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
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.
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.
Sphero | Amazon
Nybble and Bittle
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.
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.
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.
iRobot Create 3
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.
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.
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.
Roomba Combo j7+
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Qoobo | Amazon
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.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.