Gift Giving Guide for the Scientist, Early Adopter, Maker, or Technology Enthusiast

An interactive sand table that uses the Xbox camera to create contoured surfaces

A list of some of my favorite finds and DIY builds from 2014 and, even, a couple from 2013.  Let’s face it, new gadgets and interactive devices are fun! There’s a thrill when you first create or find something that expands on an idea or surprises you with what’s possible. I avidly seek out new tech gadgets, toys, games, and useful things.

  •  Ubooly
  • Anki drive
  • 3D printers
  • Fritz Robot
  • Drones – Quadricopters (with 3D file links for useful prints)
  • Augmented Reality Sand box (DIY project)
  • Makey makey (kickstarter)
  • Sphero (Giving them this year!!!)
  • Kano (Giving this year!!! – Kickstarter)

Some other favorites and gadgets to come

  • Skylanders
  • 3Doodler (kickstarter)
  • WakaWaka (kickstarter)
  • uKeg(kickstarter)
  • Coolest Cooler (kickstarter)
  • Calamityware (kickstarter)
  • Sit Smart (kickstarter)
  • ….More to come…..

Many of these goodies came from Kickstarter projects (I’ve supported over 35 successful projects so far!) and others are DIY projects that inspired me, or my family, to make in our garage. All of them have been fun from the start!

Fritz Robot

This is a DIY assemly project called Fritz, the robot.

What makes it different/cool

Fritz came into our house as part of a Kickstarter project. My husband saw the campaign and decided that Fritz offered a great point of entry into robotics for our two sons. In fact, they had some fun putting Fritz together (though my husband handled most of the heavy lifting and the kids joined in intermittently and under heavy supervision).

This is a DIY assemly project called Fritz, the robot.
This is a DIY assemly project called Fritz, the robot.

The Fritz kit came rapidly after the Kickstarter was funded. In fact, we marveled at how efficient the XYZ team had to be to get things pulled together and shipped so quickly. The packaging was streamlined, simple, and well laid out.  The hardware for Fritz was really well organized and putting it together went pretty smoothly.  We hit kinks with the software (more updates on this post shortly) and we haven’t overcome those kinks to date. Turned out that the software didn’t load properly and we could never get Fritz to respond to commands as planned. We did contact XYZ and they responded really quickly with a fix, but this was one of those times that our own schedules got in the way of a cool project. We have the updated software and need to get back to testing out Fritz…maybe putting together this post will inspire us to reopen the Fritz experience.

Cost: $$ – You can get a Fritz in your home for anywhere from $75 to $230. The website has two options, the simple and advanced. The site also has several useful replacement packs for parts and components.

Link to website: http://www.xyzbot.com/

Make Holiday Ornaments with failed 3D prints

Make Ornaments from Failed 3D prints

Every time a print fails, there’s a sad moment when you have to dispose of the partially complete object. It’s a bummer and a waste of good material.

Idea #1 – This holiday season we came up with an idea for re-purposing a few of our failed prints into ornaments to decorate our Christmas tree. Here’s how they came out:

Make Ornaments from Failed 3D prints
Make Ornaments from Failed 3D prints

We think that they look pretty nice. These prints are from the Screwless Heart Gear design on thingiverse.  Two failed prints, one in red and another in yellow PLA plastic were perfect for creating between 2 and 10 ornaments

Remix leftover parts from Gear Heart prints
Remix leftover parts from Gear Heart prints

They look great on the tree and make my heart feel a bit better because the effort didn’t go to waste!

The original design for the Screwless Heart Gear by Emmett can be found on Thingiverse @ http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:12208/ and a short Remix @ http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:606371/

More ideas to come….

What have you done to remix or reuse failed prints?

3D printers – My experiences from Printrbot to Gigabot

Emmett's Screwless Heart - Another fabulous design by Emmett!

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:12208/attribution_card

Gigabot is, of course, my favorite 3D printer. But it all started with the kickstarter campaign for Printrbot – so props to Brook Dunn and his team!

What makes it different/cool:

What makes 3D printing cool…..hmmm, everything is pretty cool when it comes to 3D printing.  This post is more about 3D printing generally. It’s a great technology that has finally advanced to a stage that the serious makers/tinkerers…and some of the casual makers or tinkerers…can enjoy creating tangibles on their own printer.

