A few years ago, I went through the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT:  The Mayan Adventure.  I wrote the following review of the book and of my experience, but was unable to post it at the time for lack of blog.  When we finally finished setting up the Mack Academy blog, I decided that even though several years have passed, the book was so good that I had to post this review.  I decided to post it as is and not change anything in it, so please bear with me on the grammar.  

Mayan Adventure - Book Cover.png

When I first started reading the Mayan Adventure book and noticed that the user level was for beginners, I assumed that this was just an easy workbook.  (I soon changed my mind when I saw project two)

The way the book is written, you follow Evan, a kid summer vacationing with his archeologist uncle, through his adventures and challenges as he and the team try to reach the tomb of an ancient Mayan king.  Several traps were set up in the tomb so that only someone with a trained monkey could reach the burial chamber.  Evan uses his new NXT robotics kit to build innovative and creative robots to disarm the traps and get them into the chamber.

In this book, five rather creative challenges are presented to the reader.  Building and programming instructions are also included, but the book is arranged in such a way that you could easily come up with your own designs.  Here is a list of the feats you and your robot must conquer:
1.        The Mayan Explorobot has to navigate through a small tunnel to get to a pressure plate.  It then has to wait on top of the plate for thirty seconds, then turn around and come back.  - I thought this would be really easy until I realized the problems with navigating around sharp turns.  It is very easy for a robot to get  caught and stuck.
2.        The robot must travel across a string, carrying pebbles, and drop them into a vase at the other side of the room.  - After reading this I would have told you this was one of the hardest challenges I had ever heard of.  Don't worry though, it gets harder.
3.        The robot must enter a library and find a basket with a key inside.  Once the basket is found, the robot will make a complete circle around it, wrapping string tied to the back of the robot around the basket, then head for the opening.  While it is doing this, the robot will be taking pictures of the room.  Once it is back we will pull the basket through the opening and out into the room.  - This project is exceptionally hard because we can't see the basket to aim the robot toward it.  Therefore we must rely completely on sensors.
4.        The robot must enter a small tunnel, trigger a pressure plate, and retrieve a small scroll.  - This project isn't as hard as the others, but it is extremely important.  Our robot must weigh a certain amount to trigger the plate, but more importantly, it MUST NOT drop the scroll.  We have only one chance at this mission.
5.        In the burial chamber there are four statues, each weighing about two pounds, that the robot must move.  Three of the statues will be pushed up the ramp each of them are standing in front of.  If they fall over or are pushed too far the room will be flooded.  The last statue will be pushed to and up a ramp leading to the sarcophagus.  The statue must be placed on top for the room to be disarmed.   - This challenge is probably the hardest one yet because we can't get in there to test, measure, or retrieve the robot if anything goes wrong.  Again we will completely be relying on sensors.  Another problem we face is that the robot has to be heavy and strong enough to push the statues up the ramp, but not too heavy as to trigger the trap.

The most important things Mr. Kelly, the author, included in this book were chapters that talked about planning and design.  This allowed the reader to work through the problems and to learn more about the challenge.  I was forced to realize hindrances that to me weren't a big deal, such as weather conditions, the surface your robot must cross, noise level, etc.  

As I read, I realized just how important some of the other sensors are.  Especially if you can't quite get to places to make exact measurements or to test the robot.  For LEGO League, we tend to rely most heavily on the rotation sensor and occasionally use other sensors.  I  especially grew impressed with the sound sensor.  I now have several ideas to play around with.

I found that Mr. Kelly did a wonderful job describing the problem, helping the reader discover a solution and think through the steps to solve it, and helping the reader program the robot.  However, we found that the building instructions were rather vague and often confusing.  Axel sizes are not defined, and since the pictures are in black and white, it was easy to confuse one piece with another.

After reading this book, two things come to mind.  The first is, that was amazing!  And secondly, I want a sequel!  Our team, the LEGO Mountaineers have been working through the Mayan Adventure and we have really been learning a lot.

One thing I should mention is that  although  the programming examples are written for NXT-G our  
US FIRST robotics team decided to make the tutorial even more challenging by looking at the program examples and programming them in ROBOLAB.  The Mayan Adventure was perfectly suited for this with clear explanations and definitions.  I am now working on learning LabVIEW and I will probably go through this book a second time to force me to learn more about the software.

Book information:

LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT:  The Mayan Adventure.

Author:  James Floyd Kelly

ISBN Number:  1-59059-763-x

Discussion/Comments (1):

Discussion for this entry is now closed.