Welcome to the Robotics Business Review 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! If you’re a fan of robotics, there’s certainly a wide variety of gift options for the holiday season.
Parents looking to get their children interested in robotics can choose from STEM-related options and less-expensive kits. If you’re a budding roboticist, there are items in this 2018 Holiday Gift Guide that can help you expand your knowledge of building robots.
For homeowners, there’s always the latest and greatest robot vacuums and other cleaners to consider, along with more advanced robot “toys” this year. For the more adventurous outdoor types, this year’s crop of aerial drones offer more advanced features.
We’ve done a bunch of research to bring you a bunch of gifts to consider for this year’s holiday-giving opportunities. Most of these are available for purchase via Amazon or directly from the robot maker’s websites. Enjoy!
(Please note: Prices listed for the items in this 2018 Holiday Gift Guide were recorded at the time of publication. During special events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, prices may change, or Amazon and other sites may changes prices as they see fit.)
Vector ($249.99), by Anki. The makers of the Cozmo robot have revamped the design to make Vector the “robot with personality” and additional things to do.
Don’t call it a toy – Vector has many voice-assistant-like features that can provide information for you like the weather or sports scores.
With a series of beeping lights and touch sensors, Vector can roam your desktop or tabletop to interact with owners in multiple ways, including taking a photo of you, identifying up to 20 users via their face, and announcing your name (my kids enjoyed that feature).
Like Cozmo, Vector comes with a cube that can let you play games with him, and Anki is updating its software regularly to add more features. To get a more in-depth look at the creation of Vector, check out our preview article.
Vex Balancing Boxer 2-Pack ($149.99), by Hexbug. Certainly many of the products offered by Hexbug are worthy of purchase for the robotics fan on your list. These build-it-yourself robots are compatible with the VEX Pilot smartphone app, and offer in-ring boxing action.
HEXBUG Robotic Soccer Arena ($69.99), by Hexbug. For fans of video games like Rocket League, this soccer arena and two remote-controlled robotic soccer vehicles is right up your alley.
Really Rad Robots’ Yakbot YB-01 ($14.99), by Moose Toys. This inexpensive toy can record your voice, warp or filter it, and answer questions that you may have.
The spherical robot always lands “eyes side up” when you drop, throw or roll it, so that’s cool too.
Really Rad Robots’ MiBro ($39.99), by Moose Toys. This “personal prank bot” is clearly designed for 12-year-old boys who like “spying on their sister” and performing other such shenanigans.
This tiny mobile robot can be controlled remotely, deliver objects and comes with 50 functions and sound effects.
Boxer ($79.99), by SpinMaster. This interactive robot has a “lively personality” with moods that evolve over time. The system includes game cards, a ball accessory, remote control, and gesture, sound, and touch controls and an app.
Sky Viper Journey Pro Video Drone ($99.99), by Sky Rocket. Lots of toy drones are just that, toys that either have limited battery life or that crash after a single flight.
This model includes built-in GPS to provide “an autonomous flight experience similar to that of much pricier hobby-grade drones.” This means the drone can maintain its coordinates while hovering without drifting away, and its positional awareness means you can “Return to Home” which lets the drone return to its launch spot at the touch of a button.
You can stream and record HD video with the drone, and it includes a “follow me mode” for action enthusiasts.
Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit ($69.99), by Nintendo. Each of the Nintendo Labo systems that work with the Switch video game console are cool — including the robot kit — but we like the kit that “puts you in the driver’s seat of a car, submarine, and plane.”
The DIY kits help users create different items that then interact with the video game on the screen. Very cool.
JIMU Robot Mythical Series: UnicornBot Kit ($119.99), by JIMU Robots (UBTECH Robotics). Before they create a “unicorn” robotics startup, get your kids this UnicornBot Kit, a codable and interactive robot unicorn.
The unicorn includes a programmable light-up horn, a built-in color sensor that recognizes up to eight colors, and an augmented reality app that “places UnicornBot in its own enchanted world.”
The kit comes with the JIMU app and step-by-step directions, with the ability to control the robot with the smartphone app.
Cubelets Discovery Set ($139.95), by Modular Robotics. Aimed at children ages 4 and up, these intuitive robot blocks can help introduce kids to ideas like engineering, design, and computational thinking.
The Discovery Set includes the Bluetooth Hat, a link between robot constructions and the new Cubelets app. In addition, for every purchase of a Cubelets Discovery Set, $10 will go towards funding DonorsChoose.org projects that include Cubelets.
WINBOT X cordless window cleaning robot ($449.99), by ECOVACS. Nobody likes cleaning glass windows, even if they don’t have a view of a mountain, swimming pool, or ocean from their back porch. This sounds like a perfect situation for a windows-cleaning robot, and one model that is now cordless is the WINBOT X.
