I had the opportunity recently to get some hands-on play time with the VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit, and my review will give you everything you need to know about this cool robot-building set, and whether or not the educational toy is fun enough to drag your kids away from their iPads and keep their interest piqued.
What’s a VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit?
Do your kids love LEGO? Mine certainly do. My eight-year-old son usually tears into a new LEGO construction set, builds the thing using the instructions, and then rips it apart to then use the pieces to build his own dinosaur or rocketship.
Now, imagine a LEGO set that also comes with a robot brain, motors, sensors, lights, and a remote control. That’s the VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit. Well, actually VEX has a few robot-making kits available, but the IQ Kit is the one I got to play with and review. And just like Lego, you can either follow instructions and build something, or use your own imagination and construct whatever kind of robot you please. VEX IQ is all about STEM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and laying down a foundation for your kids to unlock the unlimited possibilities of robotics – once they learn the basics, that is.
What’s in the VEX IQ box?
Wow. The box says for “Ages 8 and Up” but holy moly it is a bit intimidating when you first open the box – even for an adult. Inside the blue and white box sits about a ba-zillion pieces, plus a whole bunch of technology. Well, maybe a ba-zillion is exaggerating a bit. There are actually a bit more than 750 pieces in the VEX IQ Robotics Kit, including all manner of little pieces, connectors, wheels, gears, plus a robot brain, different sensors, LED lights, and a remote control.
The first step is to put some batteries (six AA) into the robot brain, then charge up the controller using a USB cable (included) and a computer. Once charged, you’ll need to pair/tether the controller and brain, so you will be able to drive your robot from across the room. I must admit I had some issues getting the remote and brain to pair, but after researching on the Internet, I found that I likely needed to update the firmware on both gadgets to get them to work together properly. It’s definitely something most kids would not be able to do themselves.
Along with the remote-controllable (and programmable!) robot brain with 12 self-configuring input/output ports, and controller, the kit also includes four smart motors with built-in rotational sensors, a colour sensor, a bumper switch sensor, and a touch LED sensor.
What can you build with a VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit?
If a kid can imagine it, then it is likely possible they can build it with this kit. Really, you are only limited by your imagination and how fast you can understand what’s involved in making a robot work… and having enough pieces, I guess. But, the kit comes with a handy booklet with several detailed instructions for building your first basic robots.
The first thing you’ll likely build is the “base” robot, which is basically a box on four wheels. It’s a rudimentary remote-controlled vehicle of sorts. However, you can use this base as the …um…er, base for other robotic creations. This base is controllable using the game-controller style remote. Afterwards, you can add more complicated mechanics to the base to create a claw robot, and then learn to add the different sensors so your robot can drive on autopilot around the room and avoid obstacles.
Once you’ve understood the basics, then you can either go online and find plans for other robots or start experimenting with your own designs. My son wanted to build a dinosaur, of course!
VEX is also a robotics competition
One of the things that sets the VEX kits apart from other similar kits (including one from LEGO itself) is that VEX is also the world’s largest international robotics competition. A kid that wins the annual VEX Worlds competition can probably have the best universities eating out of their hands, and this VEX IQ Kit gives kids the knowledge and means to actually compete in the tournament! It’s an enormously educational toy that truly inspires the imagination.
The final word
It’s hard not to recommend a toy as fun and educational as the VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit. You see, the thing I always liked about LEGO and similar construction toys, is it gives kids the ability to use their imaginations to create and build anything they like. I remember spending hours myself building things out of Lego as a child. But, given my love for technology, I would have killed for a toy like the VEX IQ Kit. I know that when I return the VEX IQ after my review, my son will definitely be begging me to buy a kit, so we can finish building our robot dinosaur. He doesn’t even know he’s learning about engineering and technology principles as he plays. He’s just crazy happy that he can make the things he dreams up move and respond to a controller. He’s applied problem-solving skills while we built the first robot, and already is thinking up new ways to use the pieces.
That being said, there are maybe a couple of things I need to point out. My son is eight, and as I said earlier, he likely would not have been able to update firmware on a robot brain and controller, or figure out the programming stuff yet (it’s compatible with two programming software platforms: Modkit for VEX [free online version available] and ROBOTC [not included]). And, there are so many different sized parts and connectors (which aren’t particularly well labeled) that it was sometimes difficult to know if you were using the right piece. We made a few mistakes, too, which proved to be frustrating later when we had to disassemble some bit and start over with the right piece. So, maybe the box should read “Ages 8 and Up – with some parental support”. But, then again, what parent doesn’t want to spend an afternoon building cool robots with their kids, and seeing that shine in their eyes as they learn while having fun? If you feel the same, then I highly recommend the VEX IQ Robotic Construction Kit. It will certainly be worth the investment.