great robots & toys
from the space age


"It was twenty years ago today, Robotix taught the kids to play," to paraphrase the Beatles.

Or, to quote the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

Indeed it has. What a magical, mystery tour it's been for the amazing, wonderful creation called Robotix.
Milton Bradley first introduced Robotix as a robot building set in 1984. It generated some interest, but didn't really take off until the mostly white and black pieces were redone in dazzling, sometimes garish colors, and the reigns turned over to Learning Curve in the '90s. They made a livelier logo, inviting, if sometimes misleading packaging, and greatly expanded the range of imaginative construction sets.

As of 2014 (twenty years later), the  Robotix trademark is held by Robotics and Things in Simi Valley, California, which both sells  Robotix sets and includes a non-profit arm called Robotics Educational Foundation for  hands-on robotics STEM cirriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Robotix Mission Hub
Lieutenant Denver

Learning Curve Robotix.

Robotix Hub base

Learning Curve Mission Hub

Above: the amazing Mission Hub set includes three motors and a sound and light module. It's easy to build, has a relatively small footprint, yet towers over three feet tall. What do the motors do? One runs an elevator, which carries the included figure of Lieutenant Denver (left). The yellow controller has a three position switch (purple) to run the elevator up, down or off. A light above the elevator also lights (middle). The purple sound and light module is also shown in the left photo.

What do the other two motors do? One runs an arm (yellow) that sort of grabs the rocket. The other turns the launch pad (right). Both of these seem rather odd uses for the motors, but the elevator is very well done, and if you used pieces from this kit to build your own creations, you'd have some outstanding motors, sounds, and lights. This set, which dates from 2000, is branded "Learning Curve", and displays their Robotix logo of an R in a gear.

Each of the sets also builds something else. The Mission Hub kit above also builds the Sub Hub below. I thought this would be an easy to build afterthought dreamed up so the set could be billed as a construction kit, rather than just a Mission Hub kit. The five minute project turned into five hours. One thing that made it so difficult was that many parts look alike in the construction plans, and it's not very clear how they go together.

Remember that the great thing about the Mission Hub is the motorized vertical elevator. Here it becomes a horizontal traveling crane to position and launch a sub. It's still the best part of the set. The countdown voice is the same (the purple module), so you launch the sub. The second motor operates a claw that can move up and down to grab the sub. But it can't pick up the sub because the claw opens as it lifts. The third motor is put to better use than in the Mission Hub, however, as a rotating launching platform.

Below, top row, left: The Sub Hub built. Countdown module shown on left.
Below, top row, middle: Black rotating launch platform shown on third motor (purple) at left.
Below, top row, right: Lamp lights as claw travels on horizontal elevator. Most of the gold platform pieces are just for looks.
Below, bottom row, left: Claw opens as it raises. Astronaut LT Denver is now an aquanaut.
Below, bottom row, middle: The directions build a giant sub out of random Robotix parts. This isn't it. This is a tiny hybernaculum chamber that came with the Will Robinson figure released with the Lost in Space movie in 1988 (see Lost in Space section). But we think it looks like a sub, and it fits the claw well. The claw can grasp it, but not lift it, because the jaws of the claw open when it raises. We put layers of fluffy "snow" under the sub to raise it up, so the claw could grab it.
Below, bottom row, right: The claw carries the sub to the launching platform (motor one), and drops it on the platform (motor two), which rotates it into launch postition (motor three).

Robotix SubHub
Robotix Mission Hub kit
Robotix SubHub claw

Robotix claw detail2
Robotix with submarine
Sub platform detail

Robotix SnAp robot
Robotix robot detail.

Radio Shack Robotix

Radio Shack Robotix

Above: SnAp Sound Activated Robot Building Kit was branded as a Radio Shack Exclusive and sold in 2001. However, it still displays the Learning Curve Robotix logo. Inside was the Learning Curve manual, which referred to their (no longer active) web site. The set shown was labelled for age 8 up, but the robot shown is harder to build than the Mission Hub, which was labelled for age 9 up. The reason is the unclear directions, a number of similar, easily-confused parts, and a very odd design which makes the robot walk.