The sky is the limit with 3D printing. You may have to work hard to get a printable design of your own making, but when you do the thrill will keep you coming back for more.  You can also find great designs from other folks to print. Good places to find designs include: Thingiverse.com and Tinkercad.com

Where can you get one today?

I just helped a friend pick out a printer for his small business. We contacted Josh Pearce at Michigan Technical University and looked at the Make Magazine review of 3D printers for 2014. There are so many options to choose from that it makes my head spin.

If I needed to purchase a 3D printer today, these are some of the things I would think about:While a small build volume doesn’t seem like an issue when you first start, it really does limit your options over time. I’ve found that we want to print lots of things and printing larger objects is more fun, generally, than smaller objects. It’s best when you can print a whole set of objects in different sizes and colors…like our Elephants!

Elephants - printed in one piece. Small is original scale and larger elephant printed on the #Gigabot printer https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:257911/attribution_card
3D printed Elephants by LeFab Shop – printed in one piece. Small is original scale and larger elephant printed on the #Gigabot printer
https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:257911/attribution_card

Size matters! There, I said it. Get the biggest build volume you can, balancing other factors into the mix of course.

Open hardware/software matters – A black box does not help you when it doesn’t work. 3D printers common to the market today in the hobbyist market (e.g. usually additive printers that use PLA or ABS plastic and sit on a desk) are not plug-and-play. They require tinkering, calibrating, adjusting, fixing, tweaking, and generally a lot of attention. They have quirks and things go wrong…when they go wrong you want to be able to see and understand what component parts make up your printer or the software that drives it. So, lean towards open companies that are sharing information about their systems.  And support these companies, they make the market better over the long term, but they need loyal users/customers to make the business model work. A great example of an open hardware company with a large build volume is (Lulzbot.com – go TAZ!)

User community matters – make sure that you look to see whether or not other folks are using and talking about their printing experiences for the bot that you choose.  Many of the start-up 3D printers for personal use are overwhelmed by the drivers of a new business. While the founders and staff of the start-up have great intentions, they are in the midst of an entrepreneurial tsunami and may not be able to respond when you have a problem. That’s where the community of users can bridge the gap. If other folks are actively using their printer and sharing experiences online, there is a good chance that you can connect with someone that has either already solved an issue and/or can troubleshoot with you to find a solution if/when you hit a snag.

Cost: $$$-$$$$$$$$

Let’s face it, you can buy a printer for a few hundred dollars or several hundred thousand dollars. Do what your budget will allow. But buyer beware – 3D printing is a great hobby that takes time. This is not a gadget for instant gratification. It’s an adventure over time that unfolds as you explore and use your printer to create cool objects – well worth the effort in my opinion, but a commitment nonetheless.

Here are some printing companies to check out by twitter handle:

@re_3D **, @printrbot, @lulzbot …there are many, many more

**3D printing is changing like lightening. These are just the printers that I’ve got experience using and/or interacting with their team. There are many options – these are my first picks from my own experiences (be aware that I helped start re:3D and have a Gigabot in my garage now, I supported the @printrbot kickstarter, and have talked with academic colleagues in the field of 3d printing about @Lulzbot – plus the Lulzbot folks have been really helpful AND they are in Colorado – lots to like there. The point is that these are the printers I’ve had contact with and I am making no claims about brand neutrality). I suggest looking at the Make magazine review and exploring forums with people in the know about the state of the marketplace. Think about what you need and there is probably a 3D printing bot for you.

Good places to find designs or create your own:

@tinkercad, @thingiverse

And new to the scene is – @ – haven’t tried this yet, but just saw it recently

Ubooly – Exploratory Toys for the Next Generation

Interactive play for kids with Ubooly!
Interactive play for kids with Ubooly!

Uboolies make the world a brighter place! These plush toys with educational apps are really fun for the younger kiddos in your life. I first found Ubooly through their second Kickstarter campaign and, pretty much, fell in love!

