2010 Top 10 Robot Christmas Gift Ideas

Posted 19 Dec 2010 at 01:09 UTC by steve Share This

It's well passed time for us to post our annual countdown of the top 10 Christmas gift ideas for robot geeks. There are still a few shopping days left, so it's not too late to get out there and buy some robot gifts for all your loved ones. All your loved ones are robot geeks, right? No? Well I'm sure some of them are and we're here to tell what sort of cool swag they'd like to find under the Christmas tree this year. As always, the founding editors, steve, Rog-a-Matic, and The Swirling Brain put their heads together and came up with a list of cool robot gift ideas. Using no particularly empirical method, we determined what the top 10 were and present them below. Read on and have a Merry Robot Christmas!

10 Zhu Zhu Robot Hamsters ($7 - $40)

I know what you're thinking, wasn't this last year's hot robot toy? Well The Swirling Brain suggests taking a look at it for 2010. They're still fun and cheap plus they're not a fad this year, so it's a lot easier to buy them now. Here's his take on the hairy robots:

These crazy cheapo toys were all the rave last year with the under teen crowd. Parents were paying 3 or 4 times the retail price and more. They look fun and this year you'll probably find them in the bargain bins at the supermarts or the dollar stores. Get plenty of batteries or perhaps some rechargables as these things suck batteries and your minds dry in no time.

There are several robot critters to choose from as well as assorted unnecessary accessories:


9 Robot Construction Kits ($150 - $1200)

It seems we include this on our list every year and every year there are more kits to choose from. LEGO Mindstorms, Bioloids, VEX, Gears, Topobo, who knows what's coming in 2011. Some of these kits can be quite pricey but for the young robot builder they may be much easier than building robots from scratch and for older robot builders they're still fun to play with.


8 Robot Floor Cleaners ($150 - $650)

The well-known iRobot Roomba robot vacuum has made our list in years past but this year it's joined by two other robot floor cleaners. We'll leave it to you to determine which sucks more. Rog-a-matic recommends the new Mint robot:

Evolution Robotics' Mint is a new entry into the automated floor cleaning market that we covered back in August. It's not a vacuum like others, but uses a standardized rectangular dust-cloth to clean up to 1000 square feet of hard floors on one charge. It's square-ish shape gives it the advantage with corners and its quiet operation is music to the ears for owners of other robots in its class.

If the idea of a robot pushing a paper towel around the room doesn't sound very cool, then you've always got the classic Roomba, which now comes in a wide range of models and prices. And there's another new floorbot out there, the Neato Robotics XV-11. The XV-11 offers one very cool feature the others lack, a laser scanner which has been hacked and now has open source driver software. Need an ultra cheap lidar for your robot? Buy the XV-11 and pull out the scanner.


7 Handmade Robot Crafts ($10 - $3,000)

Combine the increasing trend to buy indivdually made craft items with the increasing popularity of robots and what do you get? We're not sure but you'll probably find it on Etsy. Rog-a-matic says:

Etsy is quickly becoming the go-to place for anything hand-made, and is also making inroads into the online auction and sales market for individuals and small dealers everywhere. This year's robot-themed offerings have grown again with everything from a robot pocket watch/necklace from JustLittle, some interesting abstracty robo-art by Brianelston, endless clothing designs such as the Robot got your heart T-shirt, this stylishly simple button down shirt, and even a full-sized Bender sculpture by TGNsmith.

Rog-a-matic's finds are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more to get you started but be sure to use Etsy's search to find even more robot gift ideas. And don't forget these are not mass-produced items, many are one-of-kind and others may be available in only small quantities. So get 'em before they're gone.


6 Makerbot 3D Printer ($650 - $1225)

Everyone is talking about 3D printers these days and The Swirling Brain thinks it's time to get one for your robot geek:

Does your robot needs some plastic parts? Make them yourself! 3D printing machines are starting to come of age and even into the tinker room of hobby groups or even hobbiests. You can get your own little Makerbot Cupcake or Thing-O-Matic that can make small parts with weedeater type filiment line. It's pretty cool really. Get one for Christmas and it's the gift that keeps on giving. With each new part you make it'll be like Christmas all over again, and again, and again until it breaks.

If you just don't want the hassle or want better resolution, try having a part made at Shapeways. You can check out some of the 3d models I've made or check out their gallery to give you an idea. You can also check out Thingverse for more 3d part making.

