How Do Hexbugs Work, Anyway?
If by chance your kids have Hexbugs on their Christmas lists, you might be a little perplexed by what these robotic creatures actually are and do. Fear not, I was once just as baffled.
In a nutshell, Hexbugs are little robotic creatures that respond to their environment. Run on batteries, they have sensors that function like ears and whiskers do, so they react to sound and touch. They have a “brain” that’s just a tiny PCB (printed circuit board) that acts as a messenger system from the sensors and power from the batteries to an actual electric motor. A microphone acts as the bug’s ear where sound waves are translated into electrical impulses and sent to the PCB “brain”. From there the brain sends signals to the motor, directing it to back up, turn around or go forward.
The best way to understand the antennae is to think of a cat’s whiskers. If the bug’s antennae are scraping against the edges of a passageway, it means the space is too narrow to pass. In the case of Hexbugs, little springs wraps around an insulator that prevents the spring from touching a metal electrode housed inside. When a Hexbug’s antenna touches something, it bends the spring that consequently touches the electrode thereby completing a loop. Setting off this electrode tells the bug to change direction away from the object it’s bumping into.
They each has somewhat of a distinctive “personality”, if you will. So, I will cover the different types of Hexbugs and how they respond to their environment. Some are autonomous, while others are remote-controlled.
Original Hexbug in Action
Types of Hex bugs: Autonomous Hexbugs: Original Hexbug
By autonomous, I mean it operates on its own, it has batteries and is not remote controlled by you.
The original, autonomous Hexbugs have 6 legs, have slightly different bodies and come in five different colors: green, red, orange, black and blue. The five bugs are not only different colors, but also have different names. The green bug is called Bravo, the orange is “Alpha“, the blue is “Charlie“, the black is “Delta” and the red is “Echo”.
It probably most resembles a beetle in appearance. The bugs are semi-transparent, so you can actually see the working parts. This can peak the curiosity of a very small child who’s interested in the inner-workings of the little robot. Consequently, it’s really not the best toy for kids 8 and under due to its fragile nature.
It creeps slowly along, but if you make a loud noise, like a hand clap, it will begin to back away. It is best on bare floors, like hardwood, tiles or cement. We have been able to get our Original Hexbug to creep along our carpet, but it struggles a bit.
Now, this little guy can and most likely will get lost… It has a tendency to escape under furniture, where it’s quite difficult to locate. I’m frequently called into action as part of the search party at this point. This can either frustrate your kids, or like mine, they will find it a fun little hide-and-seek challenge.
Types of Hex bugs, Autonomous Types: The Crab Hexbug
My 8 year old recently received the crab Hexbug as a gift. I will say straight away, the crab has been one of the favorites so far. It’s autonomous and it reacts to both light and sound, in fact it actually hides in the darkness. The crab has eight crab-like legs and comes in indigo, turquoise, green, red and black. It really does look and move like a crab.
It stops moving if it’s placed in the dark, but put it back in the light and off it goes again! If it’s hiding, you can scare it with a loud noise and it will start moving again. I have found the crab is just a little hearing impaired, however. The noise has to be pretty loud for it to react. It crawls to “find” dark places and its little claws move while it motors along. If you have pets, beware! My cats love this crab and are constantly chasing after the poor thing!
Types of Hex bugs, Autonomous Types: Hexbug Ant
Now, if you have an energetic child who like speed and chasing things, this would be the Hexbug for you. This little guy is filled with personality and speed, it really acts like an ant. As you guessed, it’s autonomous, not remote-controlled. The ant reacts only to touch, so it’s all about its little antennae. It has six little legs that spin and work more like wheels than crawling legs. This ant is all over the place, running into obstacles and quickly changing course. It has six little legs and comes in green, orange, blue, pink and red.
It makes quite a bit of noise, you can hear its little legs scampering around on the floor. It doesn’t do well at all on carpet since it’s pretty low to the ground. The biggest negative about the ant is its propensity for getting debris stuck in the wheels. If you have pets, you will have to be cleaning out the gears regularly. It’s a pretty simple process to take off the wheels and axils to take out the hair. If you don’t want to disassemble it, a pair of pointy tweezers works quite well. Also, the antennae are very fragile and can bend very easily.
Remote-Controlled Hexbugs: The Inchworm and Spider
Inchworm Hexbugs and Spider Hexbugs
These don’t exactly resemble inchworms, but the name comes from the fact their movements mimic that of an inchworm. They have four legs and come in green, orange, blue, pink and red. The Inchworm Hexbugs look really cool, like little aliens. I must admit, the inchworms aren’t my favorite in the collection because they move painstakingly slow… Their pointy little legs don’t do well on carpet at all, they get stuck pretty easily.
They are remote controlled and I mean to tell you the RC is tiny. It has two little rocker switches that move the creature either back and forth, or around in a circle. Since you are in control, you’re not as likely to lose the remote controlled bugs. Kids love the remote controlled feature, but it does take away from the joy of the unpredictable behavior of the Hexbug. There are no surprises with this one.
The spider is similar to the inchworm in that it’s remote controlled. It has 5 legs and comes in orange, green, blue, teal and red. It does move a little faster than the inchworm, but they’re pretty similar besides that.
The Newest Hex bug: The Hexbug Nano
Last but not least, we have the newest Hexbug creature, the Hexbug Nano. This little guy really acts like a bug. It scurries around with its twelve rubber-tipped legs and can even right itself if it flips over. There is even a glow-in-the-dark version of the Nano. In addition, there are four different Nanos each with five different bugs: the Motion (the newest of the bunch), The Gravity, The Orbit series and the Mutations series. The Motion just has new colors. The difference between the Gravity, Orbit and Motion Newton series just has to do with the markings on the “shell” of the bug, as well as the colors. The Mutations series is only comprised on two unique and “rare” bugs. In other words, they all behave the same. They come in cute little plastic specimen tubes.
The Nanos also have cool habitats for them to run around it. The more you have, the cooler they look as they swarm around and act like real bugs. The raceway habitat is a lot of fun, you can have cool little bug races! They have a wide variety of habitats from the pretty basic starter set to the complex elevation set. You can add bridges and hex cells to your habitats as you like.
The biggest advantage of these Nanos is their durability compared to the other Hexbugs. They are solid little creatures that don’t have a lot of parts sticking out and in danger of breaking off. They are very small and light, can easily fit in the palm of a child’s hand.
Hexbugs Bridge Battle Habitat
Please note, the Hexbugs are not for children under 5 years of age. In my personal experience, they are better suited for children 8 years and older.