2006 Top 10 Robot Christmas Gift Ideas

Posted 13 Dec 2006 at 21:52 UTC by steve Share This

The editors have been busy building robots and shopping for Christmas presents but we haven't forgotten that it's time for our annual countdown of the top 10 Robot Christmas gift ideas. Like last year, this list was put together by The Swirling Brain, Rog-a-matic, and myself. We considered a lot of important factors, such as usefulness and price. Then we gave up on that approach and, instead, each made lists of the coolest robot parts, robotic gadgets, and robot toys we could think of. We've combined our individual lists into the "official" list that follows. It might be fun to compare this year's list to last year's. A few of the same items made the list, along with lots of new robot hardware. Read on for the actual list in traditional countdown style.

10. FriendlyRobotics Robomower ($1,000 - $1,800)

Product Info
Where to buy it

Robot lawn mowers come and go. Like a robot vacuum, they're probably not much good for their intended purpose but they are always fun to play with and sometimes can be hacked to turn them into interesting robot projects. So, despite its dubious usefulness, we couldn't resist adding the Robomower to our list. The Swirling Brain says, "You could pay a neighbor kid $20 a week ($240 a year, less if he only mows during the summer) to mow your lawn, but why, when you could spend $1200 to get a robot to mow your lawn for you! Sure it's a little pricey, but think about how all your neighbors will see your major robotic geekness and marvel at how well you handle your pocket book! Better yet, if you can talk someone into buying you one as a Christmas present, you can just make people think you spent lots of money foolishly!"

9. WowWee RoboReptile ($75)

Product Info
Where to buy it

RoboReptile is the second generation of Robot Dinosaur from WowWee. The first generation, known as RoboRaptor made last year's Top 10 List. That first version had numerous minor problems such as lack of traction on certain surfaces. The new Roboreptile works better overall and includes lots of new behaviors. It still looks like it's just begging to be hacked by the curious roboticist.

8. Life-size Robot Replicas ($25,000 - $50,000)

B9 Robot Replica Info
Robby the Robot Replica Info

Okay, let's be honest. Nobody can afford these but, admit it, you want one. Who wouldn't want a life-size B9 or Robby? While not fully autonomous robots, they are loaded with sound effects, blinky lights, and a variety animatronic movements. A lucky few, like The Swirling Brain, may have a legitimate need for one of these robots: "Wow, that would be cool to walk that thing around my living room and scare the living daylights out of the Rhesus monkeys that try to steal all of my fruit!" Of course, you could use that $50,000 to buy a new car, or create an army of PC 914 robots to aid you in your quest to take over the world but would it really be worth it, knowing you missed the chance to have your own B9 robot?!

7. Star Wars R2-D2 Robots ($30 - $300+)

R2-D2 Action Figure
Artoo Potatoo
R2-D2 Interactive Astromech Droid

Everybody's favorite Star Wars robot is R2-D2, the astromech droid. There seem to be R2-D2s available in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges this year. The coolest of these has to be the R2-D2 Interactive Astromech Droid. When The Swirling Brain saw it, his first thought was, "Yeah, it has a lot of features, does cool things, listens to your voice, yada yada. Who cares about all of that! I want an R2D2 that I can hack, and this is it! ". Unfortunately, it looks like this $120 toy is sold out and going for $300 plus from Amazon and eBay sellers, when you can find it at all. If you want to hack one, it might be best to wait until all the ones given as Christmas gifts start showing up on eBay in a few months. Meanwhile, Rog-a-matic discovered the bizarre Artoo Potatoo, "Hasbro/Playskool breaks into the 21st century with the starchy Artoo-Potatoo droid modeled after Luke Frywalker's mechanical companion R2-D2. Artoo comes complete with potato-conforming robo-legs, a shinny dome with webcam-like eyes, a spud-piercing robotic arm, and a Princess Leia Tater figurine to rescue from those evil Empire skin-heads. A totally fake plastic potato body is also provided - what a let-down. Sour cream and bacon bits sold separately." And, if Robotic Mr. Potato Heads aren't your thing, how about a plain old R2-D2 action figure? They're easy to find, inexpensive and the perfect addition to any robot builder's desktop.

6. VIA Nano-ITX / Mini-ITX Motherboards ($95 - $450)

Product Info
Where to buy

Since we know most of our readers are probably hacking all these gift iideas anyway, we thought it would be a good idea to throw in a controller board for the new robot you'll be building out of all your disassembled Christmas gifts. Rog-a-matic says, "Nano-ITX mainboards are an excellent computing platform for home-built robot bases larger than 10" or so. They typically include Ethernet, USB, video, audio and provide a mini-PCI slot for expansion. Most sport processors running around 1Ghz, are fan-less, and draw a lot less current than a typical mainboard, but much more than a AVR or Basic Stamp. Since they're often used in automobiles, a nice array small form-factor enclosures and 12V power supplies are available." And if you find the Nano too expensive for your project, there are a variety of slightly larger form-factor Mini-ITX boards available for half the price that can be run on either on 12 VDC directly or using a 12V DC-DC power adapter.

