10. Pleo ($350)
to buy it
At first glance, the Pleo is just another expensive toy but, if you
take a closer look, this could be a very interesting platform for a
robot builder. Strip off the skin, interface to the electronics, and
you'd have the beginnings of an interesting robot. The underlying
hardware includes lots of sensors and actuators mounted on a quadraped
chassis, making the toy well worth the price.
9. White Box Robotics 914 PC-BOT Linux Player/Stage
where to buy
Remember White Box and their PC-BOTs? They maintained a low profile
during 2007 but they are actually shipping robots these days. The final
914 PC-BOTs are as cool-looking as production prototypes suggested and
they're supporting GNU/Linux and Free Software in a big way these days, with
several models that include Linux development tools and, my favorite,
one that includes the Player/Stage environment that has become something
of a robot software standard within the University and R&D communities.
As always the only downside to PC-BOTs is their price. The standard
White model is $6,795 and there's a $720 upcharge to get the shell in
Red, Yellow, Black, or Lime Green. That price includes the chassis,
drive system, controllers, and a VIA Mini-ITX with all the hardware
you'd expect on a desktop computer. We're still hoping to review one
someday, if only someone would send us one (hint, hint).
8. Budget Robotics Big gripper ($29)
Every robot needs a gripper to manipulate its environment. Very few
robot builders get around to adding any kind of gripper. You can help
them out by buying them the Budget Robotics Big Gripper. This is an
inexpensive, simple part that is able to grip objects of the size and
shape commonly used in robot contests, such as soda cans and tennis
balls. As Rog-a-matic says, "Without environmental interaction, what
good is a robot?"
7. iRobot Create ($130-$300)
Our last two lists included the iRobot Roomba, which made a great
robot platform. This year, we've replaced the Roomba with the Create,
which will save robot builders some time because the vacuum cleaner
components don't have to be removed. You can drop in a microcontroller
and you're ready to go with a differential drive platform that includes
plenty of sensors and a simple interface.
6. Spark Robot Arm ($30)
Sure, they call it a "Spark Robot Arm" but ask any old timer and
they'll tell you this is actually a Tomy Armatron just like the one
Radio Shack used to sell. The case has been updated a little and it's
green now. Otherwise, it's the same thing you probably remember playing
with back in the 1980s. Don't expect to easily mount it on your robot.
The complex mechanics inside don't lend themselves to external control.
But you could convert it to run on steam power. Or give it that young,
budding robot builder in the family. It will definitely spark some
interest in robotics and mechanics. Otherwise it's a great nostalgic
gift for those older robot builders you see skulking around robot clubs
talking about the good old days when they walked four miles in the snow
to buy a 10 MB 5.25" full-height hard drive.
5. WowWee Alive ELVIS ($175)
to buy it
The Swirling Brain says, "this robot head is The King of Rock and
Roll so you've got to love it!" This is probably the most bizarre, least
useful thing on our list. It's just so totally strange, you have to see
it to believe it. Besides singing Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, and
other Elvis favorites, it can also tell you about the life and times of
Elvis. Our favorite mode of course, is autonomous operation. Elvis will
track your movements with IR sensors embedded in the eyes, making random
Elvis remarks. Once you get tired of it, remove the head and attach it
to your favorite robot. Take some photos of your mutant Elvis cyborg and
send us a link.
4. Solarbotics Photopopper Photovore 5.0 kit ($45)
where to buy it
We saw a lot of these little robots rolling around at the 2007 Austin
Maker Faire. They're fun little kits and make a great introduction to
BEAM and autonomous robots. The robot is powered entirely by light. It
exhibits phototrophic behavior - that is, is seeks the brightest source
of light, avoiding dark areas in the process. The kit includes all the
parts you need and a simple instruction book. While it is very easy to
build, it requires at least some basic solder skills.
3. Humanoid robot ($1000+)
to buy them
We're seeing more and more Humanoid robot kits on the market. They're
still very pricey, with the least expensive hovering around the $1000
mark. They're also undeniably cool. Who wouldn't want to play with one?
If you don't want to blow the money for a full-blown humanoid robot kit,
there are also cheaper alternatives such as hacking a WowWee Robosapien
or the i-SOBOT Humanoid Robot.
2. WowWee Roboquad ($89)
to buy it
It seems like we always have one or two WowWee products on the list
and this year is no exception. The WowWee ROBOQUAD is another robot toy
with huge potential for the robot hacker. ROBOQUAD is a four-legged
robot with a lot of interesting autonomous behaviors built-in. It
exhibits several gaits including crab walk, stomp walk, and rotation
walking. It includes a gaurd mode in which it monitor a location using
visual and audio sensors. It has varying awareness, activity, and
aggression levels. If that's not enough for you, crack it open and
connect it to your own microcontroller.
1. Subscription to a Robot magazine (under $40)
This idea has consistently moved up on our annual list to finally hit
number one this year. Nearly every robot builder would enjoy any or all
of the five magazines listed above. It's a great, inexpensive gift and,
if you need something to wrap, just buy a current issue from the
newstand and include a note saying more issues on are the way. Servo is
the longest running robot hobby magazine we're aware of and focus mostly
on homebrew robots. Robot magazine is oriented more towards consumer
robots and robot kits, very much like traditional RC model magazines.
MAKE magazine is full of all sorts of strange and interesting DIY
projects, some of which are robots. The last two magazines focus on
electronics rather than specifically on robots but it's a focus that's
common to homebrew robotics, so the robot builder in your life will
likely enjoy these two just as much as the other three magazines.
Stocking Stuffer and A few things that didn't make this
As always, we came up with far more than just 10 ideas. Some
could become inexpensive stocking stuffers. Others are just crazy things
we wish somebody would give us for Christmas. We'd also love to hear
what sort of robot items you'd want to give or receive, so after you
read the rest of our lists, tell about your own ideas.
Gear Motors ($15) - Rog-a-matic says a robot builder "can never have
enough gear motors with high reduction."
Robomower ($1,000 - $1,800) - Sure, it's expensive but it would be
fun to play with.
USA - Quad motorized solar-powered platform ($8) - No soldering and
an unbelievable price for a robot kit.
Vex Robotics Design System ($300) - The Vex kit made our last two
lists but didn't quite do it this year. With so many other kits and
robots out, the price tag is beginning to seem a bit too high. Still a
very cool set of parts though.
Robot ($30) -
The Swirling Brain suggests this little robot might be ideal for a
younger robot builder. "This thing is sort of like Big-Trax in the past
where you can program the robot to do different actions. This is what
you need for introducing your young robot builder on how to make simple
Robotics - Hatachi HM55B Compass Module ($30) - Help your robot find
out which direction it's going.
Jakks EyeClops Bionic Eye ($30) - The Swirling Brain says, "This
thing is a hand-held device magnifies 200 times normal size on any TV
screen. It could be really cool for doing line following or some sort
of up robot close sensor."
Sock'em Robots ($22) - Another classic robot toy from the
The Swirling Brain also suggests a DVD of a robot-related
Wars, ; just to a name a few.
Finally, Rog-a-matic also commented on what he considers the
Christmas gift for a robot builder, "a weekend alone, bulding robots: