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, see our introduction to Arduino and beginner’s guide to Arduino.
1. Start With an Arduino Starter 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 which provides all of the components needed — along with the Arduino board itself. Most starter kits contain similar items, though our starter kit 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 and beginner Arduino projects, there are also some great books out there too.
The Arduino Project Handbook is a perfect beginner’s guide to all things Arduino. Clear photographs and wiring diagrams take the reader through 25 different projects, and easy to follow steps start with simple projects through to more complex systems.
Next up we have the near ubiquitous Arduino For Dummies. 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’s 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 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, and there are many display options to choose from. Adding a screen not only lets you get data from your sensors, it opens the Arduino up to becoming a retro gaming machine in its own right! Anyone for Pong?
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 our guide on capacitive versus resistive touchscreens 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.
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.
5. Remote Control Car Kit
Remote control cars are the ultimate toy, and lovers of these pint sized racers spend hours upon hours tweaking and tuning them. Why not take that process even further and let your loved one build their own? There are many pre-made kits available for building a mini zoom machine from scratch, which as well as a cool learning process results in a fully functional remote controlled car in return for the hard work put in!
The Adeept Smart Car Kit provides the building blocks for a car which can be either remote controlled, or left in an automatic mode which avoids objects in its path using its front mounted distance sensor. The kit also comes with pre-prepared code so it is perfect for beginners, though more experienced DIY-nicks can get involved and create their very own programming too. Who knows, maybe your home will house a truly smart car this Christmas!
6. Arduino Robots!
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 recommend the Makeblock Ultimate Robot kit.
Compatible with both Arduino and Raspberry Pi (gift ideas for Raspberry Pi users), 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.
7. Make It Wireless!
Arduino boards come in many kinds 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.
Available in packets of 10 (or less), they 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 and DIY smart home lock.
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, the Arduino killer.
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.
8. 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. One of the strengths of microcontrollers such as the Arduino is that they allow us to affordably create DIY smart home systems (like the smart home in Mr. Robot).
At its 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 a relay module and a Bluetooth transceiver which can be accessed from a smartphone to control almost anything.
9. 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.
Our DIY Arduino guide outlines all the parts you need along with how to put it all together to create a totally unique Arduino.
10. 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! Arduinos are great for learning and tons of fun.