Top Toys for Engineers of All Ages
Shane Laros posted on December 16, 2016 |

With the holidays fast approaching, time is running out to pick up the perfect gift for someone who is technically-inclined. This isn’t limited to children either - engineers of all ages love their toys! I mean, who wouldn’t want a Mini Strandbeest for their desktop?

We’ve divided our list into age appropriate sections, though your top-of-the-class child or playful spouse may have a range outside of these suggestions. Either way, it’s time to play!

Please note that any links for online stores are in no way endorsing those particular marketplaces.

If you’re interested in video games as a gift, check out our Top Ten Video Games for Engineers.

 

Youth

Rubiks Cube

This deceptively simple Rubik’s Cube puzzle is a mainstay of brainy kids around the world, letting them show off their spatial reasoning and manual dexterity. Though the puzzle has been broken down mathematically, encouraging your youngster to use algorithms to cheat in a game may not be the worst way to go. Though it was bigger in the 80’s, there are still professional “speedcubers” and competitions that take place around the world.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

 

K’NEX

Though Lego is often the go-to for introductions to building, there are options out there that can further stretch a child’s introduction into STEM, and engineering in particular, at a young age.

K’Nex offers a range of options from geometrical shapes and simple machines to motorized roller coasters and introductory robotics. What they lack in the specialized parts and sculpture kits Lego is known for, they make up for in educational options.

(Image courtesy of K’NEX User Group.)
(Image courtesy of K’NEX User Group.)

GoldieBlox

A common struggle for teachers and parents alike is getting young girls interested in STEM subjects and other traditionally male-dominated areas, like engineering. GoldieBlox aims to change that by showing girls how fun construction and machines can be.

We’ve had the opportunity to meet with the company in the past, and have seen how the company’s unique mix of toys, stories and simple machines can help engage children at a young age.

(Image courtesy of GoldieBlox.)
(Image courtesy of GoldieBlox.)


Cubelets

These smart blocks can fit together in any number of combinations to form more complex robots, with blocks designed for motion, senses, outputs, and more. Though a bit on the expensive side, they are a great way to introduce robots to budding engineers, who can mix and match the kits to create any number of designs. They have also released Bluetooth blocks that allow you to program or control your creations from a handheld device, and adapter pieces to integrate Cubelets blocks with Lego.

 


Sphero SPRK+ (and BB-8)

Sometimes kids need to play to learn, and this remote-control ball might just be the way to grab your child’s attention. The little round balancing robot is programmed and controlled through a phone app, is customizable through skins, and charges wirelessly. Sphero even released a BB-8 version for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens – you can check out our write up and analysis here.

 

(Images courtesy of Sphero.)
(Images courtesy of Sphero.)

Teens

Robotic Arm 

These kits from OWI Robotics present an introduction to modern manufacturing by letting a young engineer not only operate their own robot arm, but to also build it themselves.

Do note that these arms are operated manually, and likely not a more affordable alternative for your own business’ industrial robots.

Available Hydraulic or Electric. (Image courtesy of OWI Robotics.)
Available Hydraulic or Electric. (Image courtesy of OWI Robotics.)


Lego Mindstorms

It would be a poor list of toys that did not include Lego at least once. While the multitude of building kits are great for all ages, Lego Mindstorms takes the construction toy into the world of robotics, allowing various configurations and control options.

Lego’s fans are a massive influence on its success, and Mindstorms is no different - recently, a team built a robot that can solve a 3x3 Rubiks Cube in an average of 3 seconds!


Kano Computer Kit

Coming with all the pieces to build a simple Raspberry Pi-enabled computer, the Kano could work for a wide range of ages. Simple enough for ages 6 and up, though generally more appropriate for someone a bit older, the kits include easy-to-follow instructions and plug-and-play parts as a great introduction to the hardware they may not be used to seeing inside of their desktop or tablet computer.

(Image courtesy of Kano.)
(Image courtesy of Kano.)


Adults (a.k.a. Kids at Heart)

Raspberry Pi 3

While the Kano kit above works well for an introduction to building computers, the Raspberry Pi powering it stands apart as being the base of many DIY electronics projects. The newest, 3rd generation version offers a 1.2GHz 64-bit quad core ARMv8 CPU, integrated 802.11 Wireless LAN and Bluetooth, along with 1GB RAM, a minimal 3D graphics core, and a wide array of ports and connections.

Whether you are looking to make a home Linux server, a Dropbox clone box or a wall mounted Google calendar, the Pi is arguably the best place to start.

(Image courtesy of Element14.)
(Image courtesy of Element14.)


3D Printer

While many makers may have already taken the steps to have a 3D printer in their home, if you haven’t, then now is as good a time as any! The technology is getting cheaper every year, and there are a number of options available under USD $500. Of course, you can go bigger with a Makerbot or Form 2, but for an entry into the hobby, the more affordable MOD-t or Finder may be better for the maker in your life.

(Image courtesy of Makerbot.)
(Image courtesy of Makerbot.)

For some other cool toys for engineers, check out Wicked Smart Race Car Set Signals the Next Generation of Smart Toys.

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