Announcing The Ultimate Makers’ Gift Guide 2014

giftguide_promo_9602The gift-giving season officially kicks off this week — and we’re here to help with our Ultimate Makers’ Gift Guide for 2014.

Our five experts pored over hundreds of items to hand select the bright and shining stars in five of our favorite categories. They’ve double- and triple-checked their list, and provided it for us to share with the world. Inside you’ll find a wide variety of great gifts for all skill levels.

dronesDrones

Whether a beginner or advanced pilot, there’s something here to make your imagination take flight. Browse both ready-to-fly items and must-have upgrades.

robotsRobots

Walking on legs, scooting on wheels, or humming along on bristles, we all agree that robots are awesome! Find what robotics you need to add to your home this year.

toysToys

No matter how young or how old, everyone loves toys. We’ve found toys you make, toys to help you make other things, and toys that are simply inspiring.

3d printers3D printers

With the rapid growth of the 3D-printer market, we’ll help you figure out what printer will be gracing your home this season.

tools and techTools & Tech

Every maker needs tools. Whether they come in the form of a computer, a development board, or a soldering iron, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve put a lot of thought and hard work into this guide. Hopefully it will help make this holiday season rock for you and all those who receive your gifts!


PieceMaker Factory: A Glimpse Into The Future of Toys?

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Late Friday night I saw what may be the future of toys, or at least something completely unique at my local Toys’R’Us. Additive manufacturing, often referred as 3D printing, has become common place in the maker movement. However, there is hardly a day that goes by where I don’t meet someone who has no idea what it is, or what it does. Well that’s about to change thanks to PieceMaker and Toys’R’Us.

Our mission at PieceMaker is to empower all people to personalize the world around them. To do this, we have created the PieceMaker Factory, the first and only system to deliver custom 3D printed inventory on-demand to retail stores. The PieceMaker Factory leverages cutting-edge, open-source 3D printing technology, custom robotics automation and proprietary software created specifically for retail to offer shoppers an unlimited range of personalized products, made on-demand and at the point of sale.

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Even my daughter was impressed to see a 3D printer in a toy store, and she built her own from a kit at the age of nine. However, once she saw the interactive kiosk where you can select a model, customize it’s color, and add a name, she was totally hooked. Now she wants that kiosk at home, hooked up to her own printer.

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All the items are designed by PieceMaker so they are guaranteed to print well, and in under 30 minutes. They all cost about $10, which seems to be a fair price for a customized toy that’s printed on demand. The overall process from design to print was really easy and went without any hiccups. While we were waiting for our first print, I was able to ask a few questions about the machine. First and foremost, “Who makes the printer, and what’s inside?” The short answer is, they make the machines themselves in-house, and it’s powered by Arduino.

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We ended up with the ever-popular whistle, and a slight migraine from the concert played on the car ride home. But more importantly we left with a renewed enthusiasm for designing and making our own stuff. What will we make next? I don’t think it really matters too much. I’m just happy that the notion of making has once again become more important than TV, texting, or just surfing the Internet.

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If you happen to live near Totowa New Jersey, or Cranberry Township Pennsylvania, stop on by the local Toys’R’Us and check out what may be the future of toys. I’m really looking forward to the day we can pick up an affordable printer at the local toy store, not just the prints. Any thoughts on how long until that happens? What does everyone think of toys-on-demand?


Sphero Goes Extreme with New Ollie

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Sphero, the little, round, programmable robot, rolled its way into many hearts since it was released in 2011, confounding pets and expressing a unique form of movement. It was a reimagining of both robots and remote control.

For its second act, the company is reimagining wheels — at least, wheels in the context of robots. So, meet Ollie, which is a Sphero-sized body, elongated slightly, and equipped with a wheel on either end. It’s not quite so omnidirectional as Sphero, but what it lacks in that department it makes up in creative programming that allows it to recognize its position and direction, and maintain its course in the face of bumps, jumps, and flips. But it stays true to — and even improves upon — Sphero’s programmable, hackable nature.

“The robot itself is always keeping track of its tricks, so it always knows how it’s oriented in the air, it knows if it’s in the air, it knows how many spins it’s done in the last certain amount of time. It’s actually doing those calculations on the actual robot, and then it sends the results up to the phone,” says Brandon Dorris, Sphero director of product development.

Earlier this year, Sphero released a video showing off the Ollie with a bunch of skaters and their skateboards. (Note the robot’s skate-inspired name.) The emphasis now is on more extreme play, but it’s still programmable — you can create tricks, the company points out, and Ollie will track its own air time, spins, and more.

Necessary for the zippier acrobatics was a refinement of Bluetooth LE. To get the phone to communicate with the Ollie faster, they needed to use LE, but LE can’t transfer as much information. So, to get the data across, the app sends them in packages of six, explains Dorris.

“It’s constantly checking itself, and its constantly giving feedback to the phone on what’s going on, so the phone can react to what’s actually happening in real life,” he says. “The person is really interacting with the toy, but the toy is interacting with the person at the same time.”

The apps for Sphero will also work with Ollie, including Draw N’ Drive, which follows routes, and Macro Lab, which teaches basic programming. Advanced users can even program in a version of BASIC. And the device itself is hackable, or more so at least than Sphero, which had to be cracked open if you wanted to get at its insides. Ollie opens easier, and later this year Sphero will be releasing a software development kit for it. “You can use it to create your own robots, or create your own things that you want to be able to control with Bluetooth LE,” says Dorris.

OllieProductHR-5562And Ollie is fast, up to 14 miles per hour. It’s that speed, along with the clever wheels that make it more of a driving machine than its predecessor. It drifts too, for those fans of The Fast and the Furious who aren’t ready to do so in their cars.

All that speed makes driving it a bit more challenging. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: “You get better over time. You learn how to control what you’re doing and get it to do what you want to when you want it to do it,” says Dorris. “It’s kind of this whole idea of mastery, and playing with it for a while. You feel better each time you play with it, because you get better at actually doing it.”