This collaboration between Hexbug and Vex robotics sits squarely at the intersection between toys and robots. These are surprisingly large radio controlled beasts that, at the flip of a switch, become autonomous. With a price tag ranging from $50 to $90 depending on which model you get, they are certainly cheaper than most other robotics you’d find in the toy aisle at your local big box store. While more toy than robot, I found them to be a fantastic value.
In the box
The boxes themselves are covered with information. On the back is an exploded view that shows you just how complex the construction is. This was a nice visual touch, letting you know exactly what you’re in for!
Inside the box, everything was packed nicely in plastic baggies. If you’re careful, you can keep things in there as you construct your bot and have less of a mess to sort through looking for parts.
The instructions were easy to follow. They do a pretty good job of hilighting exactly which hole a peg needs to be inserted into. This sounds like a silly thing to say, but it is easy to lose track, so proper diagrams help considerably.
It took us about three hours to assemble the Strandbeast, the most complicated kit. When we were finished we found that the gear drive would often pop out of alignment, a downfall to using the infinitely configurable building block system. It wasn’t a large inconvenience though, and a fair compromise for the ability to reconfigure the bot as we pleased.
The plastic body parts for these bots are all compatible with each other, meaning that if you wanted, you could make new creations, mixing and matching parts from each.
This is probably the most fun aspect of this kit. We have radio controlled cars and quadcopters in this house, but these are a whole different creature. There’s something really fun about controlling a multi-legged beast that feels much more fun than a car. Typically you would pay several hundred dollars to get a simple bot with multiple legs, whereas the price for this is fantastic.
Autonomy and Programming
The autonomous modes were fairly basic. The Ant was equipped with touch sensors and the Strandbeast had IR sensors for obstacle avoidance. Neither handled the environment of our living room very well, either just spinning in circles, or sitting completely still.
Moving to a larger area with more space between obstacles seemed to make them perform better.
Though they tout the programmability of the robots, I didn’t find any documentation in the supplied booklet about that. The rear of the box shows a few sample configurations of jumper switches on the “brain” for different modes, but that was it. You won’t be plugging these in and uploading code to them.
These are great kits and we really enjoyed them. Ultimately, they were just like radio controlled bots for us, the autonomy was forgotten almost immediately. However, for the price, you couldn’t buy much cooler of a radio controlled bot! I would highly recommend these for anyone looking for a unique and fun toy kit, just don’t expect much on the programming side.