Vex Add-on prototyping Kit

There is a lot of traffic on this forum discussing integrating non-Vex components into the Vex system. While this is fairly easy to do from an electrical perspective, it is often hard to create a nice looking finished product.

I think IFI should offer prototyping kits that look like standard Vex sensors, but with no holes in the case, and a pad-per-hole prototyping PCB inside.

Ideally, there would be three sizes:
*]Small (Light Sensor sized) with one PWM cable and about 1 sq inch of PCB. Just big enough for a few small parts and maybe one small connector.

*]Medium (Shaft Encoder or Ultrasonic sized) with a pair of PWM cables coming out. Should have 2 to 4 sq inches of PCB and enough thickness for taller parts/connectors/switches.

*]Large (Micro Controller sized) with battery and serial connectors, power switch, and front LEDs. Maybe a row of 16 PWM sockets down one side, and lots of PCB real-estate for prototyping. Could have a pre-layed-out area for a voltage regulator.

Obviously, folks already can craft their own project boxes and cables, but having a nice clean off-the-shelf project enclosure would encourage a lot of folks to experiment with new sensors and interfaces.

Generally, I like the idea of a Vex customization product line. If you need to distinguish it (to make it easy for competition rules to exclude) then give it a new color-name, like “Vex Gold” and mold them in a suitable color plastic. Oh, as for support, I’d be perfectly happy if these were “No Lifeguard on Duty” products.


  • Dean

This would be cool but if IFI doesn’t release these you could always make your own out of radio shack enclosures or for that matter any enclosures.

But yes having a box with a built in pwm cables and a pcb inside would be very cool for homemade sensors

I always use the Radioshack enclosures, drill them, and spray paint logos on them (cut the words into blue painters tape and just spray then). They tend to look pretty good except being black.

I agree though that would be awesome! I broke a touch sensor and am going to use the enclosure from that for a accelerometer.

There is many places you can get cheap project enclosures, radioshack is overpriced by atleast 200% on every electronic component item.

Look at it, $3-$5 for a 10 pack of resistors LOL!

I could order many more for that price off of the internet.

But you should always check ebay, people liquidate stuff that you want.

I got like 10000 assorted Resistors and 10000 assorted diodes for $60 which was a miracle.

Not to mention transistors radio shack wants like $5 for a large one when i can get it for $1 on digikey.

But you have to look at shipping and shipping time also.:smiley:

I like to get as much stuff in stores since I travel a lot.

Making my own enclosures is not a problem. I’ve got a milling machine and can fab them from scratch, or modify one from Radio Shack, etc. But this takes a lot of time.

I believe having a Vex prototyping kit would make it easier for experimenters who don’t have access to a well equipped shop to try making their own custom add-ons.

For folks like us that are comfortable mod’ing whatever we lay our hands on, it would be a time saver and might make our one-offs a bit prettier.


  • Dean

i got sayal electronics (which is only in a few places in ontario) and they have really cheap prices

Yet to mod a case I just use a sharp leatherman and a drill. :smiley:

What type of milling machine do you have? I am looking at getting one in the near future.

I used to use an X-Acto knife, but I got tired of my rectangular holes not looking very professional. :o

It’s this one from Grizzly. It is a nice smallish mill, though I wish it had a higher top spindle speed (there are upgrades, of course…).

I mostly use it for plastic, wood, aluminum, and PCB material, though I’ve milled some steel too. I’ve been learning the feel of various materials and tooling in preparation for an eventual CNC upgrade. For now, it is fun to drive manually, though.


  • Dean

I found that if you use painters tape (since it does not leave a residue) to cover around the hole you are cutting out it makes it end up looking much better.

Did you buy your mill new or used?

You can see my proximity sensor in the case on my EXP robot that I posted today. I took the stupid silver screws that it came with and bought some black hex screw that work with the vex tools.

EXP Default Position


New - at 436 lbs, it was insanely hard getting it uncrated and up on my bench.

Nice; very clean looking. How did you actually mount it? Did it have suitable ears already, or did you rig something?


  • Dean

Marked the holes from the flat vex plates on the back and drilled out the holes giving it a large number of mounting options. I also put in three PWM cable holes in the very top, left, and right sides.

Sweet, i want a milling machine so bad but can’t a drill press do the same.

I am going to have about $1200 to $1500 in October and if i wait till Christmas i can get around $2000 total.

I am going to buy a mig welder, plasma cutter, drill press, and a grinder.

Then i will look into a mill.

On another note the project enclosures are a good idea

O this is a good idea, what if i made a vex robot with a plasma cutter on it.

It should not be that hard, you would have to program a specific distance and everything in and then it would cut out the shape.

If i make this i would have 2 rollers, 1 that goes moves down and another that moves side to side on wheels.

This would be so freakin cool, i would have a plasma cutter table!

Does anyone know if it can (even though not as precisely)?

The main difference is that a drill is intended only for plunge-cutting. It can’t handle the lateral loads of moving a workpiece horizontally. Milling machines are much more rigid and won’t deflect under side-ways loads.

That being said, you can do some limited milling of soft materials like plastic and wood in a drill-press, since the forces are much less. You’d want something like one of these X/Y tables bolted to the base of the drill press.


  • Dean

Yea, i don’t really have an immediate need for a milling machine, its cool but i don’t have a lot of raw materials.

The most i can see myself milling is a pvc pipe, plastic, or wood.

The thought of milling steel is cool but i probably won’t need to for a while.

The mini mill was very enticing, it looks like just the right size for my shop.

I have just found out that i can afford everything because i am not going to buy a seperate plasma cutter and welder. This website offers a 40 amp plasma cutter/180amp arc welder/180amp TIG welder for $600 and the models go up in price like for $700 you get a 50amp plasma cutter and so on.

After i get a welder you might see some robots that will make you crap your pants.

First order of business is to make some real armor plating for my robots!

While pondering what to do with my old non-quadrature shaft encoders (I call them RPM sensors now), it occurred to me that they pretty neatly fill the requirements of my Medium Prototyping Kit idea. As I upgrade to quadrature encoders, I’ll be harvesting my old ones to make various random projects.

If we examine the quadrature encoders, they are not a bad deal just for the parts. $20 gets you:
*](4) Vex 12" PWM cables
*](2) Openable Vex enclosures
*](2) Slotted Disks
*](4) Vex screws and nuts
If you consider that four 12" PWM cables are worth about the same as a pair of 24" PWM extensions, thats $5-$10 of value right there. And the connectors are the impossible-to-find genuine Vex connector

The enclosures are worth at least a buck or two each, though they have a bit too much plastic inside them that you’d want to cut away for most applications. The sliding cover is awesome to hide jumpers and such. The integrated axle hole could be handy for some applications, perhaps a torque sensor or small clutch?

I never thought much before about the slotted disk, but it actually has a few potential uses: It can serve as a shaft coupler for light-duty work, or part of an adapter to help interface various non-Vex bits to the square Vex axle.

The extra fasteners is no big deal, but anything that adds to my pile of Vex is a good thing!

So, about the only thing missing from my wishlist is a pre-fit prototyping board, and I can handle that part myself.

I could certainly pull together an equivalent pile of parts for a bit less than $20, but I think having the easy to mount and official Vex enclosure and cable has some value too.

So many ideas…
So little time…

  • Dean

Yea thats a good idea, you do get a lot of parts with the encoders but i really want vex to make this stuff so that we don’t have to hack and mod sensors cases to suit are needs. Every time i mod something i end up breaking it or it comes out looking like a piece of crap.