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2005 Top 10 Robot Christmas Gift Ideas

Posted 15 Dec 2005 at 03:28 UTC by steve Share This

Trying to find the ideal gift for a robot geek or budding engineer this Christmas? A Robosapien perhaps? Or a Roboraptor? Maybe a Roomba? What about one of those new Vex or Robotis kits? The robots.net editors put their heads together and came up with a Christmas list of our top 10 robot gift ideas. Don't have much to spend? Not a problem. Have plenty to spend? We've got you covered there too.

This list was assembled by The Swirling Brain, Rog-a-matic, and myself. We tried to take into account lots of factors such as price, usefulness, and, of course, whether or not we think a given item is cool enough for a robot geek. We all came up with slightly different lists and I'm sure each of our readers would disagree with at least some of these. Feel free to post your own top 10 list at the end of this article. What are the top 10 robot toys you would like to get for Christmas if you could?

So, on to the list itself. We're going to roll them out countdown-style.

10. Kondo KHR-1 Humanoid Robot Kit ($1500)
Product info
Where to buy it
More about Robo-one

The KHR-1 is a small humanoid robot kit from Japan. The robot is based on standard RC servos and meets the specs of the Korean Robo-One committee for humanoid robot competitions. At $1500, the KHR-1 is pricey but humanoid robots are very complex machines. If you're thinking about buying one be aware that RC servos wear out quickly under the heavy loads of robotics use. But even with the downsides, this is one cool robot. Who wouldn't want one of these? The forthcoming HiTec RoboNova robot may beat the KHR-1 on both price and reliability but if you want a humanoid robot this year, the KHR-1 is your best choice.

9. WowWee Chimpanzee Head ($150)
Product info
Where to buy it

The Swirling Brain says, "This is one of those weird things that's just so weird it's cool. Imagine having a robotic monkey head that you can control! I love it!" This is a mass-produced toy that duplicates the mechanical principles of Hollywood special effects animtronic models. The robot also exhibits life-like behavior that includes sleeping, emotions, reactions to stimuli and more. It's very unusual and, well, just weird.

8. iRobot Roomba and Scooba ($150 - $400)
Product info
Where to buy it
Example of a hacked Roomba

The Roomba and Scooba make great gifts for two reasons. First, they're really cool as useful robots. They can actually clean your floors. Maybe not as fast or well as a human but they're a lot more fun that cleaning it yourself. The second reason that robot geeks are buying Roombas lately is to hack them. They make great bases for homebrew robots. They already have motors, encoders, differential steering, sensors, and batteries. Remove the vacuum and add new features of your own and you've got a pretty good little robot for a lot less than building it all from scratch. There are now six models of Roomba with varying features and prices.

7. WowWee Robosapien II ($250)
Product info
Where to buy it

Okay, admit, you've been playing with the Robosapien II down at the local Sharper Image store haven't you? Sure, it's more expensive than the original but it's a bigger and better; new and improved. It can see and hear now. It still seems to have some sort of digestive disorder but no robot is perfect.

6. OWI Cyclone Kit ($72)
Manufacturer's website
Where to buy it

Rog-a-matic ran across this cool little robot. You probably never heard of it before. The Cyclone is shaped like a featureless sphere. Sections of the sphere act like wheels, providing drive and differential steering. The kit merely implements the drive system and provides a remote control. Turning the Cyclone into a real autonomous robot is left as an exercise for the student. The down side to this one is that it's so obscure it isn't even listed on the manufacturer's website, so it may be difficult to find. Pololu seems to have some in stock, however, as do a few other online robot stores.

5. Subscription to a Robot Magazine (under $40)
Servo Magazine
Robot Magazine
O'Reilly's Make Magazine

There are three choices here. Servo Magazine is probably the most widespread and maybe the longest surviving hobby robotics magazine to date. Robot Magazine is a more polished looking upstart aiming for a higher end market similar to the radio control model magazines. O'Reilly's MAKE magazine includes lots of robot articles along with many other DIY subjects and is a favorite of geeks of every stripe, be they robot geeks or Linux geeks. Want to make your roboticist very happy? Buy him or her a subscription to all three!