The new model, which weighs less than four pounds, is able to reach higher areas to cover more glass than previous generations. The robot scans and analyzes the cleaning area on a window. It then cleans with its Deep Clean Mode that ensures a polished clean by going over the same area repeatedly. The robot combines mopping and a squeegee to clean in all directions.
While the robot is cordless in terms of power, a safety tether system firmly secures the robot to the window glass. When air pressure within the suction cup is too low, the system’s Tether-Pad sounds a warning, and the tether retracts, protecting the robot indoors and outdoors.
JIMU Robot BuilderBots Series: Overdrive Kit ($119.99). For serious builders in the family, the Overdrive Kit includes more than 400 parts to let kids build, program, and code two new robots – DozerBot and DirtBot – or create their own model.
The kit includes two smooth-motion robotic servo motors, two DC motors, and an ultrasonic sensor and RGB light that lets the bots detect and avoid obstacles. The kit includes access to the free JIMU app for iOS and Android smartphones to help make building and coding easier.
Qoopers DIY kit ($179.99), by Robobloq. Another kit for serious do-it-yourselfers, this features 174 pieces to create six different models — or ones you think of yourself — along with graphical programming based on Scratch 3.0, and remote control via an app. An ultrasonic sensor provides the ability for the robot to avoid obstacles.
Roomba i7+ Robot Vacuum with Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal, ($949.99), by iRobot.
The latest Roomba robot vacuum can now automatically empty its dirt and dust into an enclosed, disposable bag at its base station. Holding up to 30 robot bins, this means you don’t have to dispose the bag for several weeks.
In addition, this model include the Imprint Smart Mapping system, which lets you control which rooms are cleaned an when.
With the iRobot HOME App, you can choose when, where, and how the robot cleans. Other features include a three-stage cleaning system, dual multi-surface rubber brushes, and 10x the suction (compared to the Roomba 600 series) for different floor surfaces.
If this is too pricey for your holiday budget, head over to Amazon for a complete list of other iRobot Roomba models, which includes floor-mopping robots too.
Coral One ($495), by Coral Robots. Most robot vacuums will clean your floors, but what about other areas in the house, such as curtains, counter tops, or those spots in your sofa? You probably have a handheld vacuum for things like that, or you lug out your giant vacuum cleaner and use the hose attachment.
The Coral One aims for a 2-in-1 option – a floor-cleaning robot that also includes a handheld component and nozzle accessories. Like other robot vacuums, the Coral One includes room-mapping abilities and two cleaning modes (standard for solid surfaces, turbo for thicker surfaces).
The robot includes up to 90 minutes of battery life (30 minutes in Turbo), and the handheld attachment offers 30 minutes of cleaning time.
When we checked, the robot was still in “pre-order” mode, so we’re unsure about whether this would be available for the holidays. (Update: Coral One said they began shipping last week, so the vacuum is fully available).
Pupple ($349), available via Kickstarter, by Pupple. Why should kids have all the fun with robots? If you’re a pet owner, check out the Pupple system.
With HD cameras, a treat-tossing mechanism and interactive robotic ball, the Pupple can let pet owners know if their dog or cat is fed, mentally stimulated, and active while owners are away. The device is set to launch for pre-orders on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
STone8 ($54.99 via Target), by Kids Station Toys. The STone8 interactive robot includes lots of personality and a range of sensors that let it interact with owners and its environment.
Like the Tamagotchi toys from long ago, STone8 owners are responsible to keep the robot “healthy and happy.” Through play and attention, the robot’s emotions can change, showing its true feelings with light-up eyes and a multi-color antenna.
It can also “interpret your feelings, moods, and emotions based on your interactions.” For example, if you pet the robot, it shows love and makes them happy, while if you shake or drop the device, it will make them scared and sad. We know that you’ll do this at least once with the robot.
Other features include a sound sensor that lets the robot move towards you when you clap or snap your fingers, and the robot can react to other STone8 devices near it as well. The system has a STone8 app, but it not necessary if parents want to limit screen time for their kids. The app includes additional games and features, though, including Sumo Mode, Patrol Mode, and Free Control.
Two colors – blue and pink – are available, and at the moment it’s a Target exclusive.
KIBO robot kits (ranging from $199 to $499), by KinderLab Robotics. The KIBO system provides STEM-based learning for kids aged 4 to 7, allowing them to design, decorate and program a small mobile robot through building blocks (not apps).
