With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time to start looking for gifts for the important people in our lives. If one of those people happens to be a techie, what can you get them? Particularly if they’re a teen? Here are some ideas of cool tech toys for the people on your list.
There are some really great products out there for learning more about electronics. One of my favorites is littleBits. Each piece contains a separate electronic component – such as a speaker, button, or power cell – than can be connected magnetically to create circuits. With a variety of sets available, you can create all kinds of projects.
Another cool electronic toy is Snap Circuits. Snap Circuits are more like a traditional electronics learning set, but instead of using wires connected to metal springs, the pieces are snapped on a board with metal buttons. These buttons connect pieces together to create the electrical circuitry.
Both of these sets are appropriate for children as young as elementary school and are great for learning the basics of electrical engineering with countless online and print books available for project ideas.
For the techie with a bit more experience in electronics, a microcontroller may be the perfect gift. Today, there are countless microcontrollers available. However my two favorites are the Arduino and the micro:bit.
The micro:bit was developed by the BBC to teach children more about electronics and programming. It’s a small device, but it packs a lot of cool features including a grid of LEDs, an accelerometer, buttons, and built-in bluetooth support. They’re very easy to program and fairly inexpensive. NOTE: buy two, you’ll need them to play with the bluetooth functionality!
For more mature electronics enthusiasts, the Arduino is amazing. In fact, it is well beyond a toy for learning and has transcended into the hands of professionals creating prototypes and products. Countless kits exist on sites such as Amazon that include wires, motors, LEDs, buttons, resistors, and countless other components to build just about anything. In addition, since Arduino is truly the industry leader, it’s easy to find books and online resources for help as well as inspiration.
With more power than microcontrollers and more versatility as well, microcomputers offer unlimited opportunities to create and explore. The industry leader in this real has long been the Raspberry Pi. About the size of a credit card and costing substantially less than a typical computer, the Raspberry Pi is an excellent platform for learning and exploration. You can interface the Pi with custom hardware, learn to program with Scratch, create a custom video game console, or explore countless other options. And, much like the Arduino, online retailers have numerous kits with all kinds of parts to aid in learning and fun.
A newcomer to the microcomputer realm, the NVIDIA Jetson Nano offers programmers and techies a new real to explore – artificial intelligence! This small box (about the size of a Raspberry Pi) features an NVIDIA graphics processor specifically configured to perform the intense number crunching associated with AI processing. This is an excellent gift idea for those who already have some background in programming and electronics and want to take their ideas to the next level!
This is a great time to be a techie. With countless low-cost gadgets available to encourage exploration and experimentation, the barrier to learning technology has never been lower! Take time to explore the products out there and buy something that may encourage someone in your life to join the tech revolution!