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2007 Top 10 Robot Christmas Gift Ideas

Posted 12 Dec 2007 at 11:59 UTC (updated 15 Dec 2007 at 05:08 UTC) by steve Share This

Each year the founding editors of robots.net, steve, Rog-a-Matic, and The Swirling Brain, put their heads together and come up with their top 10 Robot Christmas gift ideas. There's no rhyme or reason to it. This is not the scientific result of a careful product comparisons. It's just a list of ideas that we collectively thought any robot builder would be very happy to receive as Christmas gifts. You may find it interesting to compare this year's list to the 2006 or 2005 lists. Some items have returned for another year while others have been replaced with the latest gadgets and toys. Read on for the complete list in our traditional countdown form. We've also included a few stocking stuffers and left-over ideas that didn't quite make our list this year.

10. Pleo ($350)
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where to buy it

At first glance, the Pleo is just another expensive toy but, if you take a closer look, this could be a very interesting platform for a robot builder. Strip off the skin, interface to the electronics, and you'd have the beginnings of an interesting robot. The underlying hardware includes lots of sensors and actuators mounted on a quadraped chassis, making the toy well worth the price.

9. White Box Robotics 914 PC-BOT Linux Player/Stage ($6,795)
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where to buy it

Remember White Box and their PC-BOTs? They maintained a low profile during 2007 but they are actually shipping robots these days. The final 914 PC-BOTs are as cool-looking as production prototypes suggested and they're supporting GNU/Linux and Free Software in a big way these days, with several models that include Linux development tools and, my favorite, one that includes the Player/Stage environment that has become something of a robot software standard within the University and R&D communities. As always the only downside to PC-BOTs is their price. The standard White model is $6,795 and there's a $720 upcharge to get the shell in Red, Yellow, Black, or Lime Green. That price includes the chassis, drive system, controllers, and a VIA Mini-ITX with all the hardware you'd expect on a desktop computer. We're still hoping to review one someday, if only someone would send us one (hint, hint).

8. Budget Robotics Big gripper ($29)
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where to buy

Every robot needs a gripper to manipulate its environment. Very few robot builders get around to adding any kind of gripper. You can help them out by buying them the Budget Robotics Big Gripper. This is an inexpensive, simple part that is able to grip objects of the size and shape commonly used in robot contests, such as soda cans and tennis balls. As Rog-a-matic says, "Without environmental interaction, what good is a robot?"

7. iRobot Create ($130-$300)
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Our last two lists included the iRobot Roomba, which made a great robot platform. This year, we've replaced the Roomba with the Create, which will save robot builders some time because the vacuum cleaner components don't have to be removed. You can drop in a microcontroller and you're ready to go with a differential drive platform that includes plenty of sensors and a simple interface.

6. Spark Robot Arm ($30)
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Sure, they call it a "Spark Robot Arm" but ask any old timer and they'll tell you this is actually a Tomy Armatron just like the one Radio Shack used to sell. The case has been updated a little and it's green now. Otherwise, it's the same thing you probably remember playing with back in the 1980s. Don't expect to easily mount it on your robot. The complex mechanics inside don't lend themselves to external control. But you could convert it to run on steam power. Or give it that young, budding robot builder in the family. It will definitely spark some interest in robotics and mechanics. Otherwise it's a great nostalgic gift for those older robot builders you see skulking around robot clubs talking about the good old days when they walked four miles in the snow to buy a 10 MB 5.25" full-height hard drive.

5. WowWee Alive ELVIS ($175)
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where to buy it

The Swirling Brain says, "this robot head is The King of Rock and Roll so you've got to love it!" This is probably the most bizarre, least useful thing on our list. It's just so totally strange, you have to see it to believe it. Besides singing Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, and other Elvis favorites, it can also tell you about the life and times of Elvis. Our favorite mode of course, is autonomous operation. Elvis will track your movements with IR sensors embedded in the eyes, making random Elvis remarks. Once you get tired of it, remove the head and attach it to your favorite robot. Take some photos of your mutant Elvis cyborg and send us a link.

