Call them makers, hackers DIYers or nerds, but I’ve been spending more time hanging out with and talking to people who are building cool products on Kickstarter, helping startups understand the ins and outs of product design and people who are combining existing tech in cool new ways. So I’ve asked a subset of them to help me come up with a list for the people on your list who are established hackers and for those who might be interested to give hacking a try.
Here are some of the suggestions from Emile Patrone, the founder of DIY project sales site Tindie, Scott Miller, the founder of product design consulting firm Dragon Innovation, and William Hurley, the co-founder of design firm Chaotic Moon Studios. And yes, all of them recommended some sort of 3D printer, either the Form-1 that began as a Kickstarter campaign and will sell for $3,299 in April, or the MakerBot Replicator for $2,199 (because of Hurricane Sandy it looks like that won’t arrive in time for the holidays though). But like a soldering iron, I’m going to assume if your hacker recipient wants a 3D printer they already have one.
Product: Simon Says
What you need to know: The Simon Says board is a beginner board kit that plays a light and sound-based memory game. The board plays a series of sounds and you play it back in sequence. The kit aims to teach people how to solder, and is also uses open source hardware so you can program your own light and sound combinations after you’ve maxed out the ones already programmed on the board.
Product: The Rascal
What you need to know: This is a somewhat hard-to-buy gift, since they are batch-made, but the boards are basically portable (if you include a Wi-Fi radio and a battery) web servers that you can program using Python. People have used them to control any electronic device from the web. You can hook your electronic device into the board (you will probably need a shield of some sorts) and then write some code to build a web site from which you can now control the device. With the right board and shield I may be able to figure out how to control my oven from the web (yes, this is a dream of mine).
Product: Stirling Engine Model
What you need to know: The product description says this is beautiful as well as a lesson in thermodynamics, and who wouldn’t want a desk-side sculpture that also doubles as a physics experiment? Plus you have to make it! As paperweights go the replica of a Stirling Engine, (there’s one inside a Segway) shows you how to convert an external heat source into motion via a fan, car and generator experiment. Outrage your steampunk friends with a more alternative engine.
Product: Electric Imp Breakout
What you need to know: The Electric Imp guys have the ambitious goal of bringing Wi-Fi to everything using an SD-style card that you can plug into a variety of gadgets, appliances or even lamps. then you program those elements via a web-based service. You can’t get the easy-to-use version of the products yet, but you can buy a breakout board and build your own connected product if you’re so inclined.
What you need to know: A lot of people buy Arduino boards and share them between projects. This makes sense because those boards containing the logic processors can be expensive. The downside is that you may have a lot of half-complete projects waiting around for a board to make it work. ExtraCore is a kit that can power your project for a third of the cost of an Arduino board. The key to this board is that it’s small and Looks just like Arduino Uno to the integrated developer environment.
What you need to know: Connecting stuff to the Internet is pretty much an essential step in many DIY projects, and Twine makes is easy enough that I can do it. The product is a rubberized self-contained sensor pack that also has a Wi-Fi radio that outputs to a web site. The Twine web app reflects what the sensors see in real time, so you can than write a little program telling Twine that when X happens it should take an action that might send info to a web page, to an email, to Twitter or to the Pebble Smart watch.
Product: The 2WD Rovera Arduino Robot Kit
What you need to know: Who doesn’t want to build a friendly little robot to play with and/or help you in your plans for world domination. The kit includes everything you need to build a two-wheeled robot including the motor shield board, wheels and wires. It’s unclear if you can add a sensor that would allow you to program the robot to look soulfully at you and say, “No disassemble.”
Product: MiniStylophone Kit
What you need to know: This is a kit for beginners that will allow them to play music and record sounds for later playback. The kit requires the recipient to solder 24 resistors to the board, so make sure your recipient has a soldering iron. When done you use a stylus to play the music on the stylophone. You can hook it into other projects or annoy your friends and parents.
Product: Membership to a hack space
Cost: It varies, but can range from $99 to $175 per month.
What you need to know: There are myriad places where like-minded DIYers can get together and take classes, use equipment and store their projects from the Artisan’s Asylum in Boston to TechShop which has spaces in the Bay Area, Austin, Detroit and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. For a listing of other popular places check out the Hackerspaces Wiki.
What you need to know: This is a limited edition Arduino shield to combine with an Arduino board to make a mobile gaming console. It has a monochrome LCD screen and four-way directional pad for that up-up-down-down gameplay. The games are already in your head, so get coding and start playing them on your very own hardware. Great gift for a special proposal or an awesome product to make with your kids.