Long enough ago that I remember which birthday it was, my in-laws gave my older son the Vex Robotics Starter Kit as a gift. Man, that thing looked so cool! And so… complicated. It ended up sitting on a shelf in the boys’ room for at least a year, gathering dust, and all the while taunting me – the editor of GeekDad, for heaven’s sake! – to bloody well get to it and build a robot with my boy.
For the last few months I’ve been working on a side project (about which I hope to be able to talk to you all in the future), but last week that project got to a place where it was going to be out of my hands for a while. Just that day (a planned attack, no doubt) my son pulled the Vex kit off his shelf, and asked if we could go ahead and built it together. I’m so happy I was able to say yes!
Just opening the box was a cause for "oohs" and "ahhs." The major components are very impressive. The flashiest is the remote, which looks ten times as fancy and professional as the cheap ones that come with most R/C units you pick up at the toy store. The rest of the kit is a combination of tinker-toy pieces, gears, and wheels. And the manual. Oh, the manual!
Indeed, the first challenge of the starter kit is assembling the manual. Not unlike the manuals that will come with major pieces of industrial equipment, you have to take the sections of the manual out of their shrink-wrapping and put them in the provided three-ring binder. Once you got that done, you can start reading.
The kit it set up as a project for a classroom or similar environ in that it is broken down into phases with the suggestion that each phase be handled by a separate team. For us, each phases is instead being handled as a discreet 1-2 evening mini-task. The goal of the overall project is to assemble the basic "box-bot," which is both R/C and programmable, and includes motors and sensors.
So, after two nights, we’ve finished the structure, and the best part is that my son has only gotten more and more excited and into the project. This evening he asked if he could, rather than climbing into bed and reading before lights-out, spend an extra 20 minutes working on the robot. How cool is that?
(Random Connection: GeekDad Core Contributor Anton Olsen works for the company that makes Vex, but we had the kit way before he joined the blog)
Other posts about VEX Robotics: