Robotics with Enchanting – the book we’ve been waiting for

Using Enchanting to program a LEGO® NXT robot is a rewarding experience. It is far, far more intuitive that the packaged Mindstorms software and far less prone to errors caused by the users’ inability to wield a mouse with precision. The fact that Enchanting is intuitive is good, because until very recently the main problem with Enchanting has been the lack of materials explaining how to use it.

Now Monash University has released a free iBook, Robotics with Enchanting. This book is a project-based introduction to Enchanting and it does a simply excellent job. It starts off with a generalised introduction to robotics, moves smoothly through how to get up and running with Enchanting, and culminates with a series of challenges designed to consolidate the students’ knowledge. The presentation within iBooks is crystal clear and there are a number of interactive elements. Much of the description is done through embedded videos which would be great in a classroom environment.

The book comes with a word of warning from the authors. They say that it is not a fully self-contained comprehensive introduction to programming. It is designed to be used as support material in a flipped classroom where a teacher will facilitate the learning. I think the authors are rather under-playing their achievement with this book, as I can well see it being used by a motivated student to get them up and running to quite a sophisticated level without any additional input.

I do have a couple of quibbles. There is a bit too much focus on BYOB and the background context to the authors interest in Enchanting, which is probably far more top of mind for the authors than the average reader. This is one of the downsides of an e-book, skipping the introductory stuff is not as intuitive as it is in hardcopy – so it might be better to put background materials at the end. Also, and more materially, it would be nice to see some more of the programs from the videos also printed out in the book so they can be easily examined in detail and left up on a Smartboard more easily.

Overall Robotics with Enchanting by Aidan Lane, Bernd Meyer and Jonathan Mullins is a beautifully produced and truly useful resource. What makes that even more amazing is that it is, as far as I know, the only book on Enchanting. And it’s free. Put all that together and you get an unbeatable package.

The book can be downloaded from iTunes (and it will, apparently, become available in other formats in the coming weeks). Enchanting itself can be downloaded from here.

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