Last weekend, I took the boys to Robothon, a robot festival at the Seattle Center run by the Seattle Robotics Society. In addition to battle bots (you could pay $5 to pilot a battle bot!) and other cool exhibits, you could buy a robot kit for $40 and someone would help you build it.
The kit was a "Herbie the Mousebot" from Solarbotics. Herbie has two light sensitive eyes and will chase the brightest light around. His whiskers and tail are touch sensitive; if they hit anything, he'll turn around. The two little motors drive Herbie along pretty damn fast. Herbie also has a taillight, so multiple Herbies can chase each other around. I have another kit (and a newly purchased soldering iron) to build before I can test this out. (I guess technically we have a Horatio, the black mouse, and Harriet, the white mouse.)
I took about two hours to build the thing. I've somehow managed to avoid learning to solder until this point, but I've always wanted to learn, so I figured this was the time. The boys were pretty interested at first; Andrew helped me solder and assemble the kit, but they quickly moved to watch the robot sumo battles that a school group was having the corner (I wanted to see it too.) The moment of truth arrived when I put the nine volt battery it. It worked! The motors ran and the speeds varied with the light. Actually, one of the motors was stuck at first, but it was because the tires were on a little tight. Fortunately, I didn't have to do any real debugging. I noticed some of the other builders had to reflow some solder joints - non-trivial once the kit is together.
We tested Herbie in our dark living room. The robot scurried around the room, bumping into stuff, backing up and jetting off in other directions. We could get it to follow a flashlight beam pretty easily. When we weren't paying attention with the flashlight, Herbie ran into the kitchen since the light was on. Scared the hell out of Michelle. Michael (7) thought that was really great...
More important, I passed the "dad test". These are terrifying moments where you have to prove you're a competent dad to your kids. I know they'll soon realize I'm just another loser, but I'd like to delay that as long as possible.
Anyway, Herbie is really very cool. There are a lot of other cool robot things going on for kids in Seattle including First Lego League and Junior First Lego League that I may need to check out for the boys.