The average office workflow isn’t just about Excel spreadsheets and copy machines anymore.
Big leaps in technology have made it easy and affordable enough for the average office to collect and crunch huge amounts of data with tools like sensors and autonomous drones. And the internet of things is making it easier for offices to manage their own data, from energy use to the perfect lighting. Robots are taking on greater task loads in warehouses and interacting nicely with people in the office or supermarket. They’re also blending with existing communication technology to bring mobility and interpersonal connections to remote workers.
3D printers have also stepped up as a powerful, relatively easy way for businesses to prototype products and build scale models. Instead of spending weeks or months collaborating with a manufacturer, employees can rapidly print different iterations of an object in hours. Tools like these are making it possible for teams to do more than ever before with less reliance on outside experts.
Here are some of our favorite gifts (if you’re a procurement Santa Claus, anyway) available to the connected office this holiday season:
Suitable Technologies Beam ($16,000)
If employees frequently need to work from home or out of town, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a presence at headquarters. The Beam telepresence robot is basically a video chat screen and camera on wheels; the remote employee can drive the bot around while conversing with others. And that’s it. Despite the price tag, Suitable Technologies would likely warn you this robot isn’t about to do your laundry too. — Signe Brewster
3D Robotics Iris ($730)
Whether the operator is a farmer collecting data on her crops or an infrastructure worker assessing damage, the Iris drone (see disclosure) can deliver manned and unmanned surveillance for a very reasonable price by industry standards. Pair it with a GoPro to capture aerial photo and video and check out 3D Robotics’ friendliest software yet. — Signe Brewster
Digital Lumens LEDS (price varies)
Digital Lumens installs energy-sipping LED light fixtures in warehouses and other, often low-tech buildings. But the real gift is that, in many cases, the lighting network is the first network of any sort installed in these sites. And once it’s in, businesses can run other gear — wireless thermostats, motion sensors etc. — off that network. — Barb Darrow
For basic prototyping, Type A Machines’ new 3D printer is a reliable bet for a desktop machine. It is sturdy enough to survive heavy use and built to be easily modifiable, which means it can be upgraded as 3D printing progresses rapidly in the next few years. — Signe Brewster
Stratasys Objet500 Connex 3D printer ($250,000)
For those who would rather go all out, the Objet500 is a top-of-the-line professional 3D printer that can print large parts. It can print in 14 different plastics, which it can also blend to give objects interesting, precise physical properties. — Signe Brewster
3D Robotics is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in Gigaom. Om Malik, the founder of Gigaom, is also a venture partner at True.