4. Solarbotics Photopopper Photovore 5.0 kit ($45)
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where to buy it

We saw a lot of these little robots rolling around at the 2007 Austin Maker Faire. They're fun little kits and make a great introduction to BEAM and autonomous robots. The robot is powered entirely by light. It exhibits phototrophic behavior - that is, is seeks the brightest source of light, avoiding dark areas in the process. The kit includes all the parts you need and a simple instruction book. While it is very easy to build, it requires at least some basic solder skills.

3. Humanoid robot ($1000+)
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where to buy them

We're seeing more and more Humanoid robot kits on the market. They're still very pricey, with the least expensive hovering around the $1000 mark. They're also undeniably cool. Who wouldn't want to play with one? If you don't want to blow the money for a full-blown humanoid robot kit, there are also cheaper alternatives such as hacking a WowWee Robosapien or the i-SOBOT Humanoid Robot.

2. WowWee Roboquad ($89)
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where to buy it

It seems like we always have one or two WowWee products on the list and this year is no exception. The WowWee ROBOQUAD is another robot toy with huge potential for the robot hacker. ROBOQUAD is a four-legged robot with a lot of interesting autonomous behaviors built-in. It exhibits several gaits including crab walk, stomp walk, and rotation walking. It includes a gaurd mode in which it monitor a location using visual and audio sensors. It has varying awareness, activity, and aggression levels. If that's not enough for you, crack it open and connect it to your own microcontroller.

1. Subscription to a Robot magazine (under $40)
Servo
Robot
Make
Circuit Cellar
Nuts and Volts

This idea has consistently moved up on our annual list to finally hit number one this year. Nearly every robot builder would enjoy any or all of the five magazines listed above. It's a great, inexpensive gift and, if you need something to wrap, just buy a current issue from the newstand and include a note saying more issues on are the way. Servo is the longest running robot hobby magazine we're aware of and focus mostly on homebrew robots. Robot magazine is oriented more towards consumer robots and robot kits, very much like traditional RC model magazines. MAKE magazine is full of all sorts of strange and interesting DIY projects, some of which are robots. The last two magazines focus on electronics rather than specifically on robots but it's a focus that's common to homebrew robotics, so the robot builder in your life will likely enjoy these two just as much as the other three magazines.

Stocking Stuffer and A few things that didn't make this list this year

As always, we came up with far more than just 10 ideas. Some of these could become inexpensive stocking stuffers. Others are just crazy things we wish somebody would give us for Christmas. We'd also love to hear what sort of robot items you'd want to give or receive, so after you read the rest of our lists, tell about your own ideas.

12V DC Gear Motors ($15) - Rog-a-matic says a robot builder "can never have enough gear motors with high reduction."

FriendlyRobotics Robomower ($1,000 - $1,800) - Sure, it's expensive but it would be fun to play with.

Kits USA - Quad motorized solar-powered platform ($8) - No soldering and an unbelievable price for a robot kit.

Vex Labs Vex Robotics Design System ($300) - The Vex kit made our last two lists but didn't quite do it this year. With so many other kits and robots out, the price tag is beginning to seem a bit too high. Still a very cool set of parts though.

Program-A-Bot Robot ($30) - The Swirling Brain suggests this little robot might be ideal for a younger robot builder. "This thing is sort of like Big-Trax in the past where you can program the robot to do different actions. This is what you need for introducing your young robot builder on how to make simple robot programs."

Trossen Robotics - Hatachi HM55B Compass Module ($30) - Help your robot find out which direction it's going.

Jakks EyeClops Bionic Eye ($30) - The Swirling Brain says, "This thing is a hand-held device magnifies 200 times normal size on any TV screen. It could be really cool for doing line following or some sort of up robot close sensor."

Rock'em Sock'em Robots ($22) - Another classic robot toy from the good-ole-days.

The Swirling Brain also suggests a DVD of a robot-related movie. How about Robots, Transformers, I, Robot, AI, Bicentennial Man, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Forbidden Planet, Battlestar Galactica, Metropolis, Star Wars, ; just to a name a few.

Finally, Rog-a-matic also commented on what he considers the ultimate Christmas gift for a robot builder, "a weekend alone, bulding robots: Priceless".

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