Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hex Bugs, Crawling on a Floor Near You

Hex Bug

The last few years have seen a wonderful renaissance in the consumer robotics field, with sophisticated and educational robot kits all over the place. The prices have remained reasonable; excellent kits are available in the in the hundreds, rather than the thousands of dollars. Even better, these high-end systems have begun to create a "trickle down" effect where the mechanics and sensors of have begin to appear in products of the stocking-stuffer price range.

Case in point, the Hex Bug, a robotic insect that scuttles around on six legs. Produced by VexLabs, an educational robot manufacturer known primarily for the VEX Robotics Design System (imagine LEGO Mindstorms meets Erector) the Hex Bug is marketed as being "intelligent" and "obedient" by which they mean once turned on, the Hex Bug needs no controller; it moves autonomously, responding to tactile input from its two antenna bump sensors, as well as reacting to audio stimuli via its sound sensor.

Coming in five cosmetically different versions named using the NATO phonetic alphabet, the Hex Bugs measure just a couple of inches long and weigh in at around 17 grams. They embody part of the BEAM robot autonomy, though they use button cells rather than solar panels for power. But some day? How cool would it be to have autonomous Hex Bugs interacting with real ones?

The Hex Bugs are available at Radio Shack or at VexLab's online store. And for GeekKids, the company has a cool-sounding Hex Bug fundraising program -- wouldn't you rather buy a robot than a candy bar?

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