robot

Vortex Robot Product Review

 

Value Proposition

The Vortex is essentially a simplified version of a Lego MindStorm (without the Lego building blocks) positioned as the first robotic toy for age 6 and older. It’s a great way to introduce younger children to the concept of robots and basic visual GUI programming. 

Design

The Vortex is a cute, dome-shaped robot that is accessible and friendly to the target segment. My children who are ages 9 and 12 immediately fell in love with the design of the Vortex and the personalization options and adorable emoji eyes.

Hardware

My kids found the magnetic cover to be novel. Clever design. The Bluetooth 4.0 consistently paired well with the two iPhones and two iPads used in the test. The kids also found the battery cover easy to operate since the snap/ insert design did not require a screwdriver to remove the cover.

The kids tested the sensors and hardware components: proximity sensor, ground sensor, encoders, eye display, six RGB LED and speaker. For the most part, they functioned as expected with consistence. The proximity sensor, however, sometimes didn’t always work.

The kids played with the two robots for over four hours, mostly continuously, and the battery kept going strong. This exceeds the 40 – 90 minute duration conservatively stated in the spec.

According to the spec, the sensors can be expanded to include temperature, sound, accelerometer, GYRO, ultrasonic and touch sensor via 12C socket. For our test, we did not test other sensors not included in the product package. These modular sensors are not dissimilar from what’s available for the Lego Mindstorm and comparable products.

Application

Vortex supports iOS & Android. We tested the Vortex app on iPhone and iPad. The app contains four games: Bumping Fight; Virtual Golf, Driving and Robot Soccer. The kids played against each other for the most part.

Beyond games, Vortex has a visual GUI programming section on the app to quickly assemble a set of commands that can be downloaded to the robot for testing. We experienced some inconsistent behavior: the programming functions worked for one of the iPads but didn’t work for the other iPad. We removed and reinstalled the app and updates but on that one iPad the programming functions did not work at all.

 

Price

The Vortex 2 pack for $129 USD (assuming the Kickstarter listed pricing has not changed) is a reasonable price point, especially marketed as an educational toy that introduces young children to the concept of robots and basic visual programming. 

As a parent vested in my children’s education, I consider myself fairly price inelastic within this type of product category. (Since our children are older, they have moved unto the Internet of Things (IoT) DIY projects.) 

 

Pros

  • The kids had a blast personalizing the robot, from stickers for personal branding to 32 vivid eye expressions, sound configuration to 6 RGB LED color personalization. This is a major draw to this age segment.

  • The magnetic cap and easy to pull out battery cover makes it easy for younger children to manage the hardware maintenance and operation without continual parent involvement

  • The kids had fun playing some of the games. They especially enjoyed the Bumping Fight and Robot Soccer games

 

Cons

  • The driving maneuvers are less responsive and accurate on the iPad than the iPhone. For iPad, there needs to be higher sensitivity to turns and directional change

  • As some parents and children may be culturally sensitive, our kids found the sound effect “loser, loser” in the golf game and the pipe sticker to be negative influence for young children

  • My kids found the golf game a bit confusing. The objective was unclear.

  • In the golfing game, when Vortex drives over the circular checkered pad, it still responds as ‘game over’

  • The bumping game has two boxes marked score and power. Sometimes they changed, but it was inconsistent and confusing.

  • My kids found some of the sound effects and music to be too loud and harsh, leading to annoyance

  • The instructions and box indicated that the Vortex would do certain things like following a black line, responding to obstacles, and changing colors when a hand was waved in front of it. However, the Vortex’s actions and the claims from the box did not correspond.

    • The kids had expectation that the Vortex would change color when their hand waved in front of it but it didn’t

    • Also the kids expected the Vortex to follow the black line, which it didn’t

  • The kids experienced some bugs, such as programming working for one iPad but not for the other; discrepancy in maneuverability between the iPad and iPhone; and others

  • There were a number of inconsistencies between the manual/ instructions and the actual operation:

    • The manual indicates to push the Vortex to make it dance when in fact it requires shaking the device

    • On the box, it indicates that it’s for iPads but in the app it indicates that it’s for iPhones

  • Instructions could be clearer in some cases:

    • No explanation on the purpose of the circular checkered pads

    • Even with the puzzle map, it was cumbersome and time-consuming to complete the puzzle. It didn’t serve an educational purpose nor was the activity fun for the kids

 

Suggestions

  • In future versions, the kids preferred that the overall size of the robot decrease by half. This allows them to easily slip it inside their pocket for travel and battling with their friends

  • Generally, the impression that the kids had was that the Vortex was a simple toy with basic maneuvering but without any artificial intelligence. In future iterations, continue to enhance the AI capabilities to increase the wow factor, e.g., Anki, Real FX, etc.

  • As this age segment often does not own mobile phones (possibly hand-me-downs) but more likely tablets, increase the driving maneuverability/ sensitivity on tablets for young children

  • Add volume control to lower the sound

  • Consider numbering the puzzle pieces or replacing it with a 1-piece vinyl material that’s smooth enough for operation

  • Correct noted inconsistencies

Overall, the kids found Vortex fun to play with and packed with sensor capabilities, keeping in mind that it’s targeted for 6 years and up. The personalization options were the biggest draw.

 
Tune in for my next article!
 
Keep learning.
– Christian
 

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