5. White Box Robotics 914 PC-Bot ($5,000)

Product Info
Where to buy

I'd love to get my hands on one of these robots. Everyone here at is hoping a review unit will magically show up on our doorstep one morning. And we're not the only ones who've been waiting for the PC-Bot. The Swirling Brain comments, "This thing has been on most people's waiting list but delays and delays have kept it from market. But finally, without further adieu, this robot is now for sale! Remember all the fun robot builders had with the old Heathkit and their wonderful Hero-I robot from the 1980's? Well, think of that robotic fun with a $5000 dollar price tag and you'll be close! OK, maybe that's not fair to liken it to a Hero robot because this one has a full blown PC brain inside, not a cheesy 4 bit processor. This thing has zillions more gizmos including camera & sensors. It's perfect for the serious robot hacker! I really want one bad!". It's also worth pointing out that White Box expects the price to drop by as much as 50% as production ramps up.

4. iRobot Roomba ($150 - $280)

Product Info
Where to buy

What does The Swirling Brain say about the Roomba? "Sure it's an expensive vacuum that probably doesn't work near as well as it should but hey it's a real robot that does real house work! You got to love it! Plus you can hack it! (if your mom lets you)". Rog-a-matic adds that you should probably buy Tod Kurt's book of Roomba hacks at the same time. "Roomba, probably the largest volume, real robot ever produced, is just like other uber-tech products - Totally Hacked! A plethora of websites, magazine articles, and soldered finger burns are accompanied by 'Hacking Roomba' by Tod Kurt." Like the Robomower, we wouldn't recommend this for its intended purpose but we do recommend it as a great robot platform for experiments.

3. Humanoid Robots ($900-$1500)

HiTech RoboNova Info
JR PROPO RB1000 Info
Tribotix Robotis Bioloid
Kondo KHR-2HV

There are a growing number of small humanoid robot kits on the market. Most of these combine metal brackets with RC servos to create humanoid robots that work much like their larger relatives, such as the Honda Asimo. These robots are usually intended for use as radio controlled toys. But with the addition of a microcontroller, sensors, and a little coding, these would make great platforms for a robot builder who wants to experiment with humanoid robotics. If you've ever added up the cost of building something like this from scratch, the prices don't really seem to steep. Not convinced? According to The Swirling Brain, "Humanoid robots are like the holy grail of robotics platforms. I mean, gee, no one thinks of a rolling car or a flying helicopter as being a robot but everyone identifies with a humanoid machine as being a robot!" As to which one is best, we'll leave that up to you. Rog-a-matic seems to prefer the RoboNova from HiTech. I'm fascinated by the Tribotix Bioloid, which seems to be the least expensive and provides enough parts to build a humanoid or a variety of other types of robots. The Swirling Brain points out that there is also the Kondo KHR-1 and it's successor, the Kondo KHR-2HV.

2. Robotics Magazines (under $40)

Servo Magazine
Robot Magazine
O'Reilly's Make Magazine

Robot print magazines are another item to return from last year's list. These are still very popular and in demand by robot builders everywhere. When Make first appeared on the scene, it was by far the coolest thing ever for robot builders and hardware hackers of every variety. After a year, it's getting harder for them to find more cool projects to report on. But it's still one of the best print magazines around for the hardware hacker. Servo's monthly issues and Robot's quarterly issues are still full of interesting photos of homebrew robots, robot news, and design hints, and other great resources for robot builders. A subscription to any one of these three will please your robot builder.

1. Vex Labs Vex Robotics Design System ($300)

Product Info
Where to buy

This was our top pick in 2005 too. We were disappointed earlier this year when Radio Shack dropped the Vex products and it looked like they might disappear. Fortunately, Vex is back and better than ever. With its metal parts, it seems sturdier than building robots out of a Lego kit. Another cool feature that The Swirling Brain likes is that you get a remote control unit so you can try your creations in RC mode before you add a brain. This is an item that should appeal to beginners because it makes learning and experimenting so easy. It's also great for the advanced robot hobbyist because it's full of cool parts that can be hacked and used on a custom robot. I think it's safe to say that anyone interested in building robots would have some fun with a Vex kit.

We came up with lots of other ideas that didn't make the final list. And there were also a handful of smaller items we considered tacking on in a "stocking stuffer" section. Our publication deadline got the better of those ideas though. If one of us gets time, maybe we'll post a few of the left over ideas in a reply. I bet you have some good ideas we may have missed too, so let's hear 'em!

Transformers Toys, posted 13 Dec 2006 at 22:57 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

First off, GREAT LIST!

I figure when the new Transformers movie comes out that Transformers robot toys will be all the rage. Maybe they'll make the list for next year?

Atmel AVR for christmas, posted 14 Dec 2006 at 12:14 UTC by wedesoft » (Master)

I'm ordering a CANDIP/M162 (Atmel AVR with CANBus-controller daughterboard), an AVR-Parallel programmer, and a breadboard as a christmas present. As usually christmas is going to cause a leap in privately-funded robotics-research :-D

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