Hpac 4469 Screen Shot 2018 01 09 At 8 05 23 Am

Robots as gifts? Perfect choice for engineer shoppers

Jan. 10, 2018
Now that the holidays have come and gone, our resident "geek" looks back on one creative gift that is still bringing nerdy joy to his family.

Many of us in this industry – especially engineers – are often described by our friends and family (lovingly, of course) as “geeky” or “nerdy”. We also may be difficult to shop for, since we frequently buy things we want, without waiting for special occasions like Christmas or a birthday.

My adult son, Keith, is not an engineer, but he is employed in a tech job (operations manager for a company that manages large, complex mobile networks). So, according to his wife and daughters, he absolutely meets the definition (in a nice way) of "geeky".  Like me, he also is difficult to shop for. Looking back on the recent Christmas gift-giving frenzy here, I’m sure that many of you had similar shopping challenges. So here are some unique gifts for the hard-to-shop-for geek in your life – or, perhaps, for yourself – from Scotland-based jjRobots

jjRobots is the brainchild of two electronics/computer engineers and do-it-yourself robotics hobbyists, Juan Pedro and Jose Julio (hence, the “JJ”).  According to the founders, they “love robots, DIY and funny science” and their aim is to “bring open-source robotic projects closer to the people by providing hardware, good documentation, building instructions+code, ‘how it works’ info and a lot of fun!”.  They’ve been doing it since May 2016 and, based on my personal experience, they appear to be doing it very well. In addition to some very cool products, they have awesome customer service. Veronica, their primary customer service contact, shepherded my order through the entire process, resulting in its timely Christmas arrival. (Gotta love that free shipping from Scotland to the U.S.!)

Many of the jjRobots products come as kits, including the:

·       Air Hockey Robot, a mostly 3D printable air hockey playing robot controlled by your smartphone that, in addition to moving across the required two dimensions, can predict the movements of rebounding pucks and attack/defend in consequence (this robot was featured on a Discovery Channel’s “Outrageous Acts of Science” episode);

·       B-ROBOT, a remotely controlled, self-balancing Arduino robot created with 3D-printed parts. With only two wheels, B-ROBOT can maintain its balance through internal sensors and drive motors, and is controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or PC;

·       The iBoardBot, an internet-controlled robot capable of precision writing, drawing (and erasing) on a glass surface. With its multi-user interface, it can receive input from anywhere with a web connection. This is the robot that I chose for my son.

The iBoardBot kit consists of major parts, like timing belts, bearings, stepper motors, servos, their so-called Brain Shield, power supply, cables, hardware, etc.  There is also an option for all of the 3D printed parts (for those who don’t have a 3D printer) and for an almost-assembled, plug-and-play version. Pictured at top is the result of 3-4 hours of assembly (including, according to Keith, several distractions – he had a house full of pre-teen and teenage girls – plus snacks chewing and scotch sipping). Below is the original video that won me over:

A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected]