Since before the days of Lincoln Logs, technical toys have helped kids develop spatial abilities and construction knowledge. From Lego bricks in the 1930s to Raspberry Pi single-board computers today, such toys have been laying an educational foundation for millions of lucky children.
Though it's difficult to prove there is a link between the availability of these toys and a desire to join the engineering profession, we suspect there is one. We've pulled together a small sample of tech toys, starting from early in the last century up though today. From Tinker Toys and Erector sets to LeapPads and littleBits, we offer a short history of some of the best toys for aspiring engineers.
The Lego Mindstorms EV3, for builders 10 and older, consists of software and hardware that lets young users build 17 different programmable robots. A programmable brick controls the system, which includes modular sensors, motors, and Lego parts. Lego says the EV3 version, an enhancement of the original Lego Mindstorms concept, includes "expanded on-brick programming," as well as Android and iOS smart device integration. The programmable brick concept was created at the MIT Media Lab. (Source: The Lego Group)
I've always been lusting after the Vex line of products. The Lego Mindstorms have looked interesting, but after programming systems with 64 to 256 I/O ports, the limitations on the Mindstorm brick is too much for me. The Vex controller is more my speed, but not my budget.
Elizabeth, I am curious about what sorts of constructive toys girls play with (and what they played with in the past). Traditionally, girls played with dolls and boys played with constructive (or destructive) toys. What's your experience?
Meccano. Thats what kids in the UK had, and thats what taught them engineering and fun (that, Hornby trains, Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox cars).
I don't think you could sell Meccano today in its' original format. Health and safety regulations would be all over you, shouting "small parts" and "sharp edges" and "translate instructions into 38 European languages" etc.
Yeah, LEGO pack quite of bit of tech into this new Mindstorms EV3. One of my goals is to develop a wearables projects for a Gadget Freak article submission. I have a couple of wearable concepts rolling around in my head but haven't finalized on one yet.
Oops! I got you confuse with another Gadget Freak author based on your photo and the LED light in your hand. Yes, I'm familiar with the FLORA as I have the kit for future wearable development projects. In regards to the LEGO Mindstorms, LEDs can easily be added to the EV3 using transistor drivers wired to it's output ports. The internal speaker for the EV3 is adequate for emitting sounds programmed on the smart brick. I believe the EV3 can make an adequate platform for wearable prototyping because of ease in programming, flexible I/O ports, and the ability to connect to smartphones using bluetooth or WiFi technology. Thanks for the words of encouragment.
Not sure what you are referring to as the led lighting research project. My first gadget freak post, the wireless lanterns, was just a home project that I did because of what I initially thought was a problem with the project in MAKE magazine (they just addressed it in a different way).
On the subject of wearables, there's another product, if you haven't already seen it, called the flora, it's an arduino clone by adafruit designed specifically for wearables. I'm not sure if the mindstorms is the best choice, as wearables generally use lights or sounds, which are limited on the mindstorms, compared to most microcontrollers using ad-on boards/circuits. Either way, good luck in your making/playing with Legos.
Thanks John for the affirmation. I plan to explore the EV3 in depth as a small universal controller for not only robotics and mechatronics projects but in wearable tech applications as well. Are you still involved with your LED lighting research project and if so what develops have you made?
I definately agree with mrdon on the mindstorms. I had one of the first nxt versions, and that, despite having fewer sensors, motor types, and such was the basis of dozens or hundreds of projects totally beyond the scope of standard LEGOs or almost anything else out there. I haven't gotten to play with an ev3 yet, but based on what I've seen they're a step even further up. They're a bit pricey, but totally worth it to any parent, as I'm sure anyone else who has or had one will attest.
Could our view of distant galaxies be obstructed by a lawnmower? That unlikely question is at the heart of a growing debate between the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and a robot manufacturer that seeks to build self-guided lawnmowers.
Design News readers spoke loudly and clearly after our recent news story about a resurgence in manufacturing -- and manufacturing jobs. Commenters doubted the manufacturers, describing them as H-1B visa promoters, corporate crybabies, and clowns. They argued that US manufacturers aren’t willing to train workers, preferring instead to import cheap labor from abroad.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.