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8 Automation Gifts to Give and Get

In honor of Cyber Monday, here’s a short list of items any industrial automation, plant engineering or control system expert might enjoy.

Kid's Walker by Sakakibara Kikai
Kid's Walker by Sakakibara Kikai

‘Tis the season to be gifting—whether to your family, your friends or yourself.  In honor of Cyber Monday, here are some ideas for the industrial automation, plant engineering or control system experts on your list.  Also, in the comments below, please share links to your favorite automation gadgets, toys and useful tools, because I’ve still have to create my wishlist for Santa.


For those considering a career change. Know someone who wants to get into the alternative energy field? Start small and learn the basics with the Wind Power 2.0 kit from the National Geographic Store. Build wind-powered generators to energize electric vehicles and charge AA rechargeable batteries. This kit includes two styles of wind turbine blades and a gearbox with three different gear ratios for experimenting. The kit also includes six vehicle models to build—a glider, sail car, jet car, tractor, racecar and tricycle. The 133 building pieces also are compatible with the company’s Air + Water Power, Remote Control Machines, and Solar Power kits.


For the perfectionist. Got a friend in test and measurement who gives you three decimal places of accuracy when calculating miles per gallon? Give him a Gömböc, “the world's only homogenous, convex, self-righting object.” This 6.25 lb., solid stainless steel wonder, which is “mathematically impossible in two dimensions [and] barely exists in three-dimensional space,” is a precise representation of minimal flatness and thinness. And it also comes in a protective case to prevent dust from affecting its performance.


For robot lovers. There are a lot of robot kits out there, but the coolest one of all has to be Lego Mindstorms, and now the EV3 kit has arrived. Combining the versatility of the Lego building system with the company’s most advanced technology yet, Lego Mindstorms EV3 lets you create and command robots that walk, talk, “think” and do just about anything. Follow the step-by-step 3D building instructions to create TRACK3R, R3PTAR, SPIK3R, EV3RSTORM and GRIPP3R robots using an intuitive and icon-based programming interface. Use the enclosed remote control to take on challenging ready-made missions, or download the free app and command your robot using your smart device.


For teachers and leaders of Boy Scout troops. LabVIEW for Lego Mindstorms was designed by National Instruments specifically for use with the LEGO Education robotics platform. This sophisticated teaching tool helps students program the Lego Mindstorms NXT brick, as well as graphically configure and test motor and sensor connections using the LabView graphical programming environment. As with industrial-strength LabView, users can easily log and analyze the data they collect from the NXT unit. The package also lets instructors incorporate lesson-plan content and share student results in one place.


For those who prefer Rosie the robot. For those who thought the best part of The Jetson’s cartoon was the domestic goddess called Rosie, iRobot Company has robot gifts that give back. This maker of the Roomba self-guided vacuum makes other home robots that automate pool cleaning, window washing and more. Its latest introduction is the Looj 330 Gutter Cleaning Robot, which reportedly eliminates the stops and ladder repositioning required for the task. Place Looj in your gutters, set it in motion using the detachable remote, and it reportedly will blast away leaves, dirt and sludge in a 30-foot section of gutter in just 5 minutes.


For those whose work is their hobby. Can’t enjoy enough electrical engineering during your day job? Elenco Inc. makes educational and electronic toys and test equipment that even adults can enjoy. Snap Circuits let you follow colorful pictures to build alarms, doorbells, AM and FM radios, digital voice recorders, burglar alarms—even “a flying saucer.” The Extreme Version contains more than 80 parts and instructions for 750 projects incorporating solar power, electromagnetism, vibration switches and more.


For the newbie nerds. Got a little one you’re grooming to carry on in your footsteps? Advertise your hopes for his or her future with an all-cotton T-shirt that proudly proclaims, “Future Automation Engineer.”


For the kid you wanted to be. If you’re ready to really spoil your little one with gifts you would have loved as a child, the website has located the perfect luxury gift from Japanese robot manufacturer Sakakibara Kikai. Specially designed for children, the Kid’s Walker is a large-size mechanical toy akin to Tony Stark’s Iron Man. The Kid’s Walker stands 1.6 meters tall, weighs 340kg and runs on gas. So far, Sakakibara claims to have sold eight units at $22,100 each.

I know there are a lot of other cool gifts I’m missing. Some aren’t ready for prime time. For example, we’ll have to wait at least a couple years for the Iron Man suit for adults and the Time Touching watch. In the meantime, let me know in the comments below what gadgets, tech toys and automation wonders you want under your Christmas tree.

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