What makes it different or cool?
Ubooly lives up to their goals by creating an engaging experience for kids that inspires creative thinking and active play. My favorite adventure with the Ubooly is the ‘Cave Exploration’. That adventure had my older son (10 at the time) hiding in a dark room and transported us both to a cave with bats, stalagtites, and dripping water…it was really fun for both of us. With that said, I think that Ubooly is best suited for younger kids (about 4-8 seems like the ideal age range).

This year Ubooly was selected as one of the TechStars companies for the Disney round. That is a huge and well deserved honor! Ubooly is testing their product with kids and developing new forms of play and games. These are toys for the next generation!

Who makes this product? Ubooly (of course!)

Where can you find one? http://www.ubooly.com/ and you’ll want to sign-up for credits so that you can access the latest games and activities over time.

Cost: $$* Uboolies are very reasonably priced. The stuffed toy is between $20-60 depending on what size you purchase. Then you will need to subscribe to an account for game/activity downloads, but this is pretty reasonable in comparison with other game/apps. Plan on an additional $15 – 50 so that Ubooly’s new friend can download the games that are most interesting to them.

*One caveat about the cost is that Ubooly uses a digital device, like an ipad or iphone so there’s an embedded assumption (for many people today, it’s just a given that we have a digital device handy – the real question is whether you are willing to let your child run around the house with it. Fortunately, Ubooly has been designed with the protection of your device in mind. The sturdy construction of the toy seems to have enough padding to keep devices safe during adventures.

Anki Drive

Interactive Toys - Anki Drive - racing for all ages
Pre-teens love racing with Anki Drive
Pre-teens love racing with Anki Drive

What makes it different or cool?

Anki Drive is one of those rare toys or game sets that can engage across all generations. We’ve had our Anki Drive starter kit with 2 additional cars since December 2013 and I’ve watched everyone that comes over to our house enjoy the races! From toddlers to the baby boomers who are their grandparents – Anki Drive keeps everyone engaged and having fun together.

One thing I like for kids is that each race has multiple opportunities to “win”.  Victory conditions may simply be stunning your opponent for one lap or racing to the finish and the big win. What great about that for smaller kids is that it provides multiple chances to advance and they see it happen before their eyes. A 4 or 5-year old is less likely to be upset about losing the entire race because she can see that her car slowed another car down on one lap. You can celebrate and laugh with each other as the race advances and start-up a new race easily to keep the momentum going.

Personally, I like the technology and interactivity. The application is easy to use and the cars have a very nice design. They charge up quickly, so you don’t have to wait for a battery which is important when there anxious young racers at the ready.

Limitation or Challenge and My Wish List for Future Capabilities:

A couple of minor things to think about. The Anki Drive race track is BIG and so it requires quite a bit of floor space or a really big table. Be prepared to move furniture and make space to race – it’s worth it, but makes it tough to just leave the race track set up. So, we end up playing less because it’s a minor hassle to set it up. Also, be sure to keep your track clean – I obsess about this when I have the track out – to get a good clean run for the cars you’ll need to protect your track, it just takes some minor attention to details. This can become critical if you’ve got pets or small kiddos. We have managed to protect the track easily so far and we’ve got lots of foot traffic of both the animal and young human kind.

Where can you get one today?

The Anki Drive has exploded onto the market. You can buy a starter kit through their website directly (https://anki.com/en) or visit any number of online retailers. Just use your favorite search engine and search for Anki – you’ll quickly find a retailer with the kit, cars, and components to start racing.

Cost: $$ moderate for the Anki itself, but $$$$ expensive because each player needs a device to race

Note: An Anki drive starter kit is $149 and includes 2 Anki cars. I highly recommend purchasing additional cars (we love Rho!) and each of those will cost about $49, but that ability to race with a group adds to the fun factor and I think it’s well worth it.

I do consider the Anki to be reasonably priced by itself. For between $150 – $200 you can be up and running. BUT you have a dependency and will need for each racer to have access to an iphone, ipad, or other compatible device. We happen to be techno junkies at my house, so we’ve got lots of devices…but if you don’t have the enabling device, then you cannot play – so that’s a limitation to consider (my Android phone is not in the running, so I have to borrow my son’s mini-ipad🙂.

Learn more and watch for updates:

Follow @anki to keep an eye on updates, advances, and interesting stories about people who are playing with this interactive racing system!