When Lego debuted the Mindstorms robotics kit in 1998, it was programmed using a simple graphical programming interface designed for children. But Mindstorms quickly found a broad audience among older enthusiasts and researchers, and the capability—and complexity—of the line increased over the years. The new US $160 Lego Boost kit is something of a return to basics. Intended for children aged 7 to 12, Boost creations are controlled directly from a drag-and-drop-style programming app running on a tablet.
We wrote about Star Simpson’s project to turn some of Forrest M. Mims’s classic circuit designs into working display pieces back in 2016, but the boards weren’t available to the general public when last year’s gift guide went to press. These circuits were originally published in a series of booklets distributed by RadioShack—motto: “Still technically in business!”—that were many Americans’ first exposure to electronics. Now the boards are available for $39 apiece and include a tone generator, LED flasher, and voltage indicator.
Geeks love clocks. Don’t ask me why, we just do. And the geekier the better. Clocks that show the time using various binary displays are particularly appealing because of their power to mystify the uninitiated. But the $135 Fibonacci Clock goes even deeper down the rabbit hole: The clock face is divided into squares, the side lengths of which correspond to the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, and 5. Different colors illuminate the squares for hours and minutes, and the time is determined by adding up the appropriate squares.
Mambo FPV Drone
Parrot’s drones are perennial favorites in Spectrum’s gift guide, and for good reason: Since the very beginning of the drone boom, the company has done a great job of cramming new features into small consumer drones. The $180 Mambo FPV comes with a camera-equipped drone, a set of glasses for turning your smartphone into a VR display, and a controller. The battery can provide about 10 minutes of flight time per charge—more than enough for a couple of races.
Video games come and go—the latest fad is VR arcades—but pinball endures. With the $50 PinBox 3000 kit, you can design and build your own tabletop pinball machine out of cardboard, complete with flippers, ramps, and traps. But Spectrum readers will want to spring for the $15 add-on LED Teck Pack, which lets you incorporate a lighting rig that can respond to the action on the game field.
Cloud technology is great, but I admit to being skittish when it comes to handing over personal data to some giant corporation that may not have my best interests at heart. So I found the $70 Kwilt Shoebox appealing: It’s designed specifically for smartphone users who want an easy way to off-load their photographs and videos to a personal cloud. Plug the Shoebox into your router and run the setup wizard in Kwilt’s smartphone app. Then you can plug any USB storage device into the Shoebox and, at the tap of a finger, transfer photos from your phone to the storage device.
For the power user in your life, get the $300 Sensel Morph and at least one of the $35 overlays designed to go with it. The Morph provides a large pressure-sensitive area that automatically behaves as a specialized keyboard depending on what overlay is placed on top of it. Overlays are available for music production, video editing, gaming, and so on. Super power users can use an API to create their own overlay designs, with a more user-friendly customization process in the works.
Signal your love of electronics with some stylish jewelry. Circuit Breaker Labs recycles old printed circuit boards (complete with components) into bracelets, earrings, necklaces, cuff links, tie bars, and even retractable badge holders. Prices range from $21 to $345 for individual pieces, and gift sets are available.
Another electronics-pride jewelry option is provided by Lumen Electronic Jewelry. The company has created a range of solar-powered, LED-equipped necklaces, earrings, and tie clips that can blink long into the night, with charge stored in capacitors rather than bulky batteries (pieces cost between $85 and $225).
Holiday Gift Guide 2017
Our annual dive into the presents techies will love