Lego Mindstorms build-your-own-robot kits have been with us since 1998, back when programming them required a computer with a serial port. The new Linux-based Lego Mindstorms EV3, however, doesn't even need a computer: you can set up basic routines right on the programmable Lego brick itself, and / or remote control a robot from an Android or iOS smartphone. For many buyers willing to spend $349.99, though, the best part will probably be this: the EV3 is an absolute blast to play with, right out of the box. We just got to try the EV3 at CES 2013 today, and each and every one of the included designs is a wonderful, thought-provoking toy even on its own.

There's a robot snake that slithers along on wheels, and actually snaps out to bite your hand when the infrared sensor sees you there. You can shake a smartphone to make it hiss and strike, or tilt to use the phone's inertial sensors to steer. There's a robotic rover that can track lines on a floor, with a set of four working snap-on interchangeable tools: a gripper claw, a ball launcher, a hammer, and a spinning bladed chopper for some purely plastic BattleBots action. There's a treaded design with strong gear-driven arms just large enough to bring you a beer soda can. And then there's the scorpion with a seek-and-destroy mode, where it hunts down your infrared remote control brick, then flips up its missile launcher of a tail to blast it with little plastic balls. It didn't work quite right in our video, sadly, but the scorpion shot us earlier.

Blast, grab, follow, chop, hammer, walk, strike, slither, roll

If you've got an iPad, they're even easier to build, because Lego's got an app with animated step-by-step instructions courtesy of Autodesk. (A company rep tells us that Mindstorms is the first, but future Lego set instructions might also be available there.) The infrared remote control and sensor, color sensor, touch sensor and three motors give the kit room to expand on these designs, too. What if you put a color sensor next to the infrared one on the robot snake, programmed it to ignore that color, and then wore that color of shirt? You could have a snake that snaps at other people... but not its master. We can't wait to see what Mindstorms EV3 will do when builders like Akiyukiand NASA — get their hands on it.