In case you’re a little behind schedule with holiday shopping or maybe have time management issues like me, hopefully some of these last minute gift ideas might come in handy. I tried to cover some of the most interesting robotic products launched this year, most of the suggestions below are readily available at major retailers in the US and Europe. Of course prices are given only for reference so you can better identify the category of a certain product. In addition you can also check out last year’s compendium for more inspiration.
So, this is my selection for this year, maybe you’ll also like some the products below.
Parrot Bebop 2
Price: US $550 or $800 with Skycontroller, EUR 549-949 with Skycontroller
The second iteration of the pretty capable and cost effective Bebop drone introduced last year promises to deliver over twice the flight time on a single power pack – no less than 25 minutes from 2700mAh capacity battery. Naturally the drone is a little heavier at about 500 grams, however dynamic characteristics have been slightly improved. The airframe has been slightly redesigned while control and image stabilization software has been refined. A Black Edition Skycontroller has also been released this month.
Price range: $130 – 190, EUR 100 – 200
The Parrot Minidrones lineup offers more cost effective but equally fun alternatives to the more expensive models out there. In the same fashion as last year’s models these are all app controlled and offer some pretty fun features. The Airborne for instance is a series of small quadcopters with various attractive color schemes capable of stunts and aerial photography – there’s even a model called Maclane that will probably die hard. The Hydrofoil drone can navigate over water while the Jumping family of drones are capable of doing what their name implies. Last year’s models can still be bought in certain at prices starting with US $70.
LEGO Technic 42043 Mercedes-Benz Arocs
Price: US $230, EUR 165
You can never go wrong with LEGO and the 42043 Technic set makes no exception. With 2793 parts it seems to be the biggest Technic set to date, and it can be a great source of parts or inspiration for other projects. Experts say it takes about 10 hours to fully assemble the truck, which seems realistic as it took me about 10 hours and 30 minutes spread over 3 days to assemble it a short while ago when I also received it as a gift.
The main model is over 50 cm long and features LEGO’s new Pneumatic System v2 and Power Functions for its loading crane, the truck chassis is equipped among others with fully functional 8×4 transmission, independent suspension on all 4 axles, twin axle steering. It is very detailed, and can be modified very easily by adding extra motors for traction and steering. Add one or more SBrick modules and you get a very realistic app controlled machine.
Price: US $60, EUR 55
SBrick is a smart Bluetooth LE receiver which enables you to control up to 4 LEGO Power Functions motors and lights by means of a mobile app for iOS, Android or Windows Phone – the module has been designed as a more reliable replacement for LEGO’s infrared remote control system. This means that you can easily add remote control capability and connectivity to any LEGO creation. In addition up to 16 SBrick modules can be controlled simultaneously from a single app instance, equivalent to a 64 channel remote control. The product deserves a review of its own which I will prepare soon. Communication latency is minimal and it is perfectly compatible with LEGO bricks, it’s even color matched. SBrick is under continuous development with new features and refinements available at each firmware update.
Price: US $150, EUR 160
Of course you cannot overlook the Sphero BB-8, a piece of the Star Wars Episode VII universe. In true Sphero tradition the BB-8 droid is a pretty advanced app enabled gadget that offers lots of interesting features such as inductive charging – offering about 1 hour of play time on a single charge, autonomous navigation capabilities, voice recognition and even holographic communication – the droid can record video messages and play them back via augmented reality, the phone needs to be pointed at it so the actual position of the droid can be registered. It is compatible with most iOS and Android mobile devices, communication being established via Bluetooth LE with a range of about 30 meters.
MakeBlock mBot Educational Robot Kit
Price: US $75 – 85, EUR 95 – 99
The mBot robot kit is part of MakeBlock STEM range and represents a very good starting point for kids and, why not, adults who want to begin their journey in robot development. At the core of this kit lies an mCore controller board based on Arduino Uno which presents the user with various inputs for light, infrared, ultrasonic and other sensors as well as buttons and outputs for buzzers, LEDs and so on. The robot can be programmed using Scratch, Arduino IDE or other similar environments. The kit includes all required parts for building various models of robots, and comes in two versions depending on the wireless interface – either Bluetooth or 2.4GHz wireless serial – with minimal price difference between these two. A variety of extra parts is available as well as more advanced kits, for example mDrawbot Kit which costs about US $230 or the Ultimate Robot Kit priced at approximately $320.
Meccanoid G15 Personal Robots
Price: US $100 – 300, EUR 150 – 250
The Meccanoid G15 series represents Meccano’s offering in the area of STEM educational systems and was introduced earlier this year. Based on the well known Meccano system the series is comprised of two model kits – the G15KS, as in kid size, is almost 1.2 meters or 4 feet tall and is comprised of 1223 parts while the standard G15 is about half this size and 621 parts. The robots are equipped with a fully programmable 8 channel Meccabrain microcontroller, servos, traction motors and RGB LED eyes. The robots can communicate via Bluetooth with iOS or Android mobile devices.
Ecovacs Household Robots
Price range Deebot: US $150 – 600, EUR 200 – 600
Price range Winbot: US $180 – 450, EUR 300 – 400
Ecovacs offers a series of reasonably priced floor and window cleaning robots which are available in the US as well as Europe. The Deebot range is designed for floor cleaning, moping and even have self emptying features, the top of the range model being the M8. The Winbot range handles window and other glass surfaces cleaning. Most models are available on US as well as European markets.
I hope you’ve found some useful ideas in this article, until next time I wish you Happy Holidays!