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A New Toy To Play With

Hurray for packages!I need more floor space!These two packages arrived about 1.5 weeks ago, courtesy of the Robotics Academy as a thank you for some of the things I’ve done for them over the past few years.  You can’t even imagine how amazingly grateful I was! This is a complete VEX Cortex Super Bundle, that sells for about $1300 US, wow!

There is so much stuff that comes with this set, you have no idea.  Unpacking it took a lot of floor space in my Lego Lair. As you can see the dogs were suitably impressed with it all.

I started building pretty quickly and made a real monstrosity of a robot that was badly put together and started loosening pretty quickly.  It was also way too bulky and wide for something like a line follower.  So I decided that a smaller robot was needed.  There are some good examples available on the Robotics Academy website, like this Swerve Bot. I didn’t want to cut any pieces of metal just yet like the instructions called for so I made my own version.  I think it turned out quite OK.

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As you can see, I used one of the School of Robotics omniwheels as a caster.  The square VEX axle fits very nicely in the middle of the cross for the axle.

What I love about the VEX Cortex set:

  • It looks very robot-y, it’s metal, it’s got wires sticking out everywhere and looks techno-y.
  • It’s big, there’s no real way to make a small robot with it, this is probably one of the smallest ones you can make without chopping into the metal
  • It uses 802.11G (54Mbit/s wifi) to control the robot, which is so much faster than Bluetooth, it’s like comparing flying down a road in a  Ferrari to walking up a hill with old boots with holes in it.
  • It comes with a cool remote control that looks a bit like an XBOX 360 controller.  You can tether two of them to control more than 4 motors at once.  The remote control also provides the wireless link between your computer and the controller.
  • The controller is fast, it runs at about twice the speed of an NXT and has about 50% more flash memory.
  • The battery pack for the robot and the AAA batteries for the remote are all rechargeables and come with their own chargers.  Kudos for environmentally friendly power solutions.  I love the label on the battery pack charger that has two positions “fast” and “safe”.  Hrmmm.  I think they should’ve removed the button or relabeled it to “certain death” and “you big wuss”

What I don’t love about the VEX Cortex set:

  • It takes much longer to make a robot and when you make a mistake, it takes longer to take it apart and put back together.  I am very new to this platform, so I am sure this will improve.
  • Shitty Allen KeyThe Allen keys shipped with it are shit. Really, for a kit that costs $1300 to be shipped with 20 cent keys that become stripped in less than a few hours is a real let down.  I couldn’t use my new kit for 3 days until I got a replacement set of keys from some friends who had just returned from the UK. The trouble is that the kit, being mainly targeted at the US market, comes with imperial sized nuts and bolts.  The only keys you can get here in the NL are all metric.  If VEX wants to start shipping to the European market (and judging by their website they do) they had better start shipping better keys or there will be a lot of disappointed people who can’t get easy replacement keys for their expensive robot bundles.  The shitty Allen key thing seems to be a common complaint, if I am to believe the forums.
  • The remote control should have a power jack.  You need to use it to program you robot if you want to use the wireless network.  This consumes a lot of power and there are only 6 x AAA batteries (rechargeable) in it. If you don’t intend to use the remote control for anything other than this, it would be very convenient to not have to replace the batteries every few hours.
  • No motor control, at least not that I’ve figured out.  Motors are openloop controlled.  The bundle comes with two encoders but you have to do all the work yourself. This should be easier.

Other than these minor things, I’m really super chuffed with this set and I’m sure I’m going to have a lot of fun playing with it.  A big thanks to all the folks at Robotics Academy and Roberta at Robomatter especially for going the extra mile to get this package through customs!

About Xander

Xander Soldaat is a Software Engineer and former Infrastructure Architect. He loves building and programming robots. He recently had the opportunity to turn his robotics hobby into his profession and has started working for Robomatter, the makers of ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Words.