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Robot Gift Guide 2022

Your yearly selection of awesome robot gifts

7 min read
A collage of 9 photos of robots, including quadrupeds robots, wheeled robots, and drones.
IEEE Spectrum (Robots from manufacturers)

It’s been a couple of years, but the IEEE Spectrum Robot Gift Guide is back for 2022! We’ve got all kinds of new robots, and right now is an excellent time to buy one (or a dozen), since many of them are on sale this week. We’ve tried to focus on consumer robots that are actually available (or that you can at least order), but depending on when you’re reading this guide, the prices we have here may not be up to date, and we’re not taking shipping into account.

And if these robots aren’t enough for you, many of our picks from years past are still available: check out our guides from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012. And as always, if you have suggestions that you’d like to share, post a comment to help the rest of us find the perfect robot gift.

Lego Robotics Kits

Five different LEGO robots built with black, green, and white blocks, plus wheels and a compute module, stand against a white background.

Lego has decided to discontinue its classic Mindstorms robotics kits, but they’ll be supported for another couple of years and this is your last chance to buy one. If you like Lego’s approach to robotics education but don’t want to invest in a system at the end of its life, Lego also makes an education kit called Spike that shares many of the hardware and software features for students in grades 6 to 8.

$360–$385
Lego

Sphero Indi

A Sphero Indi robot, which has a rectangular blue body with four wheels and two circles as eyes, stands on a colorful desk.

Indi is a clever educational robot designed to teach problem solving and screenless coding to kids as young as 4, using a small wheeled robot with a color sensor and a system of colored strips that command the robot to do different behaviors. There’s also an app to access more options, and Sphero has more robots to choose from once your kid is ready for something more.

$110
Sphero | Amazon

Nybble and Bittle

Petoi\u2019s quadrupedal robot kits, one made of laser-cut wood and the other plastic, stand next to each other.

Petoi’s quadrupedal robot kits are an adorable (and relatively affordable) way to get started with legged robotics. Whether you go with Nybble the cat or Bittle the dog, you get to do some easy hardware assembly and then leverage a bunch of friendly software tools to get your little legged friend walking around and doing tricks.

$220–$260
Petoi

iRobot Root

An iRobot Root, with a hexagonal white body with blue and yellow lights, uses its magnetic wheels to drive vertically on a whiteboard that has planet Earth and stars drawn on it.

Root educational robots have a long and noble history, and iRobot has built on that to create an inexpensive platform to help kids learn to code starting as young as age 4. There are two different versions of Root; the more expensive one includes an RGB sensor, a programmable eraser, and the ability to stick to vertical whiteboards and move around on them.

$100–$250
iRobot

TurtleBot 4

Two Turtlebot 4 robots, one shorter and another taller with a raised platform, both equipped with lidar and cameras, stand next to each other against a white background.

The latest generation of TurtleBot from Clearpath, iRobot, and Open Robotics is a powerful and versatile ROS (Robot Operating System) platform for research and product development. For aspiring roboticists in undergrad and possibly high school, the Turtlebot 4 is just about as good as it gets unless you want to spend an order of magnitude more. And the fact that TurtleBots are used so extensively means that if you need some help, the ROS community will (hopefully) have your back.

$1,200–$1,900
RoboShop

iRobot Create 3

A man uses a soldering iron to work on an iRobot Create 3 robot, which has a Roomba-like body with a camera module mounted on top.

Newly updated just last year, iRobot's Create 3 is the perfect platform for folks who want to build their own robot, but not all of their own robot. The rugged mobile base is essentially a Roomba without the cleaning parts, and it's easy to add your own hardware on top. It runs ROS 2, but you can get started with Python.

$300
iRobot

Mini Pupper

A small four-legged yellow robot called Mini Pupper stands on a desk with two legs stepping on a smartphone for scale.

Mini Pupper is one of the cutest ways of getting started with ROS. This legged robot is open source, and runs ROS on a Raspberry Pi, which makes it extra affordable if you have your own board lying around. Even if you don’t, though, the Mini Pupper kit is super affordable for what you get, and is a fun hardware project if you decide to save a little extra cash by assembling it yourself.

$400–$585
MangDang

Luxonis Rae

A computer-generated image shows the Luxonis Rae robot, which has a black and purple body with two wheels, two cameras, and a compute module inside.

I’m not sure whether the world is ready for ROS 2 yet, but you can get there with Rae, which combines a pocket-size mobile robot with a pair of depth cameras and onboard computer shockingly cheaply. App support means that Rae can do cool stuff out of the box, but it’s easy to get more in-depth with it too. Rae will get delivered early next year, but it’s cool enough that we think a Kickstarter IOU is a perfectly acceptable gift.

