Upgrading from Cortex to EXP

This article is for those who currently are using the Cortex System and are upgrading / considering upgrading to the VEX EXP System. The purpose of this article is to cover what contents from Cortex can be used with the VEX EXP System.

Structure Compatibility

EXP Structure (metal pieces, wheels, gears) was designed with backwards compatibility in mind. This means, the standard used to create Cortex Structure is the same standard used for EXP. Therefore, the pitch (or distance between holes on structural components) is the same, so Cortex Structure can be aligned and fastened to EXP structure.

The EXP System utilizes Star Drive Screws and Low Profile Nuts, so you can fasten your builds more securely than before with rivets, although you can still use whatever you are most comfortable with. When upgrading from Cortex to EXP, hardware, gears, and wheels will work with one another.



Electronics Compatibility

The root of EXP is based upon the new VEX EXP Brain. Detailed below, it replaces the VEX ARM Cortex-based Microcontroller. This more powerful Brain allows you to control not only the new sensors and motors found in the EXP Kit, but also most of the Cortex Sensors you are familiar with so you will not have to give up anything when deciding to upgrade.

EXP Brain Specifications


Improved Robot

  • 10 Smart Ports on the Brain to communicate with a multitude of motors and sensors
  • 8 3-Wire Ports to communicate with both new EXP Sensors and Cortex Sensors (more information below)
  • 1.7” Color Screen with buttons allowing for a total of 8 stored user projects
  • Built in Inertial Sensor, 6-axis Gyro/Accelerometer
  • Built-in Bluetooth Radio paired with the EXP Controller (more information below)
  • Micro SD Card for Datalogging and Storage
  • The Brain also has a real-time motor and sensor dashboard and built-in configurable drive program, allowing for immediate troubleshooting and demonstration opportunities without the need for coding
  • Programmed in VEXcode Blocks, C++, and Python (more information below)

The EXP Brain replaces the VEX ARM Cortex-based Microcontroller, allowing for a lower barrier of entry to the VEX system with how simple it is to use.

The EXP Brain is able to power and control mostly all of the sensors and motors you have been using and are used to from Cortex. If you are wanting to upgrade to EXP but have reservations that you will lose valuable electronics from Cortex, EXP was specifically designed to still support past electronics, while at the same time introducing much more powerful sensors and motors.

Cortex Electronics

The following list is of 3-Wire Sensors and Motors from the Cortex System and whether or not they are compatible with the EXP Brain and EXP System. Simply plug your compatible 3-Wire electronics the same way you have been doing with Cortex into the EXP Brain, and watch it come to life.

Name Product Image Part Number EXP Compatibility
Limit Switch image14.png 276-2174 Compatible
Bumper Switch image8.png 276-2159 Compatible
Optical Shaft Encoder image19.png 276-2156 Compatible
Ultrasonic Range Finder image17.png 276-2155 Compatible
Line Tracker image24.png 276-2154 Compatible
Light Sensor image20.png 276-2158 Compatible
Potentiometer V1&V2 image15.pngimage13.png



LED Indicator image11.png 276-2176 Compatible
Gyro image9.png 276-2333 Compatible
Motor 393 image12.png 276-2177 Compatible*
Servo image22.png 276-2162 Compatible*
Accelerometer image23.png 276-2332 Compatible
VEX ARM Cortex-based Microcontroller image1.png 276-2194

Not Compatible

replaced with the VEX EXP Brain

VEXnet Joystick image4.png 276-2192

Not Compatible

replaced with the VEX EXP Controller

VEXnet Key 2.0 276-3245-vexnet-key-2.webp 276-3245

Not Compatible

replaced with the EXP Brain and Controller Built-In Radio

7.2V Robot Battery NiMH 2000mAh image25.png 276-1491

Not Compatible

replaced with the VEX EXP Battery

VEX Flashlight image3.png 276-2210

Not Compatible

replaced with the V5 Optical Sensor

VEX LCD Display VEX_LCD.jpg 276-2273

Not Compatible

replaced with the EXP Brain's Built-In LCD

Programming Hardware Kit 276-2186-programming-hardware-kit.webp 276-2186

Not Compatible

replaced with the USB-C Cable

*Power output from the 393 Motors and Servos will be reduced. They will be most useful for non-drivetrain functions.

Mostly all of the Cortex motors and sensors you find value in are compatible with the EXP Brain and System. Once plugged into the EXP Brain, you can either take control of them through the Brain’s Device menu, allowing you to see and control all electronics currently plugged into the Brain, or by using VEXcode EXP. VEXcode EXP replaces ROBOTC, and allows you to configure and code your electronics using either Blocks, C++, or Python.


View this section from the VEX Library for more information on VEXcode EXP. 

EXP Electronics

In addition to all of the Cortex electronics that you may continue to use, there are also a number of improved EXP Motors and Sensors. The Smart Ports provide more complex sensing which results in more accurate data when compared to the Cortex Sensors. The following list includes the Motors and Sensors gained when upgrading to the base EXP Kit.


The V5 Optical Sensor is a combination of the following sensors:

  • Ambient light sensor
  • Color Sensor
  • Proximity Sensor

The Optical Sensor has a white LED to assist color detection in low light conditions, and can function as a flashlight. The Optical Sensor uses a Smart Port and allows for real-time sensor feedback through the usage of the EXP Brain’s Sensor Dashboard.


The V5 Distance Sensor uses a pulse of classroom-safe laser light to measure the distance from the front of the sensor to an object.

It can also:

  • detect an object and determine the relative size of the object as small, medium, or large
  • used to calculate a robot’s approach speed of the robot/sensor as it moves toward an object

The Distance Sensor uses a Smart Port and allows for real-time sensor feedback through the usage of the EXP Brain’s Sensor Dashboard.


The Bumper Switch v2 is a single digital switch with a spring-loaded bumper which can be pushed in to change the state of the switch. This switch requires only a light touch to activate and is one of the 3-Wire series of sensors.

The Bumper Switch uses a 3-Wire Port and allows for real-time sensor feedback through the usage of the EXP Brain’s Sensor Dashboard.


The V5 Smart Motor (5.5W) delivers 5.5W of power and precision, designed to perform reliably, effectively, and most importantly, safely in the classroom.

The V5 Smart Motor (5.5W) uses a Smart Port and allows for real-time sensor feedback through the usage of the EXP Brain’s Sensor Dashboard.

With an integrated encoder measuring at 960ticks/rev, users can control the motor’s direction, speed, acceleration, position, and torque limit all without the use of a Motor Controller 29.

For more information, help, and tips, check out the many resources at VEX Professional Development Plus

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