There's also an extra piece of paper shoved in the box of building hints, apparently meant to address this issue. However, Radio Shack sold this kit very inexpensively, making it impossible to pass up.
Correctly built, the robot is quite impressive. His torso is a sound and light module. His feet each have a motor and wheels, and he displays a walking gait, moving one foot and then the other.

Robotix Ion Centurion
Ion Centurion box

Discovery Shop Robotix

Above: One of the most satisfying Robotix kits, the Ion Centurion, rolls backwards and forwards on motorized treads, by radio control, turning in the backwards mode. He also includes a sound and light module in his torso. The box is labeled age 8 and up, but this is one of the easiest and most satisfying Robotix kits to build. He stands about 19 inches high, with another five inches above that for the antenna. As shown in the detail, he was at one time sold exclusively through DIscovery Channel stores.

You don't get many parts in this kit. But random Robotix parts of all eras (and colors) are plentiful on E-Bay and used on Amazon, as well as at garage sales, and you could use the Ion's ready to go motors,  tread tracks and radio control to build your own designs.

Milton Bradley Robotix

Robotix controller

Robotix Commander
Robotix the Movie

Robotix tool

Above: Milton Bradley invented (or branded) Robotix in the mid-eighties. Early sets were white with black and sometimes red. They were advertised as versatile building sets and were labeled by size, such as R-1000 (left) up to the R-5000 Robot Commander set (middle), which built a robot towering over five feet high.

A Robotix cartoon was created by Sunbow and Marvel Productions. Fifteen six minute shorts ran on the 1985 animated show, "Super Sunday", rotating with other cartoons, including Inhumanoids. The shorts were edited together to create a 90 minute animated feature, "Robotix: The Movie" (right).

Above bottom left: A two switch battery box/ controller labelled "Milton Bradley". There were also five switch controllers and a radio control model.

Above bottom right: Robotix pieces can be difficult to disassemble and, while sturdily built, can break if twisted. This disassmbly tool, here branded with the Learning Curve Robotix logo, and in LC flourescent green, was included in some sets.

Learning Curve Robotix

K'nex robot module

Lego robot

Above: a flyer included in some sets showed an array of amazing Learning Curve sets. "Specialty toy stores" often specialized in toys for girls. Robotix provided a line for boys, although many girls also enjoyed and built the sets. Boys' toys are conspicuous in such stores by their absence.

K'nex also made robotics sets around the same time (top right). Shown is their equivalent of the sound and light and radio control modules. The problem with K'nex sets is that the robots don't really have a body. They look too skeletal, despite the fact that some of the electronics were more sophisticated than those in Robotix sets. Robotix felt and looked more solid.

Bottom right: Lego Next robot kits are often used in FIRST robotics competitions. Learning Curve developed teachers' manuals and educational kits allowing Robotix sets to be used in schools for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses.

So now that the Robotix trademark is held by, how do things stand? A glance at the R&T web site reveals a "complete library of Robotix parts". However, they are all the white/ black/ red/ gray parts from the Milton Bradley era. They do sell complete kits. In 2014, the Mission Hub was priced at $174.99, and the Ion Centurion at $169.99. Robot Commander is $399.99.

However, the Learning Curve era, (brightly colored) kits carry this disclaimer: "In order to give our consumer customers and commercial clients the very best Robotix value and keep our shipping costs from rising, this item will only be available in a bulk parts bag with the exact same parts reproduced." If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say this means they don't have the Learning Curve boxes or can't use them because of copyright reasons. Since the Robot Commander dates from the MB era, he carries no such disclaimer.

Anyone interested in exploring the wonderful Robotix sets need not despair. There are twenty years of excellent sets from both the MB and LC eras widely and inexpensively available on E-Bay, used on Amazon, at garage sales, and elsewhere, as well as oodles of random parts to build these or your own creations.

planet zero