Gadgets 60

Published on November 12th, 2005 | by Greg


One Robot to Rule Them All

The other day, I realized that we were a long way off from robots controlling the world, and became very sad. We’re still stuck on the stage where robots can barely walk, much less come after us with high-tech weaponry the likes of which we won’t be able to withstand.

Which is why we should all do our part to help make sure the robots get their chance to slide on up the evolutionary scale! Building a robot has long been a difficult, expensive, time-consuming thing to do. Thanks to the Vex Robotics Design System, robot building has hit the mainstream. At least, if you shop/work/live at Radio Shack- and who doesn’t?!

It’s still not going to clean your bedroom, or do your homework, but at least it won’t suddenly decide to start looking for Sarah Connor either. You can keep your robot on a short leash using the RC controller (which seems far larger than required, about the size and weight of two non-fiction hardcover books)- or you can try your hand at programming it using the included microcontroller.

The Vex set is more than a little intimidating at first- a nearly empty binder and hundreds of small pieces- sensors, wheels, battery pack, and plenty of pieces for the “body”. But with some help from the large website full of photos, videos, manuals, and ideas, you can pretty quickly start out building something that will roll around, sit, and play dead. Though a robot playing dead isn’t much of a trick, mind you.

Everything is crafted very well and fits together well- no shoddy construction here, everything is almost up to Lego standards. And there are plenty of additional pieces you can buy- better motors and wheels, more sensors, even a tread kit! Be aware though, that unlike Legos, it can be really hard to translate your ideas into a Vex ‘architecture’- it’s much harder to just sit down and play with the robotics kit than, say, Lego’s Mindstorms. The Vex kit is definitely aimed at high school ages or above, and even adult engineers will find something to challenge them here.

If you are willing to devote some time to a robot that can do some pretty sophisticated things (planting seeds, playing soccer, even dribbling a ball) then you will be more than satisfied with Vex. Others might find the $300 price tag too much to swallow.

About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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