4. Robotis Bioloid Kit ($1200)
Product info
Where to buy it

This Australian-made kit includes 19 serially controlled servos, a sensor module, and an Atmel ATMega128 control unit. Using provided connectors, you can assemble biped humanoid robots, quadrapeds, wheeled robots, arms, and just about any other combination of moving, robotic creation you can dream up. Looks like a lot of fun. The only thing that prevent this item from rating higher in our list was the pricetag: about $1200 (depending on current exchange rates). To quote The Swirling Brain, "The ROBOTIS system is not cheap, but it sure is cool!"

3. Lego Mindstorms Robotic Invention System 2.0 ($200)
Product info
Where to buy it

Lego's Mindstorms Robotic Invention System has become the leading general purpose robotics kit. It has been used in almost every level of education ranging from elementary school through post-graduate work. Several robot competition have specific leagues or contests for Lego-based robots. This kit makes a great introductory tool for kids but can be useful to the serious robot hobbyist as well. There are plenty of after-market hacks including replacement software that can expand the capabilities of the RCX controller.

2. WowWee Roboraptor ($100)
Product info
Where to buy it

This is WowWee's third appearance on our Top 10 list, this time at number two. The Roboraptor is based on technologies developed in the first and second Robosapien but instead of a humanoid biped, they've created a dinosaur-like biped robot. Think about. What normal America boy or girl doesn't like dinosaurs and robots? What could possibly be cooler than a robot dinosaur? The Roboraptor is not without some failings. Reviewers have consistently noticed its inability to walk on carpet. Like other Tilden designs, it has limited sensors, simple behaviors and doesn't learn. So it might not be a good choice as a gift for a child wanting a pet-like autonomous robot along the lines of the Sony Aibo. But if you're a robot geek looking for a really cool-looking biped robot to hack and play with, you can't beat the Roboraptor.

1. Vex Robotics Starter Kit ($250)
Product info
Where to buy it
Myth Busters Review of Vex in Robot Magazine

Radio Shack is selling what may become the first serious competition for Lego Mindstorms. While Mindstorms is based on plastic Lego bricks, Vex looks more like a modern descendant of the Erector set. It includes lots of metal parts that can be bolted together into very sturdy robots and equipped with a variety of wheels and tracks. Even the Myth Busters, who reviewed the kit for Robot Magazine recently, thought it was a highly adaptable and versatile kit. This is something that almost anyone who's interested in robots would love to play with, regardless of their age.



A few things that didn't make the list this year

As you can imagine, we came up with far more than 10 cool robot gift ideas. While we can't list them all, a few are worth special note. All of these items came very close to making the 2005 top ten list but were edged out for one reason or another.

914 PC-Bot ($1200 - $1700)
Product info

All three of us like this one a lot. It brings back memories of the old Heathkit Hero robots. It's PC based, which means you can run Linux or any other PC operating system on it. The only reason it didn't make the top 10 is that we decided not to list any vaporware products. As cool as the 914 PC Bot is, you can't actually buy one yet. To be more precise, you can buy one but you can't actually receive delivery of the robot because White Box hasn't shipped or even built any production units yet. No one knows when they will actually ship but hopefully it will happen soon. We'll be the first in line begging for a review unit to cover here when they're available.

Robot Building for Dummies Book and ARobot combination ($340)
Product info

The Swirling Brain says "A great gift set. By Arrick Robotics, it has the very popular Parallax, Inc. Basic Stamp that can be easily programmed. Great deal." The ARobot also has an unusual drive and steering arrangement which would make it interesting for the experimenter who'd like to try his or her hand at a robot that doesn't use the traditional differential steering method. Despite being a cool idea, two of us worked on this product so we couldn't bring ourselves to actually put it on the official list.

Voice-Controlled R2-D2 ($120)
Product info

It's not really programmable, but everyone loves R2-D2 and this one understands voice commands. It has a variety of sensors and can be put into several autonomous modes that include acting as a sentry, playing tag, and following people. Looks like a lot of fun.

