Robotics Gift Guide

This list is adapted from the recommendations of Gareth Branwyn, the Editorial Director of MAKE and a "co-overlord" of Dorkbot DC. He says we shouldn't call him a robot expert, but he designed Mousey the Junkbot and is the author of the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Robots (QUE, 2003). Plus, with the hours he keeps, we think he might be part cyborg.

If you're looking for even more robot-y goodness, see our full category here.

SpinBot Kit, $25

Here’s a super fun, easy, and inexpensive kit for building a three-pen drawbot. This is a perfect project to do as a family or for the kids to do by themselves with minimal supervision. You can have your “bot” together in minutes and all you have to do is add markers (and a battery). If you remember spinart toys as a kid, this is a cool 21st century upgrade.

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot, $25

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot

Michael Margolis’ book was designed to introduce tech-savvy makers to the worlds of Arduino, robotics, and experimenting with sensors. While the book was designed in concert with the Make: Rovera robots, it can also be used separately with your existing robot platform or you can build or buy your own. The book beautiful illustrates every step of the robot build process (for both a two-wheeled and four-wheeled robot), with full-color photos and illustrations, and clear instructions. Michael is the author of the best-selling Arduino Cookbook and this book makes a worthy companion to that meaty tome.

Hexy, $250


At Maker Faire, these guys had their booth right next to the Breadboarding Workshop I co-ran and I really like their product. It’s pretty exciting to see a six-legged walker of this level of sophistication be available at such an affordable price. There’s a reason why the creator of Hexy, Joseph Schlesinger, asked for $13,000 on Kickstarter and got $168,000 instead! If you have a more advanced robot hobbyist on your gift list, consider a Hexy.

EZ-Robot Kit, $235

The EZ-Robot Complete Kit is something of a dream come true for hobby roboticists. It’s a hefty set of parts — a very robust robot control board with lots of I/O and servo ports, six servomotors, sensors, a wireless camera, 2 rubber wheels, mounting hardware — that you can use to turn just about anything into a robot (R/C vehicles, motorized “dumb” robot toys, little sister’s doll collection). And the great downloadable software interface (unfortunately Windows-only) makes it easy to program and control your bots. Combine this with one of our robot platform kits and you’re well on your way to creating the race of intelligent machines that are going to rise up one day and take over the world.

Rovera 2W, $175

The Make: Rovera robot line is a great way to get started in serious hobby robotics. The 2W version comes with all of the parts you need to make a two-wheeled robot that can serve as the foundation for all sorts of robotic experimentation. The kit comes with the book Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot, by bestselling author Michael Margolis (author of the Arduino Cookbook). The book carefully walks you through the building of both the 2WD and 4WD Roveras, how to program them, how to expand upon them, and more. Finally an Arduino-powered robot kit from MAKE!

Rovera 4W, $200

If you want something a little more rugged and “off road” than the 2W, the Rovera 4WD kit offers a four-wheeled robot with a larger platform to add additional sensor packages and other components. Like the 2W, it comes with all of the parts you need and the Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot book to guide you through the build process. Rovera is a great way to delve into the worlds of both Arduino microcontrollers and robotics. Both versions of Rovera come with the Leonardo Arduino board.

2WD Robot Platform, $50

Do you already have an Arduino (or other microcontroller) and sensor components and want to turn them into an autonomous robot? Our robot platform includes a sturdy aluminum chassis, 2 gearmotors, 2 wide plastic wheels, an omnidirectional 3rd wheel, and all of the hardware for assembly. Just add senses and a brain!

Also available as a 4WD platform, with all of the above parts plus two more gearmotors and wheels and a rectangular platform.

Tin Can Robot, $16

Like the SpinBot, this isn’t really a robot (it does no sensing); it’s a mechanical kit that turns a lowly soda can into a lumbering little robot-looking character. This is a fun gift for a young one (8 or up) who’s fascinated by robots but not ready to dive into actual bot-building and programming.

Herbie the Mousebot, $40

Herbie the Mousebot is one of our favorites here at MAKE and has been a staple in the Shed for years. It’s a nice graduation project for kids (of all ages) moving from BrushBots and SpinBots to a full-fledged robot that can explore its environment, and even chase around other Herbies. It’s also a graceful step up from basic soldering skills to slightly fussier soldering. Herbie has an ingenious body made from three electrically-connected printed circuit boards. Whenever anybody asks me what their young roboteers should move to after mastering no-solder bots and Lego Mindstorms, I always recommend Herbie. (This image is of my own first Herbie build.)

Big Bad Beetlebot Kit, $40

We here at MAKE are fascinated by the most minimal robots possible. What simple components can you use to create an autonomous robot that can sense its environment and navigate a space? Turns out, you don’t need much, and you don’t need any sort of brains at all, just antenna-equipped switches cross-wired to two DC motors. This is a no-solder kit, another great parent-child project, and a cool way to get young people to “think outside the bot.” You don’t have to have digital processing or other sort of computational brain to have a creature that fits the basic definition of a robot (a machine that can sense, plan, and react to its environment).

Tiny Wanderer Kit, $160

The Tiny Wanderer from MAKE is another great entry-level kit for someone getting serious about building bots. The Tiny was originally developed by the Dallas Personal Robotics Group as a training robot. It uses the AVR ATTiny microprocessor as its brain and employs “state machines” (a key concept to understand in simple behavior-based robotics) to orchestrate its behavior. It makes a great line-following or edge-detecting robot.

We also sell a Tiny Wanderer Parts Pack ($99) for those who’d rather build their own platform.

Arduino Shield Robot Kit, $120

This is a clever way to easily roboticize your existing Arduino board. Part of the popular BOE-Bot line from Parallax, the Arduino Shield Robot Kit lets you plug in your own Arduino board into the kit’s Robot Shield which then mounts onto the included BOE-Bot chassis. Once the hardware is set up, you can access the online (and now Arduino-optimized) BOE-Bot lessons online, with over 40 experiments and projects. Parallax developed this version in “MAKE blue” just for us!

But wait, there’s more!

These are just the major robots and robot toys available in the Maker Shed. We have other kits, robot parts (such as sensors and servos), additional robot books, and of course, plenty of robotic brains, in systems like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Check out the main Robots page and the Microcontrollers page. The image to the left is of our Telerobotic Gripper Kit, developed for us by hobby robotics icon Gordon McComb.

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