$400
Kickstarter

Roomba Combo j7+

A Roomba sits on its charging base, which also empties the robot's dust bin, on a living room with wooden floors.

iRobot’s brand new top-of-the-line fully autonomous vacuuming and wet-mopping combo j7+ Roomba will get your floors clean and shiny, except for carpet, which it’s smart enough to not try to shine because it’ll cleverly lift the wet mop up out of the way. It’s also cloud connected and empties itself. You’ll have to put water in it if you want it to mop, but that’s way better than mopping yourself.

$900
iRobot

Neato D9

A dark color Neato robot vacuum with a green led lit up sits against a white background.

Neato’s robots might not be quite as pervasive as the Roomba, but they’re excellent vacuums, and they use a planar lidar system for obstacle avoidance and map making. The nice thing about lidar (besides the fact that it works in total darkness) is that Neato robots have no cameras at all and are physically incapable of collecting imagery of you or your home.

$300
Neato Robotics

Tertill

A Tertill weed-killing robot, with a cylindrical white and green plastic body, drives over dirt on a garden.

How often do you find an affordable, useful, reliable, durable, fully autonomous home robot? Not often! But Tertill is all of these things: powered entirely by the sun, it slowly prowls around your garden, whacking weeds as they sprout while avoiding your mature plants. All you have to do is make sure it can’t escape, then just let it loose and forget about it for months at a time.

$200
Tertill

Amazon Astro

An Amazon Astro robot, with two wheels and knee-high body with a tablet screen with two circles as eyes, stand next to a person who is answering the door.

If you like the idea of having a semi-autonomous mobile robot with a direct link to Amazon wandering around your house trying to be useful, then Amazon’s Astro might not sound like a terrible idea. You’ll have to apply for one, and it sounds like it’s more like a beta program, but could be fun, I guess?

$1,000
Amazon

Skydio 2+

A Skydio 2+ with a black and blue frame and four propellers and a gimbal camera, flies against a gray background.

The Skydio 2+ is an incremental (but significant) update to the Skydio 2 drone, with its magically cutting-edge obstacle avoidance and extremely impressive tracking skills. There are many drones out there that are cheaper and more portable, and if flying is your thing, get one of those. But if filming is your thing, the Skydio 2+ is the drone you want to fly.

$900
Skydio

DJI FPV

A DJI FPV drone hovers in midair while an operator with FPV googles and a remote control stand in the background.

We had a blast flying DJI’s FPV drone. The VR system is exhilarating and the drone is easy to fly even for FPV beginners, but it’s powerful enough to grow along with your piloting skills. Just don’t get cocky, or you’ll crash it. Don’t ask me how I know this.

$900
DJI

ElliQ

ElliQ is an embodied voice assistant that is a lot more practical than a smart speaker. It's designed for older adults who may spend a lot of time alone at home, and can help with a bunch of things, including health and wellness tasks and communicating with friends and family. ElliQ costs $250 up front, plus a subscription of between $30 and $40 per month.

$250+
ElliQ

Moxie

A boy with brown hair observes a Moxie robot, which has green body the size of a coffee maker with a screen as a face showing green eyes, eyebrows, and a mouth.

Not all robots for kids are designed to teach them to code: Moxie helps to “supports social-emotional development in kids through play.” The carefully designed and curated interaction between Moxie and children helps them to communicate and build social skills in a friendly and engaging way. Note that Moxie also requires a subscription fee of $40 per month.

$800
Embodied

Petit Qoobo

A person uses two hands to hold the Petit Qoobo, which has a ball-shaped gray furry body with a short tail.

What is Qoobo? It is “a tailed cushion that heals your heart,” according to the folks that make it. According to us, it’s a furry round pillow that responds to your touch by moving its tail, sort of like a single-purpose cat. It’s fuzzy tail therapy!

$130
Qoobo | Amazon

Unitree Go1

A man wearing athletic outfit jogs next to a Unitree Go1 quadruped robot on a park.

Before you decide on a real dog, consider the Unitree Go1 instead. Sure it’s expensive, but you know what? So are real dogs. And unlike with a real dog, you only have to walk the Go1 when you feel like it, and you can turn it off and stash it in a closet or under a bed whenever you like. For a fully featured dynamic legged robot, it’s staggeringly cheap, just keep in mind that shipping is $1,000.

$2,700
Unitree

The Conversation (0)

Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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