Giving The Hexbug Spider Freedom To Explore On Its Own


[Eric Gregori] recently spent some time messing around with a Hexbug Spider, and wrote in to share some modifications he made to the toy. In its unaltered form the robot can be controlled remotely, and while it’s fun to play with, the excitement is short lived. Using a TI MSP430 along with a small motor controller kit he put together, he gave the Hexbug a bit more personality.

The kit is really just a simple board used for mounting the MSP430 and FAN8200 motor driver, along with an IR emitter/sensor pair. It would be easy enough to put something similar together yourself, though if you are looking for a protoboard/deadbug/PCB etching-free solution, his Spider Hack kit is a quick and easy solution.

[Eric’s] walkthrough shows how to disassemble the Hexbug, and details which components need alterations before the controller board can be properly mounted. A few soldered wires later, the toy is ready to be reprogrammed, a process [Eric] carries out using the Launchpad board from which he lifted the MSP430.

As you can see in the videos below, calling the robot autonomous might be a bit of a stretch (I don’t see it walking to the kitchen to make me a sandwich), but it can navigate and avoid objects with ease.



28 thoughts on “Giving The Hexbug Spider Freedom To Explore On Its Own

      1. ideas and designs should be free. like driving a car? the idea was “stolen” from someone else. “intellectual property” is a lie.

        keep technology free. share ideas; share designs.

      2. Sorry, but right now both common sense and the law protect the idea that you can sell a complex technical concept. He invested alot of hard work into that design with the intent to one day market it as a toy, and another company chose to take paying him for his hard work out of the picture. Sure, freedom of information is nice, but denying an inventor just compensation by stealing his idea isn’t right.

        I agree that intellectual property laws are frequently obtuse and stupid, but going to the opposite extreme, where all knowledge must be pried from it’s holders to be placed in a collective without compensation for the work involved seems equally wrong.

  1. @Chopperdave: Yeah. He doesn’t mention it by name in any of his videos, but this is the one. It’s unfortunate that Innovation First didn’t even try to contact him before releasing it.

    1. Yeah I think Eric mentioned in a prior post his preference for the msp430. The price is very good and apparently learning to use it resulted in some job offers so no surprise he would use it over a diff mcu, 16bit or not.

    2. I assume the choice was based almost purely on price, not just of the microcontroller, but of the entire programmer, as the product seems to be aimed at being a first introduction. The TI Launchpad he uses is $4.30 for a USB programmer + the 16-bit MCU in question, which is a tough point to argue against. And since 2-day shipping is included free with the Launchpad, he can just point people towards TI’s store and keep the cost of his kit low.

      Except reports that newly ordered launchpads now ship with updated MSP430s, the MSP430G2553 and the MSP430G2452… which are both 20-pin PDIPs. His board and instructions are designed around the 14-pin MSP430G2331. So his board and these instructions were actually already out of date before he posted!

      A lesson, I guess, in depending too much on a third-party’s unofficial bundle-ins. Should be easy enough to fix by ordering some ‘2231s and including one with each kit he sells, but that’s probably what he was trying to avoid.

      1. Fortunately, I caught the 20 pin announcement before ordering the next batch of boards. The new batch will support the 20 pin parts.
        Anyone who orders the 14 pin version will get a free MSP430G2231 preprogrammed with the spider code.
        The 20 pin version will be available next week for the same price.

  2. @schreiaj
    The original spider motor control doesn’t work at 3 volts. Trying to hack the spider using the original motor controller requires that you unsolder the original micro (a surface mount device). Or at least lift the pins without destroying the traces.

    using a separate motor controller was a lot easier.

  3. The big advantage of the MSP430G and the TI Launchpad is price and value. At $4.30 it is hard to argue about the price. The DIP versions of the MSP430G is between $2 and $3 in single quantities. The parts are incredibly powerful for the price, with 10 bit A/D converters, hardware timers, and even a MAC. I worked for Freescale Semi for 6 years and designed garage door openers using the PIC for 5 years, and the MSP430 blows the PIC and anything Freescale has away.
    I don’t use Arduino because I am used to working with professional tools (source level debugging with single step and breakpoints). The TI Launchpad is a professional tool/debugger. There are tons of companies using the MSP430 and Code Composer Studio to design real consumer and Industrial products. Spending time on the TI Launchpad is an investment in my career.

      1. No, by professional tools I mean debugging tools. Being able to step through code, set breakpoints, and view registers/memory.

        Maybe someday a white goods manufacture will make a microwave or washing machine using an Arduino, but until that day occurs all that time your spending becoming an expert on the Arduino is not helping your career.

        If you are an artists or banker and your not interested in a career in electronics or embedded software engineering, the Arduino is the perfect platform.

      2. @Eric Gregori

        As someone who uses Arduino devices daily at work (in a professional setting) I have to disagree with you that they aren’t used professionally.

        I do wish they had better debugging tools though.

      3. @schreiaj

        What do you do?
        I cannot imagine someone shipping a product with the Arduino run time installed.

        Even for prototyping, It makes so much more sense to use the free/professional tools from TI or Microchip.

        Even Atmel sells and ICE for $50.00, but I don’t know if it works with the Arduino runtime.

        1. Well, I don’t make products at work. We only build prototypes.

          Our group focuses on rapid prototyping and moving on. For this the Arduino is a reasonable tool as it has a shallow learning curve. Considering this time next month I may be working on a project dealing with big data analytics and machine learning I feel that a shallow learning curve is good. It means I can get the concept out the door to the group that wanted it and move on to the next project because I was able to leverage the simple to use system.

          Also, our “customers” aren’t always the most tech savvy but they tend to choose the hardware we use. This means whatever is popular at the time is chosen.

          TL;DR – too much work, too little time. Using tinkerer level tools is easier to get a proof of concept out the door.

          I would assume the Atmel tool would work with the Arduino hardware but I’m not sure if there is support in the Arduino tools for proper debugging. I can’t say I’ve honestly tried, most things I use them for are so trivial that I can solve the problem rather easily.

  4. hahahahahahaha

    FIRST: “PPS: deadbug rules!!! FTW”

    1) your showing us how to do it

    2) this is a “showing us so we can do it ourselves for free” website

    3) people actually want to BUY your modded shit when THE DIRECTIONS ARE RIGHT THERE FOR FREE!

    ahhahahahaha i think HAD is going to die off in a year or two.
    theres too much buying and selling of finished PRODUCTS. most ppl that USED to read this website would NEVER buy a circuitboard that you or anyone else made, EVER!


    got a breadboard, & you gave me directions, the rest is diy and trash salvaging. so fun to do one’sself! XD

    PPS: deadbug rules!!! FTW



    1. So according to your angry rant –
      Buying the Hexbug spider is not hacking. You have to make it from scratch.
      And it would be hypocritical to use a motor control IC, you have to build the bridge circuit from scratch using transistors.
      And of-course using a pre-built microcontroller is out of the question you would need to make one from NANS gates.
      I would argue that “hacking” is modifying a manufactured product to make it do something else.
      Judging from your rant you are not old enough to understand this reference, but Captain crunch did not make the phone or the whistle, he used the whistle in a unique way.

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