CC-BY photo from flickr user makerbot


5 Pololu 3pi Robot ($100 - $130)

You may remember the 3pi from our 2008 Christmas list or our Pololu 3pi review. This little robot still packs a lot of features for the price and, if there's any robot geek you know who doesn't have at least one lying around, it would still make a great gift idea. Here's what steve said about it in 2008 and all of this still holds true in 2010:

It seems to be one of the best beginner robots I've come across in several years. It's not perfect but it's very hard to beat for the price. The 3pi is a small, self-contained robot with dual motors, five reflectance sensors, an 8×2 character LCD, a buzzer, and three user pushbuttons. Controlling it all is an Atmel ATmega168. To make things even more interesting, the controller is compatible with the Adruino microcontroller, offering the potential for some interesting cross-pollination of software.
You can be up and running minutes after you take it out the box. Programming is done using the Free Software and Open Source GNU gcc tool chain. Advanced users can use the traditional command line version and there are various gcc-based GUI environments available for the beginner. Like the Arduino board, the 3pi seems to have a growing hoard of supporters in local robot groups. Everyone who sees one wants to buy one or two for themselves. The one downside is the lack of wheel encoders, which means the robot is best suited for tasks like line-following where there is an external navigational aide to keep the robot going in the right direction.
While you can use most any AVR ISP to program the 3pi's ATmega168, we highly recommend you buy one of Pololu's little Orangutan USB programmers to go with your 3pi. Trust us, it will make life easier!


4 Willow Garage PR2 Robot ($400,000)

On nearly ever Christmas list we include one robot that's very cool but unobtainable due to the cost. In 2008 it was a working scale model of Mechagodzilla and in 2006 a full size replica of Robby the Robot clocking in at $50,000. This year we have another very expensive robot but with a big difference. This pricey mechanical man is not a replica of a movie prop but a real, state-of-the-art, autonomous robot: The Willow Garage PR2 Robot.

For the base cost of $400,000 your new PR2 robot will include 2 arms with grippers, an omni-directional base, a sensor suite of multiple LIDAR units, color cameras, LED texture projector, IMU, and gripper accelerometers and pressure sensors, there's a 1.3 kWh battery system, 32GB backbone Gigabit Ethernet switch, dual radio WiFi, Bluetooth access point, 2 onboard 8 core i7 Xeon servers, each with 24GB of RAM and 2TB disk storage.

Keep in mind that for the price of one Willow Garage PR2 Robot, you could instead buy a his and her pair of Lamborghini Gallardos. I'm not saying one is a better deal than the other. Use your own judgement. And if you're really feeling generous this Christmas, buy a spare and send it our way!


3 Android Smart Phone

What's a phone doing on this list? We've seen a lot of smartphones used over the last several years as robot controllers. And why not? They contain powerful computers, lots of useful sensors, an IMU, WiFi and bluetooth communications, all the things we put into homebrew robot controllers these days. And a smartphone has a handy display and touch screen, making it a great input and control device. So a smartphone can either be the brains in a robot or the controller for a teleoperated robot. Ok, so why Android? It's not just the name, which we do like by the way. It's the fact that only the Android smartphones are based on open source software including the GNU/Linux OS and the Dalvik virtual machine. The other major smartphone is made by Apple, one of the leading opponents of software freedom and most of the smaller smartphone players aren't much better. The Android software stack isn't 100% free software yet but it's the best we've got. And because Google respects your software freedoms, you'll be able to easily get open source robot control apps into the Android app store for other robot builder to share and improve. There are an unbelievable number and variety of Android phones to choose from, so grab one and start writing robotics code! Check out Cell Bots for a head start. We can't list them all so here are a few of our favorites


2 Membership in a local robot group or hackerspace ($20 - $1200)

No matter where your robot geeks lives, there's likely to be a robot club or hackerspace nearby. A membership is a great gift because it helps both your robot geek and the your local community. If you need help finding a robot club, try the Arrick Robotics Robot Club list or the Open Directory Robot Organization list. For hackerspaces, try the hackerspace list. In general robot clubs will require only a modest annual membership fee from $20 - $100. Hackerspaces on the other hand have to cover more expenses and may require $40 to $100 per month for full membership.


1 Gift Certificates for Robot Parts ($you-name-it)

What's the one part your robot geeks needs to finish that next, world-changing project? Sorry, we don't know either. But it's always something. Maybe an ultra-capacitor or the latest AVR chip, maybe a gearbox or a sensor. What we do know is that every robot geek out there needs some component or part. And we can tell you how to get it for them even if you don't know what it is. A gift certificate for one of the major online robot stores. Many of these certificates can be given via email, making them great for last-minute robot gifts. There are several around to choose from so you might even want to get more than one.


That's it for our 2010 Christmas list but if you need even more gift ideas, check some of the lists from previous years

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