A series of add-on modules to the basic kit allows for expansion of the original kits, as well as classroom packages. The latest module, Free Throw, is a throwing-arm attachment that lets the KIBO robot toss ping pong balls, teaching kids the concepts of forces, motion, and energy.
Star Wars Remote Control Millennium Falcon XL flying drone ($129.97, via Amazon), by Air Hogs. There are a ton of quadcopter drone toys available for under $200, but we have a soft spot for anything Star Wars-related, especially our favorite ship, the Millennium Falcon. We’re not completely sure that we’d be able to fly this as well as Han Solo, or even Lando, but we’d certainly try our best.
The 27-inch by 20-inch drone includes a light-up cockpit with Chewbacca and Han Solo figures inside, and authentic lights and sounds.
The drone operates at 2.4GHz frequency, with a range up to 250 feet and a barometric pressure height lock and 6-axis gyro. It runs off 4 AA batteries, so make sure you stock up! Try to not fly it into any nearby asteroid fields.
Air Hogs makes branded drones from Star Trek and Batman, if you are more into those brands.
Augie augmented reality coding robot, by Pai Technology ($199.99 at Target, Amazon). Most kids experience augmented reality through apps like Pokemon Go – if you want to give them the experience of coding their own robot with an augmented reality backdrop, check out Augie, by Pai Technology. Through coding tutorials made with standards set by Code.org, children can control the Augie robot, play AR games and record their own funny sounds.
Botvac D7 Connected Wi-Fi-enabled robot vacuum ($699.99), by Neato Robotics. The most advanced robot vacuum by Neato Robotics, the D7 Connected includes LaserSmart technology to intelligently navigate a home, zone leaning lets you clean specific areas on demand, and the No-Go Lines helps the robot to not get stuck in a particular area. The vacuum’s Turbo mode offers suction to pick up pet hair and other difficult debris, and the robot includes up to two hours of battery life before it needs to be recharged. The company also offers the D6 and D4 models for customers looking for fewer features at a lower price point.
Book Corner: Reading about Robots, AI
If there’s someone on your gift list who might not want to play with robots, drones, or AI and would rather just read about them, our 2018 Holiday Gift Guide has other suggestions:
Robot Rules, by Jacob Turner ($27.88, Amazon). As more robots and AI entities get deployed around the world, they raise questions of liability and legal precedents. For example, “Who or what should be liable if an intelligent machine harms a person or property? Is it ever wrong to damage or destroy a robot? Can AI be made to follow moral rules? How should AI even be treated – as an object, a subject, or a person?”
Jacob Turner addresses these questions and more in Robot Rules, with a warning that the need to prepare is urgent, because he says companies are staggering the release of new technologies, gradually immersing their users.
“Because of the natural psychological tendency to not notice a series of small changes, humans risk becoming like frogs in a restaurant,” Turner said. “If you drop a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will try to escape. But if you place a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to the boil, the frog will sit calmly, even as it is cooked alive.”
Robot Rights, by David J. Gunkel ($32.25, Amazon). With more robots, self-driving vehicles and recommendation algorithms enter into our lives, the question concerning the social status of these artifacts has been largely overlooked, Gunkel argues in Robot Rights.
The author “offers a provocative attempt to think about what has been previously regarded as unthinkable: whether and to what extend robots and other technological artifacts of our own making can and should have any claim to moral and legal standing.”
Gunkel offers an alternative proposal that “flips the script on the is/ought problem by introducing another, altogether different way to conceptualize the social situation of robots and the opportunities and challenges they present to existing and moral legal systems.”
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Death, by Michio Kaku ($16.36, Amazon). Kaku was one of the keynote speakers at this year’s LiveWorx conference (click here for our thoughts on that show). In this best-selling book, Kaku addresses the frontiers of astrophysics, artificial intelligence, and technology to provide his vision of man’s future in space, from settling Mars to traveling to distant galaxies.
He outlines the process “by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space,” through the use of robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology.
Kaku even addresses the possibility of immortality, “showing us how humans may someday be able to leave our bodies entirely and laser port to new havens in space.”
The Robot and Automation Almanac – 2019, by Jason Schenker and The Futurist Institute ($9.99, Amazon Kindle). Schenker spoke at this past year’s RoobBusiness and is a partner in the Robotics Activity Index.
This highlight of our 2018 Holiday Gift Guide is a collection of essays from leading robot and automation experts, executives, and investors, focusing on the “one big thing” that each author sees for the year ahead.
How Smart Machines Think, by Sean Gerrish ($23.49, Amazon). If you ever wondered how self-driving cars work, how Netflix makes recommendations, and how IBM’s Watson defeated the best humans on Jeopardy, this book is for you.
Gerrish discusses the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning that make today’s machines more intelligent than ever before.