We are fast approaching that time of year again, the days are drawing in, there is a (slightly) bitter chill in the air, and all the adverts on TV are twinkling with snowy scenes and jingle bells. Yes, the big day will be here soon, raising the inevitable yearly problem, what do we buy our loved ones for Xmas?
Whereas once it was Meccano, Care Bears, or Transformers, these days it’s all about the tech! So how do you choose a gift for your loved one that will spark their imagination, can be enjoyed together, and will not rot their brain? Here are our top five ideas for creative techy gifts this Christmas.
Ozobot Bit 2.0
Runs on: iOS and Android
Suitable for: Age 6 - 12
Best Price: £49.95
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk
Now in its second iteration, the Ozobot Bit 2.0 is the tiny programmable robot that your kids will love. Open up the world of computer programming with this simple toy that connects the physical world to the digital. Using four primary coloured pens, you draw lines on paper to command the Ozobot to do different things, make it dance, create a game, the possibilities are endless. Once you've mastered the basics, you can make and play more advanced programs using the Ozoblockly website and mobile app.
Runs on: iOS and Android
Suitable for: Age 14+
Best Price: £27.49
Buy From: MobileFun.co.uk
If the person you are buying a gift for this xmas has ever wanted to be a pilot then this is the gift for them. Quite simply, it is a smartphone controlled paper airplane. Get an A4 sheet of paper, make your paper airplane, and then retrofit the PowerUp 3.0! Now you can fly your paper airplane and control it directly from your smartphone.
The control mechanism has a built in rechargeable battery (via micro USB), Bluetooth chip, propeller and rudder, providing up to 60 hours of flight.
Raspberry Pi 2
Runs on: Raspbian OS (And many others)
Suitable for: Age 6+
Best Price: £29.99
Buy from: Currys.co.uk
By now you'll no doubt have heard of the Raspberry Pi, the £30 microcomputer that enables you to tinker with programming and electronics. Launched in 2012, this credit card sized computer has been designed to support the development of the next generation of computer programmers, talent that pretty much every industry is in great need of.
This versatile little computer comes as a bare circuit board, into which you plug power (via USB), a screen, keyboard, and mouse. Software is initially loaded onto the device via your PC using an SD card. There is a huge amount of resources online to help you get creative with this little device, from programming with the child friendly Scratch software, to installing web servers, and plugging in other electronic components.
The potential uses are almost limitless, such as a media centre for your TV, a Retro Games Console, or a smart audio streamer for your Hi-Fi. Some people have got even more adventurous creating projects such as the Pi-Pocket, the Talking Chatter Smartphone, and the Magic Mirror.
Kano Computer Kit
Runs on: Kano OS
Suitable for: Ages 6 - 12
Best Price: £94.99
Buy From: Ebay.co.uk
It is a great idea to try and get your kids into programming, and the Raspberry Pi is a brilliant platform to enable this, but perhaps the thought of buying a bare circuit board and having to install and setup the device yourself sounds a little bit daunting? Then the Kano is for you, for just shy of £100 you will get all the hardware you need to get this Raspberry Pi up and running.
The kit comes with a step-by-step instruction booklet on how to build and install the device. The software that runs on the Kano is specifically designed to help you and your kids get into creating digital things, from creating games like Snake or Pong, to programmatically building your own Minecraft World! All using simple drag and drop interfaces, with context sensitive tips to help you along the way.
This package is extremely well designed and super fun, you and your kids will be creating all sorts of wonderful digital things in no time! And if you already have a Pi, but like the child friendly software, you can download the Kano software for free from kano.me/downloads.
Type: Computer / Electronics
Runs on: PC, Mac, and Linux
Suitable for: Ages 15+
Best Price: Arduino Uno - £17.99, Starter Kits from £12.99
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk
Now we are getting to the seriously creative stuff, ever wanted to build your own alarm system? A robotic arm? A talking clock? With the Arduino platform you can do it all.
Arduino is an open source platform for building electronics projects, at its core is a microcontroller which can be programmed via USB using a free open source development studio on your PC or Mac. The circuit board hosting the microcontroller has a number of input and output pins that you can connect other components to such as lights, switches and sensors. Using the Arduino software, you can then program it to receive inputs from your sensors and switches, and control other hardware such as lights.
These little computers particularly lend themselves to making your home smarter, and there are lots of online communities to help you create your own projects, with websites dedicated to showing you how to build things with step-by-step instructions.
The sky is the limit here judging by some of the crazy projects other people have come up with, such as the Tweet-a-Pot, the Mind Controller Nerf-Gun, and Back to the Future inspired Time Circuit Clock!
Get started with a starter kit such as the Sunfounder super starter kit with tutorial book, and an Arduino Uno, this will give you a solderless breadboard and some jumper cables to build your circuits on, along with a selection of resistors, transistors, LED lights, switches, motors and an LCD screen. The 63 page tutorial book contains instructions for 19 different projects and even comes with a DVD to help you.