My favorite part of holiday shopping (for me, that refers to Christmas, insert your favorite winter holiday here) is the hunt for stocking stuffers. The requirements—cute, compact, not too pricey, instantly usable , and ideally (at least when my kids were younger) providing non-screen entertainment during holiday downtime. Even though my kids are getting too old to be interested in some really cool markers or colorful stickers, I still am a sucker for potential stocking stuffers.
So when Chibitronics pitched me on reviewing a STEM toy that would easily fit in a stocking and involves stickers and drawing in a scrapbook, I agreed to take a look. And I have to say, they nailed my criteria—cute, compact, reasonably priced, and something you can start playing with right out of the package (without looking at video tutorials, although they exist)—no learning curve required. Chibitronics seems to have the tween girl market pegged, without resorting to even a dab of pink.
Photo: Tekla Perry Chibitronics' starter kit combines scrapbooking with circuit design
Simply, Chibitronics is basic paper crafting (focused on greeting cards and scrapbooks) that involves electronics in the same way more traditional craft kits involve glitter. The starter package includes stickers, batteries, conductive tape, and a sort of combination sketch book, coloring book, and instruction manual in the style of classic craft kits from Klutz Press. The company offers four kinds of stickers—LEDs, sensors (light, sound, and timing), effects (blink, fade, twinkle, and heartbeat) and a programmable microcontroller. Once a kid gets the hang of things by working through some of the guided projects in the coloring book, she or he can move on to designing greeting cards and decorations and all sorts of other stuff—there’s a project gallery on the company’s web site. I did the first two projects and, even as an adult, found them surprisingly satisfying (I confess, I really liked smoothing out the circuit traces). My kids have grown out of the target market, but even so, I think I can convince them to give this a try, at least after finals week is over.
Chibitronics’ founder Jie Qi was an artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s hands-on STEM mecca, the Exploratorium, and is currently a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab. She’s also an impressively clear writer, her starter-kit instructions are the best I’ve seen in a long time. Chibitronics products are available on CrowdSupply. The starter kit I reviewed lists at $29; a greeting card kit lists at $25.
A closer look inside the Chibitronics starter kit:
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.