My 12 year old son LOVES building things and last year received a bunch of V5 structural and gear components. He spends a lot of time creating in our basement. He really wants to get a motor so that he can make his gears and such move on their own .
Q1: Is the brain and electronics package the only way to accomplish this? (One big issue - it is out of stock until Q2 next year.)
Q2: Is there some sort of other, non programmable, basic motor that can work with V5 pieces?
In order to build with v5 systems and motorist it, you will need a v5 brain, vex exp, or cortex control system to provide commands to the motors. V5 and exp can run 5.5 w smart motors or 11 w motors. Cortex runs 393 motors.
Also, if you ever want to compete in VRC, you will need a v5 brain with 11 w motors.
I can only answer Q2, there are no basic motors that can work with VEX.
If he is really interested in building, then I would suggest investing in Arduino and a 3D Printer. Arduino will open up possibilities when it comes to Robotics, there are various motors, sensors and electronics. A 3D printer just allows you to combine some of the components to create real life systems.
They will perfectly match the dimensions of the mechanical system that you already have.
They could be driven either by the old Cortex microcontroller or you can use any hobby microcontroller that is capable of generating servo compatible PWM signal. Here is an example of robot that we were controlling with ESP8266.
Just be aware that that really old 3-wire vex motors are less powerful, but have built in motor controller and could be connected directly to the microprocessor output just like an ordinary 3-wire servo.
Vex 2-wire motors (393’s) are more powerful and require external motor controller. Vex may still have MC29 motor controllers in stock, which at $10.99 are not that expensive for the power they could handle.
Otherwise you could get a third party motor controller driver boards from Ebay or Amazon. Just make sure they have thermal and short circuit protection and are rated for at least 5-7A to handle the stall current of vex motors (4A thermal shutdown takes a while to kick in).