One of the best things about being an engineer during the holidays is the yearly supply of sweet new swag emerging technology unveils. New inventions hit the shelves making big, exciting waves; other things become compact and affordable, which makes them more fun. And sometimes a few of the old, cherished icons that guided your own burgeoning sense of mechanics make appearances on the bestseller lists.
We combed the Web looking for the best, beyond-awesome holiday gifts for engineers. We found a few.
The Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter kit is the engineer’s answer to the miniature, office-friendly helicopters you see in the kids section of the electronics shop. This kit requires soldering, immediately setting a higher bar for R/C enthusiasts, and assembles to create a hackable, zippy little machine that looks and sounds sort of like a large, square insect.
UP! Mini 3D Desktop Printer
Introduce your engineer to 3D printing with this desktop-sized unit, which prints out objects up to 4.75 inches cubed using thermoplastic filament (not included). The UP Mini reads STL files, printing within an enclosure that protects it from temperature-changing room drafts. To round it out the unit is affordable, as far as 3D printers go, at under $1,000.
This credit card-sized single-board computer was created to make learning programming more accessible and affordable. Thus it’s the tinkerer’s dream, bringing programmability to everything from lawn sprinklers to garage satellites, and can even hook up to your TV to stream video. You can check out the community documentation over at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. An SD card is needed for memory.
Mindstorms were this writer’s entry into programmable robots and object-oriented programming. The kit comes with motors, sensors, and the famous Lego Programmable Brick, allowing adults and kids to build programmable robots. For me, many an awesome evening was whiled away building Mars Pathfinder replicas and releasing them into the house. This item is highly recommended for engineers with children – or childless engineers who don’t need an excuse to mess around with Legos.
The Ultimate Useless Machine Kit
The machine that does nothing has existed in various forms since Marvin Minsky created this one in the ‘50s. This particular model recently went viral via YouTube, and has since been a gifting favorite of robotics geeks, or anyone with a wry sense of humor. The concept is simple: you turn it on, it turns itself off again. Ad infinitum.
Handcuff Key Cufflinks
Tools determine capability. Even if you never need to spring yourself from handcuffs after a black tie gala gone wrong, isn’t it nice to know you could? Engineers with a sense of adventure – or a murky past – can add a dash of Bond to their stocking with Sparrow’s Uncuff Links.
Arduino Robot Kit
This beginner’s robotics kit comes with everything you need to build a simple Arduino robot. This kit is based on the 4WD Rovera platform, which allows you to customize your creation to an extent, and even comes with a booklet to guide your exploratory build. It’s the Erector Set you get after finishing college.
Both creative and functional, this set of 216 small, spherical magnets (and related accessories) provides a vacation for your brain, a short-term creative outlet in the workplace, and a cool palm massage for those bouts of keyboard-hands. Useful for exhibiting design skills as well as relieving the stress of dealing with Windows applications.
Build-On Lego Brick Mug
As a slight caveat, this Lego-buildable mug is best given to someone whose workspace is already cluttered with Lego blocks, inventions, toys and gadgets. The reasoning behind this is simple – one’s coffee mug is the last place anyone would expect to see one’s Lego skills on display, therefore the impact of this gift is maximized when absolutely every other opportunity to display Lego craftsmanship is also at full peacock. Beyond that, it is an interesting mug.
Leatherman 30th Anniversary Super Tool 300
Anyone who is handy, crafty or mechanically inclined will appreciate Leatherman products for their intuitiveness, durability and usefulness in most fix-it situations. The 2013 30th-Anniversary Super Tool 300 contains 19 tools – the largest number in Leatherman’s collection – including wire cutters and strippers, two knives, a saw and four screwdrivers, among other goodies.
Tactical Chef Apron
Forget about kissing the cook — this piece of backyard armor wards off barbecue encroachers, showing that you mean business when it comes to flank steaks and ground chuck patties. Its extensive MOLLE system includes pouches and pockets for utensils, condiments, lighter fluid, your phone, and more or less anything else a badass chef carries. No, it will not actually block shrapnel.
Black Blood of the Earth Super-Caffeinated Coffee
Judging by the origin story of this quasi-toxic coffee potion, BBotE is not to be consumed lightly. With users exhibiting extreme wakefulness, uncontrollable hyperactivity, time loss and mild hallucinations, it is best given to those who are cramming for exams or who are open to personal risk.
Ultimate Beer Brewing Kit
During our research for this story we discovered a theme among engineer gifts preferences: kits and booze. This ultimate kit for at-home beer brewers should kill both birds with one stone. The kit allows four 2-gallon batches of tasty homemade beer, and is reusable for future batches. Included instructions walk you through assembling the keg, preparing the brew, bottling and storing. And like any worthwhile kit, it is not beyond hacking. We will say no more.
Got something else you’d add to your wish list? Add it to the comment section.
This story was co-authored by JF Stackhouse.