Wondering what to get the tinkerer in your life this holiday season? Whether they are a young inventor in training or a lifelong hardware hacker, Arduino boards and accessories make for perfect creative gifts!
In this article we will cover various Arduino-related gift ideas. Whether the person you are buying for is a total beginner, or a seasoned microcontroller expert — there is something here for all ages and levels. If you aren’t sure what an Arduino is, this guide gives a good clear explanation along with some examples of how they can be used.
1. Start at the Start…er Kit!
An Arduino is a perfect gift for anyone creative, as they can be used in so many different ways. The simplest way to get someone started is to buy a pre-made starter kit (UK) which provides all of the components needed — along with the Arduino board itself. Most starter kits contain similar items, though this guide should help you pick out which one would make the perfect gift.
2. Doing It by the Book
If someone is new to tinkering with microcontrollers, it can sometimes seem a little overwhelming, and while there are many great online beginner tutorials, there are also some great books out there too.
The Arduino Project Handbook is a perfect beginners guide to all things Arduino. Clear photographs and wiring diagrams take the reader through 25 different projects, and provides clear easy to follow steps from simple projects through to more complex systems. A full review of the book can be found here, and it is available to purchase directly from No Starch Press.
Next up we have the near ubiquitous For Dummies book (UK) — this time in Arduino form. While it also begins with the very basics, some of the later projects are a little more ambitious. With clear photographs of examples throughout, it is another great choice for people new to the world of tinkering.
The third choice here is for the smaller inventor in your life. Sylvia’s Super Awesome Project Book (UK) is an Arduino guide aimed at children aged 8–12 years old. Full of great projects, the book also explains the basics of what microcontrollers are, along with vibrant drawings and characters to guide the reader through their early days of building. A book for the future family inventor!
3. Add a Screen to the Mix
A great addition to an Arduino toolkit is a screen to get feedback directly from the board. Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) are cheap and low voltage, and perfect for use with any Arduino or similar microcontroller, and open up a whole range of new possibilities. Any LCD that is compatible with the Hitachi HD44780 chipset will in principle work, though the most common 16×2 displays are cheap and compact, and available on Amazon.
If you want to take it up a notch, Adafruit make a full colour touch screen shield compatible with most full sized Arduino boards. Capable of complex vector graphics, displaying photos, and touchscreen painting amongst many other things, it also has a MicroSD slot to load images directly. Adafruit stock both resistive and capacitive touch versions at around $35 and $45, respectively. If you aren’t sure which type of screen would work better for you perhaps this guide will help you decide.
4. Take the Prototyping Up a Notch
Prototyping using a breadboard is perfect for trying new things out and testing that they work, but what happens when you’ve settled on your design and it works? Protoboard is a great stopgap between breadboard prototyping and etching your own printed circuit boards. A protoboard is essentially a circuit board covered in holes with copper contacts, allowing you to solder components directly to it, and use solder or wire to connect up the circuit. A packet of small yet practical boards are available from AliExpress for just $2.55 for 10, or if time is of the essence and you need it quicker, similar boards can be bought from Amazon for $3.47 for 10 (CA/UK).
If you are worried about what size Protoboard to buy — why not let the receiver choose? Sparkfun sell a snappable Protoboard which allows the user to cut the board down to whatever size — or shape — they desire. While a little more expensive than the other boards listed, the flexibility these boards give make them unique, and the board can be broken into various pieces to suit different projects.
For many people robots are the coolest things in the world, and these people are clearly correct. There are many great robot building kits to choose from, with an incredible amount of variety. In this instance, we are recommending the Makeblock Ultimate Robot kit. Compatible with both Arduino and Raspberry Pi (we also have some fantastic gift ideas for Pi users too), it’s a very comprehensive kit allowing many different types of robots to be built. From remote controlled cars, to camera wielding tanks, to a drink pouring robot butler — this kit has the motors, sensors, and everything in between a person needs to get into robotics.
6. Make It Wireless!
Arduino boards come in many shapes and sizes now, though one thing many of them lack is the ability to communicate wirelessly. Happily, there is a very cheap solution to get Arduino boards to talk to one another — wireless transceiver modules (CA/UK). They are available from Amazon in packets of 10 for $10, and free the Arduino from needing to be attached to a computer. This allows the board to be left in place to do specific tasks such as watering your plants, or to create wireless joysticks for your creations, or even, create your own DIY smart home system
While these modules are fantastic value, to give them as a gift you would have to know that the recipient already owns several microcontrollers to use them with. There is however, a new kid on the block.
The NodeMCU (also known as the ESP8266) is fully arduino compatible, and comes with Wi-Fi connectivity built in. It’s small enough to use in almost any project, and cheap enough to buy several of for connected projects. It’s available from Amazon for $8.79 (£4.19) or if you are willing to wait a little longer, from AliExpress for just $2.92. This clever little board would make an impressive addition to anyone’s Arduino arsenal.
7. DIY Smart Home Kit
Home automation, or smart homes, are gaining in popularity, with devices appearing both in hardware stores worldwide, and in popular culture on TV shows such as Mr. Robot (First Season on Amazon, CA, UK). One of the strengths of microcontrollers such as the Arduino is that they allow us to create our own smart home systems, usually for a much lower cost.
At it’s simplest a home automation setup requires a relay to allow control over larger powered items (such as lights, wall switches and appliances), and a way of accessing these things via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. For under $20 you can buy both an 8 channel relay and a Bluetooth transceiver which can be accessed from a smartphone to control, well — almost anything!
8. Making It From Scratch
While most of these ideas have been for beginners, what would be a good gift for someone who has already been working with Arduino for some time? Building an Arduino from scratch is a great project, and much cheaper than you’d imagine. There are many benefits to building a “DIYduino”, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of how the platform works, you can design the board any shape you like, and integrate parts of your system directly into the board rather than having separate modules. This guide contains all the parts you will need along with how to put it all together to create a totally personally flavoured Arduino.
9. You’ve Got the Skills, Now Show Them!
Finally, if you know someone is already working with Arduino, why not let them show it off? As well as a huge range of components and development boards, the Arduino store has T-shirts, mugs, and buttons for sale at a variety of prices. The perfect gift for the Arduino lover in your life!
This guide should help you choose a gift for any curious mind, and allow you to give the gift of creativity to someone this holiday season!
Are you planning on buying something Arduino related for a loved one? Are you an Arduino user yourself and know exactly what you’d love to receive? Let us know your ideas for Arduino based gifts in the comment section below!