Mr. Soccer ($70)
Product info

The Swirling Brain thought these little remote control soccer robots were way cool and it's hard to disagree. While they probably aren't suitable for hacking, they'd probably be a lot of fun to play with.

Hitec Robonova Humanoid ($1000)
Product info

Like the 914 PC-Bot, the only reason these little robots didn't make our top 10 list was their current status as vaporware. Prototypes exists and we actually saw a very nice demo at Robonexus. They should start shipping before the end of 2005 but it's unlikely you'd be able to get one in time for Christmas. Once they're shipping, they promise to be both less expensive and more reliable than other servo-based humanoid kits such as the KHR-1 thanks to specially designed servos that HiTec created specifically for these robots. We'll let you know for sure when they ship us a review unit. The kit doesn't include a microcontroller but the price is right for a DIY humanoid.

Solar-powered Cybug ($50)
Product info

Rog-a-matic picked this inexpensive little robot kit. IR sensors help the robot moved towards the brightest area of the room. Feelers help it avoid collisions. Solar panels recharge it using available light.

Solarbotics BEAM Photovore ($45)
Product info (PDF format)

I also liked the solar-powered Cybug robot Roger picked but it looked like an attempt to emulate a BEAM robot using a microcontroller, so I'm going to throw in the real thing, a BEAM Photovore - no microcontroller, no battery, just a solar cell and a cap for power. The Cybug and Photovore are cheap enough you could even buy both and compare a BEAM robot to conventional microcontroller-based robots. Sounds like the making of a good science project for a high school student to me.


Another source for KHR-1 and Robonova-1 , posted 15 Dec 2005 at 20:44 UTC by steve » (Master)

Limor Schweitzer writes, "I just saw your robots.net article and wanted to let you know that our site also sells KHR-1 for $1340. RoboSavvy is probably the only English site that provides technical support to KHR-1. It also sells the new ROBONOVA-1 humanoid from Kondo's competing company Hitec."

Feel free to post links to alternate/cheaper sources for any of the items on our list.

Awesome List!!, posted 15 Dec 2005 at 21:12 UTC by HatHead » (Journeyer)

That is a totally awesome list!

I'll take one of each, posted 15 Dec 2005 at 22:54 UTC by roschler » (Master)

With 3 you get egg roll, or a robot with a pre-tuned neural net that detects when your PC has crashed and plays happy Christmas tunes when it does.

i-Cybie, posted 16 Dec 2005 at 03:09 UTC by roschler » (Master)

Another good robot as a gift is the i-Cybie robotic dog. The price just came down to $129 and it does tricks and responds to voice commands. I picked one up to play with my Robopet robot dog. It's not going to make anyone doing robot research happy, but it's great as a holiday stocking stuffer.

The 12 Days of Robotic Christmas, posted 17 Dec 2005 at 14:18 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

Come on, let's all adorn ourself with boughs of holly and get into a frenzied dance around the burning yule log and break in to this year's most festive holiday song!...

On the first day of Robotic Christmas my true love gave to me...

12 Kondo KHR-1s 11 WowWee Chimpanzee Head 10 iRobot Roomba and Scooba 9 WowWee Robosapien II 8 OWI Cyclone Kit 7 Subscription to a Robot Magazine 6 Robotis Bioloid Kits 5 Lego Mindstorms Robotic Invention System 2.0 4 WowWee Roboraptor 3 Vex Robotics Starter Kit 2 914 PC-Bot and a Voice-Controlled R2-D2

reformatted for your convenience..., posted 17 Dec 2005 at 14:20 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

12 Kondo KHR-1s
11 WowWee Chimpanzee Head
10 iRobot Roomba and Scooba
9 WowWee Robosapien II
8 OWI Cyclone Kit
7 Subscription to a Robot Magazine
6 Robotis Bioloid Kits
5 Lego Mindstorms Robotic Invention System 2.0
4 WowWee Roboraptor
3 Vex Robotics Starter Kit
2 914 PC-Bot
and a Voice-Controlled R2-D2

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