Vortex lets kids program their own robotic toy


Vortex is a smart and responsive robot that kids can play with and program themselves. 


The emergence of robotic gadgets have inspired a new generation of toys that are not only fun but educational as well. Joining the likes of Sphero, Hackaball, Kibo, LocoRobo and several others, Shanghai-based startup DFRobot has introduced a smart and responsive device for kids. Named Vortexthe robot enables its young users to play various games, learn about programming and even create their own via an accompanying app.

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Designed with the novice Maker community in mind, Vortex works right of the box and simply pairs to a smartphone (iOS and Android) over Bluetooth. Thanks to its built-in computer and a dozen sensors, it is capable of maneuvering around the floor, desk or table with a touch of the screen. Vortex features four pre-installed, multi-player games, which allow kids to compete against one another in sumo-like bumping fights, play a round of virtual golf, race throughout the house or partake in an immersive match of robot soccer.

While Vortex will certainly prove to be an amusing play-thing, its creators hope that it will encourage more children to pursue STEM-related disciplines and begin tinkering around with code. This is made possible through an easy-to-use, intuitive app that enables graphical programming in a simple drag and drop manner. Vortex also comes with pre-set courses that teach how to make use of its built-in capabilities, which include recognizing hand gestures and avoiding drop-offs.

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Aside from being open source, Vortex is completely compatible with both Arduino and Scratch. This opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as seeing and speaking through infrared, grayscale and sound speakers, and navigating around obstacles, detecting lines and reporting back to its user. With an ATmega328 MCU at its heart, the robot is equipped with 10 sensors ( two infrared proximity, two speed control, six line following), 12 independent RGB LEDs, as well as Bluetooth, USB and I2C connectivity options. Beyond that, it is powered by four AA batteries, boasts a life of 40-90 minutes, and can even show its emotions with up to 32 different eye expressions.

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“We believe kids can benefit a lot from robotics, in identifying their own challenges, learning how stuff works, solving new problems, motivating themselves to complete a project, working together, inspiring and sharing with others. That’s why we created Vortex to be more than just a toy,” the team writes.

Know of a young one who would love such a device? Head over to Vortex’s Kickstarter campaign, where DFRobot is currently seeking $54,035. Units are expected to begin shipping in October 2015.

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