Wondering what to get your child this holiday season that will stimulate their curiosity and love of learning? Upper School computer science teacher Lara Cesco-Cancian field tested the hottest tech toys this season so you can find the perfect fit for the techy in your family.
Ryze Tech Tello and TelloEDU (https://www.ryzerobotics.com/ ) $100 and $130
Programmable Mini Drones Ages: 14+ Compatible with VR Goggles
Language: Scratch(Block-based coding, great for beginners!!)
These drones get coded through the Tello Edu app on your phone. Its onboard camera allows you to put on your VR(Virtual Reality) headset and see from the drone’s perspective. There is also a Tello App that allows you to fly the drone and take pictures without any coding. Don’t have a VR headset? You can still use the onboard camera to take pictures and videos! More Advanced? Go for the TelloEDU, it allows you to use object recognition, tracking, control multiple TelloEDUs in a swarm and more.
MergeVR Cube (https://mergevr.com/cube) $15
Holographic Cube Ages: 10+ Compatible with VR Goggles
This company also offers their own VR goggles, and a VR video game “Blaster”. The cube has games and apps available on your smartphone from the company’s “miniverse”. Thirteen of the apps are free and the rest range from $1 to $9. If you have compatible VR goggles, you can use them with the apps, otherwise simply hold up your phone and see the cube transform on the screen.
The Crafty Robot Crafty Robots (http://thecraftyrobot.net/wp/) $13
Non-Programmable Paper Robots Ages: 4+
Crafty Robots and made out of paper and powered by the Fizzbit. These are not programmable, they move according to their shape. Essentially this is a costume for a Fizzbit and, therefore, you can print out new robots and even make your own! The best part is that this toy has almost no environmental impact. It doesn’t use batteries and is mostly made out of paper!
The Crafty Robot Smartibot (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/460355237/smartibot-the-worlds-first-ai-enabled-cardboard-ro) $55-$70
Artificial Intelligence Enabled Cardboard Robot Ages: 6+
You can use the Smartibot app on your phone to control the robot or attach your phone to the robot as its brain. It’s AI is called YOLO (You Only Look Once) and can recognize and follow specific objects it sees with your phone’s camera. Also, you can keep the circuit boards, motors, and battery box and change out everything else with any items you want, even an RC model kit.
Lego Mindstorms (https://www.lego.com/en-us/mindstorms) $350
Lego Programmable Robots Ages: 10+
Language: Ev3 Software (Block-based)
For the lego fan!! With this kit you can create and code 17 robotic lego creatures. Through the EV3 Programmer App for tablets and computers, you can control your robot and even use a touch sensor, color sensor, and Infrared Sensor.
Ozobot Evo and Bit (https://ozobot.com/) $60 and $100
Tiny Programmable Robots Ages: 6+
Language: OzoBlockly (Block-Based) or Color Codes (Screen-Free)
These two models are able to light up, spin around, follow lines drawn on the ground, and recognize colors of those lines. The Evo is the more powerful of the two, it can detect obstacles, Play sounds, and light up in seven different colors.
Littlebits (https://littlebits.com/) $8-$65 ($100-$200 for a kit)
Electronic Building Blocks Ages: 5+
From the TED talk “Building Blocks that Blink, Beep, and Teach”. The pieces are preprogrammed and you snap them together with magnets to control what happens and when. If you do want to play around with code, the company offers a coding kit which uses an Arduino bit, a microcontroller that I discuss in the next section. They also have a variety of other kits including an Iron Man arm, guitar, and Space Rover.
Anki Cozmo (https://www.anki.com/en-us/cozmo) $150
Programmable AI Robot with a Personality Ages: 8+
Language: Scratch and Python
Cozmo can interact with his cubes, play games, recognize people, and even pets! This would be great for a child who wants a little personality in their robot. He has a face and can fist bump. There is a full computer on board and he is able to learn things like faces and names.
Raspberry Pi (https://www.raspberrypi.org/) $5-$40
Credit card sized Programmable Computer Ages: 13+
Operating System: Raspbian (Linux Based)
Don’t be fooled by its price, Raspberry Pis are powerful! In order to program it, you need to attach it to a keyboard, mouse, and TV or monitor. If you don’t have these things available, there are also kits from sites like https://pi-top.com/ and https://kano.me/us. Pis can be used for a variety of projects, you can install and program a special version of Minecraft, and make music with Sonic Pi. The MA Robotics team uses one on our First Robotics Competition robot, and there are even two orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station!!
Arduino (https://www.arduino.cc/) $20-$60
Programmable Circuit Board/Microcontroller (not a full computer) Ages: 13+
Language: Simplified Version of C++
Less powerful than the Raspberry Pi, Arduino boards are great for hardware-oriented projects, like controlling sensors and devices. If you don’t need an operating system running behind the scenes, Arduino is the way to go. The hardware and software are both open-source, so there are many companies that make similar products on the same platform.
Micro:bit (https://microbit.org/) $30
A handheld, programmable microcontroller (not a full computer) Ages: 10+
Language: Makecode, Micropython
Designed by BBC as part of their Make it Digital Campaign, this device is similar to the Arduino. It contains lights and sensors. I would recommend this over the Arduino for beginners or younger students.
Thinkfun Coding Games (https://www.thinkfun.com/learn-coding/) $13-$25
Ages: 4 to Adult
Thanks to Ms. Selan, I use some of these board games in my classroom. Kids with coding experience immediately recognize what skills they are practicing through these fun screen-free games.
3Doodler Pens (https://the3doodler.com/) $50-$250
3D Pens Ages: 6+
I was able to play around with these as a way of testing out a bridge project for the physics class. While I learned I’m not very good and designing bridges, I had so much fun! I ended up spending way more time on the trial than I had intended to because I just didn’t want to stop.
Girls Who Code Book Series (https://girlswhocode.com/books/) $7-$15
Just for the girls!! I’ve had multiple parents tell me they were pleasantly surprised to see a woman teaching Computer Science. Girls Who Code is an organization working to close the gender gap in technology. Their book series offers something for every age.