Apparently the sale, which had been shown on www.radioshack.com as
extending through 3 June, is now over.
So, you can now buy the kit and the associated components for twice what
people were paying last week -- at least, until RS pulled all the items
from the retail shelves and nobody could buy them because they weren't
So, the probability that I'll spring full price for it now is
approximately zero, eh? Another marketing coup for Radio Shack.
I think you need a promotional code to get the special prices online.
For a *short* time the basic kit was listed on the site at the
discounted price, but they "fixed" that.
I was shall we say, surprised, that the special pricing didn't apply
automatically as you actually made the purchase through the shopping
cart. I tested this and the sale price never kicked in, at least not by
the final page where I was asked for payment details. What a great way
to win over customers!
RadioShack is discontinuing the Vex line, so it's unlikely the prices
will revert to the full price until all the merchandise is cleared out.
Rich Webb wrote:
Yeah, me! <g>
Seriously...I have my own direct sources, but this message on DRPG is
accurate, if maybe not authoritative.
I wouldn't read anything into this regarding Vex itself, but rather a
decision by a major retailer to refocus their product line. Or it could
possibly mean they are clearing out the current line to make room for a
new line, or even something else. All that would be speculation.
FWIW, I went by the local Radio Shack in the mall and checked and they had
most of the line in stock and reduced to half price. Only thing I noticed
that they were sold out of was the caterpillar treads.
You actually got them to bother checking?!?
Last spring they had a half-off sale on most components.
I went in, none were marked, I went over to the group
of them standing around trying to figure out how to sell
their next cell phone contract and asked. One looked at
me, said if I could figure what parts were on sale and
they rang up that way then he guessed they were on sale.
And they went back to talking about how to sell phones.
I just recently found out about the VEX line and the 50% discount so I
ordered a starter kit from the web. Checking stores I saw it was still
full price and was too stupid to ask - I just assumed the labels were
correct. So I assumed the stores were still selling what they had left at
full price. But now I figured out the stores are all selling it at 50% as
well. Their computers know it even though the clerks don't for the most
part have a clue about what is going on. The web site will tell you which
local stores have items, and it worked for me today to pick up the shaft
encoders and the hardware kit so it looks like the inventory system
So far I'm having great fun with the VEX stuff but I've only had it for a
I also got a Boe-Bot kit about a year ago. That was fun as well, but it's
no comparison to the VEX since it's just a small development board on
wheels with no R/C system. The VEX is a full erector set for building
intelligent R/C bots.
The difference of course is that the Boe-Bot actually attempts to train you
about the electronics and has the built in bread-board so you can design
and build your own circuits and interface it to just about anything you
want. It's really meant to be a microcontroller trainer for people that
know, or want to know, how to design microcontroller based systems. The
VEX system is designed to hide all the details of the electronics from you.
It's really designed to work well at the high school level to get kids
excited about engineering before they learn all the higher math and
science. The standard documentation tells you almost nothing about the
electronics - the pin-outs of the sensors and motors for example are not
documented. The VEX however has lots of hardware to actually build an
endless number of fun robots.
And if you happen to know the electronics, then figuring out what the VEX
controller is doing is actually easy. The VEX seems to actually have two
microprocessors in it.
The processor on the VEX seems to have around 1000 bytes of RAM compared to
the 32 bytes or so of ram on the BS2 Stamp. This was the thing that made
me decide to try out the VEX because I'm interested in playing with various
learning algorithms in hardware and the 32 bytes of the STAMP just won't
cut it but 1000 bytes should be enough to do some of the things I want to
play with. Though ultimately, I will need to move up to something with
real memory (MB of ram or more).
I got the programming kit today (had to order it on eBay since I couldn't
find one locally and didn't want to pay the full price at the vexlabs site)
and was sad to find out that even though it is based on a C compiler the
IDE doesn't let you write your own C code. I assumed it did. It only does
drag-n-drop icons to create flowcharts of your code. It's a nice simple
system that seems to have lots of power for simple things, and it lets you
insert single lines of arbitrary C code but doesn't let you write functions
or insert data definitions etc. Once again, it's all designed for high
Checking around though, it looks like everything you need to program the
system in straight C is available for cheap - and the vexlabs guys even
give out the code for the basic default program running the user processor
so you can use it as a starting point for more advanced systems.
I'm sorry to see Radio Shack give up on the product. But I bet they sold
almost nothing and that's why they are dropping it. I had seen it a few
times over the past year in the local Radio Shack but it looked like an
over priced erector set that was just too expensive to justify. Being a
programmer, my interest is in how advanced the microcontroller was - but
there was nothing on the box to give any hint about what it could do. I
assumed it was set up for only very limited programming - like making it
stop and back up when you hit a wall. But in fact, even with the simple
programming kit you can create complex custom programs to control how the
R/C unit controls the servos and mix autonomous and R/C control together in
one program as much as you want. And, with the right development tools,
you can write straight C code. I never would have guessed from the box
that the system was that open. I might have bought it a year ago if I
understood what it was. I wonder how many other people like myself didn't
think of buying it because they didn't understand what it was? I actually
think the $300 price is reasonable now that know what it is.
The Vex kits are large, rugged, and infinitely flexible. You can bolt
other motors,sensors, etc on to them We have started an open source
project to develop an open interface from the Vex controller to other
"brains" to make these fully autonomous, and will be presenting results
this week at JavaOne in a BOF Tue May 16. Here's the project:
https://jvex-robotics.dev.java.net/ and a page of related info:
The Vex basics are really sold, and since you can easily bolt almost
anything to their framework, and it's strong enough to carry some real
payload, it's a great system, esp at 50% off. We plan to carry on with
a series of autonomous additions such as color vision with CMUcam2,
802.15.4 radios, interfac to SunSPOTs, etc.
I think that the big problem with it was that it was too flexible to be
marketed effectively with the budget that Radio Shack allocated. At one
level it's Meccano that died and went to heaven. At another it's a superb
core for all sorts of radio controlled mechanisms. And at another it's a a
basis for serious robotic experimentation or microcontroller development.
But focus on any of those and you'll lose customers who either want the
other features or are scared off by something that seems more complex than
they want to deal with.
--Sigh; heaven forbid that the store that started out with d-i-y
kits as their main line should offer even one thing that might teach the
customer how to do it themselves, eh? Glad I stuck with my Boebot! :-)
"Steamboat Ed" Haas : Concave, convex, con
Hacking the Trailing Edge! : carne: all is Zen..
Radio Shack, like Heathkit, started selling kits and parts via mail
order. They also specialized in selling surplus radio gear left over
from World War II, and they provided how-to instructions on modifying
them for different types of operation. Recall that in the 40s, through
60s, it was far less expensive to buy a radio kit than one ready-made.
Of course, the market for kits dwindled by the 1970s with the advent of
cheap overseas production.
In the early 70s, adio Shack's parent bought out Allied (since sold to
Avnet), which also offered kits and parts. This is also when Forrest
Mims began writing books for Radio Shack on building electronic gizmos
out of Radio Shack parts. He wrote dozens of how-to books for them.
So yes, thpough Heathkit was "king of the kit," Radio Shack had a more
than significant presence in the DIY market, kit or otherwise.
(Author of some five books for Radio Shack)
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