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Vortex, the Robot - First Impressions

DFRobot's educational robot kit

When DFRobot announced a KickStarter campaign for their first educational robot, I got really impressed. After all, I had used their parts for my robot projects as a student, and now that I'm a teacher, the idea of a robot focused on introducing kids to programming really caught my attention.

I'm glad that the DFRobot team was able to process my pledge via PayPal and I was able to get one on the first pre-order "wave". And yesterday, I finally received it! 

 

The Package

At first sight, the box looks professional and well-built. I like all the details that were put into place to make it look aestetically pleasing for kids and adults alike.

 

Inside, the robot rests in a foam enclosure that protects it. And under it you can find an envelope with Vortex's manuals.

 

Documentation

Opening the envelope, I found a lot of stickers (yay!), a quick start manual, and a programming reference, which is, in my opinion, one of the things that I really liked about this robot.

You'll see, instead of getting a wall of text detailing every function of the robot, you get a booklet that resembles an illustrated fairy tale: The Adventures of Vortex: Return to the Planet DF. There, you can learn (and teach!) about the robot and its programming language, WhenDo in a creative and engaging way.

 

The Robot

With a white, clear enclosure and blinking leds for eyes, the robot looks amazing. It's something that would get a kid's attention. The build quality is good and I had no trouble installing the batteries, as the top cover, secured with magnets, is easy to remove.

And here comes my first criticism of this robot: It needs 4AA batteries to run. Although the QuickStart guide recommends using rechargeable batteries, in some parts of the world these are really expensive. Depending on the robot's battery life, that could be an issue.

 

The Software

After receiving my robot and activating it for the first time, I couldn't wait to play games with it using my smartphone, and then start running my own programs on it... Unfortunately, I was unable to do so. 

You'll see, that's one of the drawbacks of being part of the "first wave" of the Vortex robot. Right now, the Android and iOS apps aren't available. All the software that could be used to interact with this robot isn't ready yet... So, for now, it's basically a cute paperweight that says "Oi!" when you wave your hand in front of it.

That's why I decided to make this a "First impressions" post instead of a video review, as I don't think that it's fair to judge a robot that can't be actually tested.

Please stay tuned! As soon as the android app gets released, I'll update this post.

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Ah, I love vortex - been watching and wanting one since the Kickstarter launched!

Shame about the apps; can I not be programmed/interacted with via PC?

While it's possible to connect to the Arduino via USB (by removing the top cover), all the documentation and libraries aren't available right now, so... it's not very recommended to try to re-program it.

I'm really quite surprised they have shipped the hardware without the software being ready!

Hopefully they will get it pushed out soon; such a great little robot deserves so much more than a life of paperweighting :)

Hey Vexilius!

Just thought I should let you konw that they are releasing the WhenDo app for alpha testing very soon.

I managed to get myself on the list of Alpha Testers for it back before the Kickstarter happened but heard nothing else from them. Today they have emailed explaining there has been some huge delays in development, which will explain why there's been no software as of yet.

If/when i get something to test would you like me to send you a link?

I have been very busy lately, so it's been difficult to keep up with the latest news on Vortex... I know that the official app for Android and iOS was released a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn't allow you to actually program the robot, it's only to play some games and customize its appeareance.

So far, I haven't received any update on WhenDo, but according to the forum they would be releasing the iOS app before the android version. I seriously hope they change their mind on this decision, although I can understand why are doing it that way.

It would be great if you could share the link for the upcoming alpha version, if/when you receive it. Thanks!