Skill Builder: Hexbug Hacking

Skill Builder: Hexbug Hacking

In response to our Robotics theme, several parents have written me to ask about entry-level robotics projects for little kids, and what’s the appropriate age of entry. Of course, the latter part of that is hard to answer. It depends very much on the child. The obvious entry point is the Lego Mindstorms building system. But in thinking about other product lines or building sets that can scale well with age and growing technical sophistication, Hexbug came to mind.

Hexbug is a line of inexpensive bugbots created by Innovation First, the company that makes the kits for the FIRST Robotics competitions. Hexbugs are basically commercialized versions of the Bristlebot and various BEAM robotic designs. The coolest thing about them is that they scale well for kids, from as young as four all the way up. Do a search on Hexbugs on YouTube and you’ll find tons of vids of kids building complex mazes, out of things like toilet paper tubes and Legos, to create a sort of robo-critter’s answer to a hamster habitrail (using the Hexbug Nanos). From there, you can easily move up to adding LED lights to your Hexbugs. And waterproofing them and turning them into swimmers. Industrious bug-hackers have added light-triggered switches, to make the Nanos scatter like roaches when exposed to light.

And then there are the more ambitious priojects, like giving Hexbugs real brains. Here’s a project to retrofit a Hexbug Original with a Microchip PIC controller. Pretty cool to end up with a miniature, programmable, six-legged walkerbot for $35 total. The project instructions also do a decent job of documenting a Hexbug’s innards.

YouTube player

And here’s a project to turn a Hexbug Original into an autonomous, solar-powered bugbot.

YouTube player

Here’s a brained Hexbug that can be controlled wirelessly via an mbed MCU, an ATmega328, and a Nordic nRF24L01p 2.4 GHz transceiver chip.

For many more Hexbug projects, from the simple to the advanced, do a Google or YouTube search on “Hexbug hacks.”

Note: In honor of MAKE Volume 27, our robot issue, we’ll continue to run our robotics theme here on the site for the month of August. And say tuned for the launch of our series on metalworking.

Robot Skill Builder series
Robotics section of Make: Projects

8 thoughts on “Skill Builder: Hexbug Hacking

  1. Joshua Hogendorn says:

    Unfortunately, the Hexbug toys are a direct rip off of a talented inventors concept. It would probably be best if you didn’t support them.

  2. Tommy Phillips says:

    Joshua, your link to a reddit comment page, full of ad hominem snarling,
    is not exactly enlightening.  What part of toy robots, using well-known
    control and motive techniques, is or even should be exclusive?

    The spider design that seems to be the source of the heat is one of six
    different Hexbug designs, and nothing they are doing would prevent “the
    awesome guy that lives in the woods and builds a Giant Robot” from
    marketing his own spider robot toy.

    I am not in any way affiliated with Hexbug.  I don’t even own one … but they look like a great hacking platform.

  3. Hexbug panda says:

    hexbugs are great, i dunno about this reddit copying thing, if it is valid then isn’t that what lawsuits are for? either way they are a lot of fun.

  4. hexcat says:

    agreed panda hexbugs are amazing and fun to hack to ^.^

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn