Hexbug: Creepy crawly robot toys hands-on

What do you get if you combine robotics with I'm a Celebrity Get me out of Here? Well, apart from livelier hosts than Ant and Dec, Innovation First makes a good stab at recreating the experience of glaring in the eyes of a cockroach, without the smell (or having to wolf it down with a crocodile nob).

The toy manufacturer, which is actually an offshoot of a company that specialises in serious and educational applications of robotics, is responsible for Hexbug, a range of battery-powered creepy crawlies that will give willies to mums (and a lot of dads) everywhere.

Some of the range has actually been around for a while, and specifically the remote and sensor-controlled 'bots, such as the Original (a bit like a beetle) and Ant (which features touch-controlled antennas and moves like the clappers). But it's about to be expanded with some frightening additions, including the incredibly disturbing Spider.

Available in the US now, but coming to the UK this summer for "no more than £40", the Spider only has six legs but moves much like a Tarantula. And to make matters even scarier, its head is loosely modelled on Alien. Plus, a glowing red eye, which lights when the beast is turning, is enough to give an arachnophobe palpitations for a week.

Don't believe us, check out our video.

But the real crowning glory of the new Hexbug range is a far smaller proposition, the Hexbug Nano. Not remote or sensor-controlled, the Nano simply has an on/off switch and is content to scuttle about like a cockroach in random patterns. It can right itself if knocked over, and is as zippy as a punk's jumper.

Each Hexbug Nano can be bought separately, and there are many different colours and types available, so there's an incentive to collect them. In addition, Innovation First runs a website at handsandstars.com which keeps track of how many Nano's you have and what kinds, updated by entering unique codes into your account. There are also free games to be played on the site, and a stack of information about important figures in science to educate.

The company also makes playsets (Habitats) for the Hexbug Nano range, which range from simple hexagons (geddit?) with walkways, up to racing tracks. It must be said that the Pocket-lint team happily whiled some time away racing the freakish robot crawlies.

There's also all manner of accessories and add-ons for the range. And, by the end of 2011, Innovation First will be releasing a series of glow in the dark Hexbug Nanos, with Habitats to match.

At £8.99 per Nano (£39.98 for 5) accruing a whole collection will not come cheap. However, the buzz (no pun intended) at the Toy Fair in London was almost entirely centred around the Hexbug stand. Kids young and old were going crazy over the wee critters, and we were no exception. There's something strangely satisfying about racing robot bugs, and knowing that they're not going to breed.



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