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The Vortex Robot Toy Lets Kids Program It

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We are standing at the cusp of the robotic revolution — so it's no wonder that we're seeing projects for smart toys involving robots pop up everywhere, particularly on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter.

One such project is Vortex, a programmable robot for children that not only plays with them via mobile app, but can also teach them the basics of programming a robot and how to work with robotics.

Designed by DFRobot, Vortex comes ready to work right out of the box in just a few simple steps: download the app on your iOS or Android smartphone and pair it to your device via Bluetooth. The onboard computer inside Vortex is then ready to roll. Through the companion mobile app, kids can start playing pre-installed games immediately, including Bumping Fight (bumper cars, but with robots), Virtual Golf, Driving (racing games) and Robot Soccer. Each game allows kids to either play by themselves or with other kids' Vortex robots.

The beauty of Vortex, powered by the open-source Arduino, is that it uses a simple interface via an app on the iPad to teach kids how to program it. Kids can create their own games by using drag-and-drop functions or they can use pre-sets that involve Vortex's capabilities, which include recognizing hand gestures and navigating around obstacles.

"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 others, and sharing with others," writes DF Robot on the Vortex Kickstarter page. "That's why we created Vortex to be more than just a toy."

Vortex can speak to children and "see" objects by using infrared and grayscale. The Kickstarter video shows Vortex responding to a girl telling her Vortex goodnight.

Vortex is also relatively affordable: a Kickstarter donation of just $69 gets you a single Vortex robot with a sticker set and specially designed golf course. If you up that donation to just $129, you can get two Vortex units, a gaming map, the sticker set and the golf course.

If successful, DFRobot hopes to have Vortex ready to ship as early as October of this year. The company already has prototypes ready. The Kickstarter will fund final mass production and distribution to get Vortex into the hands of children worldwide.

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