Recently I reviewed the “HEXBUG” Robotic Spider Kit by VEX Robotics, which, in the final analysis, made a pretty good showing for itself. Today I take a look at its purely mechanical cousin, the VEX Robotics Construction Set – Robotic Arm. This set is a yellow (clear plastic) and black mechanical crane that actually works. Keep reading to see what this STEM learning toy is all about, and whether or not it lives up to the robotic spider!
The VEX Robotics Construction Set – Robotic Arm is similar in many ways to the HEXBUG Robotic Spider. Both sets quote more than 350 individual pieces on their packaging, and many of the pieces are of the very same variety. What differentiates the robotic arm from the spider is the fact that it features no electronics whatsoever. While this may sound like a disadvantage at first, it actually makes for a more satisfying build. If you don’t assemble it properly, it’s just not going to work. And if you do assemble it properly, you’ll have complete control over its movements via a series of knobs and levers. There are knobs both on the left and right sides of the crane’s base, and these knobs control the arm’s reach (away from and toward the base) and its lift (up and down). There’s also a wheel at the top/back part of the crane that you turn to open and close the grabber claws, and the entire crane itself turns on its base to a full range of 360 degrees in either direction. Overall, the VEX Robotic Arm is a very cool STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics learning toys) based project that provides many hours of fun, both in its 3-4 hour build and in the play that comes afterwards.
TESTING & PLAY
One of the coolest aspects of playing with the VEX Robotic Arm is the fact that there are 2 official builds that you can choose to assemble aside from the arm itself, and each of these modes has official instructions that you can find at www.hexbug.com. Very cool! While I chose to build the standard arm mode in my testing (I didn’t really have time to do the others), it was really cool to have that option, and I think that kids will especially enjoy this aspect of the set. Of course, one may also choose to come up with a completely unique build from the pieces that are available. This requires considerable imagination & ingenuity on the part of the child, and it’s sure to help them develop their mechanical prowess if they should choose to play with the set in this manner. These sets are generally very similar to LEGO building sets, and we all know how fun and educational those are!
One thing I really have to praise about this set is the quality of its instruction booklet. The same was true of the HEXBUG spider. These VEX people really know how to make a clear & concise—not to mention complete, set of instructions, and this time around I didn’t make a single mistake in completing the build. This fact says nothing about me. It’s all in the quality of the instructions. They are pretty much perfect, and are easy to use even for those folks with a general dislike of instructions (i.e., me). If you’re concerned about the level of difficulty with building a set like this, I really wouldn’t worry about it. VEX are pretty much masters in this area. They even make it clear that you have to keep an eye out for pieces that look very similar yet are slightly differentiated by the angle in their bend. Such pieces can be very confusing if you’re not looking carefully at the instructions, but, as the pieces are clearly numbered (see photo in gallery), any confusion is very easily avoided with just a little bit of care and diligence on the part of the user when following the instructions.
The only issue I had with building the robotic arm set was that some parts were a bit difficult to push together. In other words, there was sometimes a tight fit between parts that had to join together, and it was a bit tough on the fingers trying to make those bits fit. Honestly, this is a pretty minor complaint, though some may end up with slightly sore fingers at the end of the build if completing it all in one session. I personally spread the build out over a couple of days as I didn’t have a comfortable place to work. This also led to my having a slightly sore neck from constantly hunching over the set. I would suggest finding a proper and comfortable workspace before attempting any of these projects. Your neck will thank you later!
My favourite thing about the robotic arm set was probably the feeling of accomplishment I had when finally finishing the build. Getting to see it in action was also something of a thrill! That’s what it looks like over there on the left. Even though I did have a few small parts left over in the end, I must have done something right because all of the moving parts functioned as intended, and it’s was really quite fun to manipulate its controls. The arm actually has some pretty decent grip to it, and I had no trouble whatsoever when trying to pick up small objects with the claw section. Anything heavier than a few ounces would likely cause the entire crane to tip over (it’s a fairly light apparatus), but it easily handled small objects such as action figures. Overall I really enjoyed playing with this set—the crane manipulation more-so than the assembly process.
EXAMINING THE VIDEO EVIDENCE
Please take a few minutes to see what this cool crane looks like in action. Note: I even use it to make a sneak attack on a preoccupied Captain America in the vid:
What can I say? The VEX Robotic Arm is an excellent toy that’s sure to please most of the up and coming young engineers out there. It’s both fun and educational, and it’s a really great way to spend a rainy afternoon. As a STEM based toy, I believe it succeeds very well. There’s every reason to believe that kids will learn from this set, and some of them may even develop a deeper interest in mechanical engineering. One way or another, the robotic arm does live up to its electronic spider cousin… and then some! Until next time, enjoy your toys and have a truly excellent day!
GALLERY OF ADDITIONAL PHOTOS