In these pages last week I picked out my top 10 Christmas gifts.
They're all great gadgets and nicely finished products: tried and tested technology you can trust to do what it was designed to do. With that comes an implied limitation - consumer electronics do what someone else designed them to do, and as such offer limited scope for learning or creativity. But many of those products, like the Sphero smartphone-controlled robotic ball, are themselves the outcome of bedroom tinkering and garage prototyping.
So if you see your children or grandchildren as being among the next generation of gadget inventors, here are some gift ideas to get the creative electrons flowing.
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The Electro-Fashion Cat kit (kitronik.co.uk) provides a gentle introduction to the world of e-textiles. Supplied as a kit comprising printed felt, thread and a few electronic parts, the Electro-Fashion Cat uses conductive thread both to assemble the cat and to wire up the components.
Completed, the stuffed cat has LED eyes that light up green when its right ear is squeezed. The cat is fun to put together and opens the world of wearable electronics to anyone with an interest in sewing.
The DIY Synth Kit (technologywillsaveus.org) is a neat baptism in building electronic circuits, the outcome in this case being a bleeping, buzzing synthesizer. The package includes everything required to build the synth except for a 9V battery. A 14-page online manual provides clear instructions with photographs throughout. My only quibble is that the kit's workings are still a mystery after the kit is built. The instructions explain that one of the dials controls the volume by electrical resistance, but the purpose of the other parts is never explained, making this more of an introduction to components than a lesson in electronics.
The Bigshot (bigshotcamera.com) is billed as a camera for education. Supplied as a kit, Bigshot builds into a fully-featured digital camera with LCD display, a choice of three lenses and a hand crank for battery-free use. Assembly instructions are clearly laid out in around 50 steps, all illustrated with clear photographs. Soldering is unnecessary as all of the electronic parts have connectors that snap together. A transparent rear panel keeps the inner workings visible after assembly and a website encourages kids to get creative with their photography once the camera is up and running.
There may be smaller cameras with more memory and higher resolution screens available for a similar price, but nothing will help children understand what's actually going on inside the camera as well as the Bigshot.
Electro-Fashion Cat (£18) 4/5
DIY Synth Kit (£15) 3/5
Bigshot camera (£69.99) 5/5