Hacking the Hexbug Spider XL to Add Computer Vision Using an Android Smartphone




I am a big fan the original Hexbug™ Spider.  I have owned over a dozen and hacked them all.  Anytime one of my sons goes to a friends’ birthday party, the friend gets a Hexbug™ spider as a gift.  I have hacked the original spider to play football (http://youtu.be/h0BTYm1e5u0 ) and follow lines (http://youtu.be/quDHhuEsxEg ).  When I saw the Hexbug™ Spider XL at Target™, I immediately wanted to hack a smartphone to it and experiment with computer vision and robotics.

Step 1: Disassemble the Hexbug Spider

The Hexbug Spider is easily taken apart with a small phillips screwdriver. First remove the batter cover than remove the three screws in and around the battery holder. After the screws are removed, gently lift the top off the spider.

Step 2: Lift the Head Off the Spider and Remove the Circuit Board

Gently lift the head off the spider and remove the circuit board. 

Step 3: Cut the Battery and Motor Wires at the Board and Strip the Ends

Cut the wires at the point that they connect to the board. There are three sets of wires: one set goes to the battery holder in the head (red/black), another set goes to the top motor, and the third set goes to the bottom motor. One motor has a brown and green wire, the other motor has a brown and black wire as pictured.
Strip approximately 1/4 inch of insulation off the end of all six wires.

Make sure the batteries have been removed from the battery holder.

Step 4: Remove the Plastic Insert in the Spider Head, Pull the Wires Through, and Replace the Head

Use long-nosed pliers to remove the plastic insert in the top of the spider then place top back on the spider and pull wires through hole left by the removed insert. Screw the top back on the spider using the same three screws removed earlier.   Note: The motor and battery holder wires (arrow) sticking through the hole in the top made by removing the insert.

Step 5: Connect the EMGRobotics ADMCB to the Spider Using the Screw Terminals

The EMGRobotics Audio Dual Motor Controller Board (ADMCB) connects to the motors in the Hexbug Spider, the battery holder, and the headphone jack on the Android device. The Android device will control the motors in the Hexbug Spider by sending tones through the headphone jack to the ADMCB.  The ADMCB decodes the tones into forward and reverse voltages to the motors. You can learn more about the ADMCB here: http://buildsmartrobots.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-emgrobotics-audio-dual-motor-controller-board-admcb-use-your-

It's very important that all the wires are connected to the ADMCB EXACTLY as shown. Reversing the connections can either damage the ADMCB or cause the robot to move incorrectly.

Connecting the wires to the ADMCB is easy using the flat head screw terminals. Insert the stripped wires into the holes as shown, and tighten the screw above the hole using a small flat head screwdriver. After tightening, check that no copper wire strands are shorting together.

Double check all your connections and make sure there are no shorts (connections between wires) before inserting batteries.

Step 6: Use a Rubber Band to Secure the ADMCB to the Hexbug Spider

The following are a hackers best friend: rubber bands, tie wraps, and double sided tape. Use a rubber band to secure the ADMCB to the Hexbug Spider.  

Step 7: Mounting an Android Phone on the HexBug Spider XL - Method #1

Pictured is the simplest method of mounting the an Android phone. Simply drill a hole in the battery cover of the Spider and put through a 3" bolt. I used tie wraps, tie wrap mounts, and double sided tape.  The phone is attached using Velcro, put the soft (loop side) on the phone.

Step 8: Mounting an Android Phone on the HexBug Spider XL - Method #2

I was lucky enough to meet Steven Finkelman at Pumping Station: One in Chicago back in January.
He built a very cool mount for me using a laser cutter.


i cannot speak highly enough of the people at Pumping Station One. They invited me out there to do a presentation on computer vision back in January and ended up building  these great mounts for me.

Step 9: Controlling the Robot Using Computer Vision or RFO BASIC

The final robot can be controlled by any application that can generate the appropriate tones (the Spider uses Differential Mode).
You can learn more about using RFO BASIC for Android to control the robot here: http://buildsmartrobots.ning.com/profiles/blogs/building-an-android-basic-programmable-tank-for-less-than-50-00

Or you can download the EMGRobotics Robot Controller directly from Google Play:

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    10 Discussions


    3 years ago

    what are some experiments i could try with this


    5 years ago on Introduction

    i need the code please
    is very urgent
    RFO BASIC the code
    thank you


    6 years ago on Introduction



    6 years ago on Introduction

    what also would be cool is if you could use the phone in upright (portrait) position using the front camera and display a face animation on the screen while the spider-bot is walking around ... like Caine when he was turned into a robot in RoboCop 2 :D

    Doing the Skype conversion, you could make it 2-way communications.. the controle tones would go over the left-audio and the sound over the right, you'd have to use an external speaker I guess since the phone's internal speaker is turned off when you plug in an audio jack... or is it possible to bypass so you don't need an external speaker?

    Hmmm you'd also have to be able to tell the controller app to just use the left channel and Skype to use the left channel ... is that even possible with Android in combination with some soort of app, to fade audio left or right per application? ..

    or is it possible to have the controller software and hardware make/listen to tones well outside the human range of hearing... (would freaking pets be a problem?)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    See JMEMantzel's you tubes. He invented the original spider robot thingy! I think he sold it to a chinese toy company and is now living off the royalty checks! Yea for him! America does have smarts! jamie proves this. He makes really cool stuff. Not just toys, but buildings, domes, eco-systems, and more! Check him out, you will be inspired! I guarantee it!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Is this a final project they sell now ? There is a guy on you-tube named Jamey Mantzel. he invented this robot prototype and is making a giant one. He sold the idea to a toy company. now he is living off the royalty checks. Cool guy. he is a wizard at building things. Check him out when you can! JMEMantzel on you tube.


    This is an amazing hack. Great work. My son has one of these too and he will flip when he sees this.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    How hard do you think it will be to make this a telepresense robot ? I don't know, using the same android phone running skype for chatting and controlling the movement.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    This is something I am looking into, it has been request many times. As soon as I get something working I will post a link to it here.