept secret too.

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