The concept of what a ‘toy' can be and do has changed rapidly over the past couple of years. Due to technological progression in computing and electronics, we have seen an explosion of innovative new educational toys hitting the shelves. From constructing and programming your own robots to building your own computers and designing games, assembling and programming your own RC car, STEM toys aim to teach it all.
However, these aren't just toys! The kits feature some really advanced hardware such as high spec processors, sensors, motors, and more. Below we give our detailed recommendation of the best engineering toys for adults in 2021. They will help you develop mechanical & electrical engineering, creative design, and programming skills.
Among many options, we think that the best all-around engineering toy for adults is Elegoo UNO R3 Smart Robot Car. It tackles most aspects of STEM – mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as coding. It’s far from being the most powerful toy on our list. Still, it’s an excellent entry-level toy that’s both affordable and fun.
- 7 Best Engineering Kits for Adults Reviewed
- Best Overall – Elegoo UNO R3 Smart Robot Car Kit
- Best Programmable Robotics Kit – LEGO Mindstorms 51515 Robot Inventor Kit
- Best Budget Option – Engino Discovering STEM Structures Constructions & Bridges
- Best for Robotics Beginners – Bristlebots Introductory Robotics Kit
- Best Electrical Engineering Kit – LewanSoul Robotic Arm
- Best Mechanical Engineering Kit – HEXBUG Build Blitz Construction Kit
- Best for Screen-Free Building – CubicFun 3D Brain Teaser Puzzles
- What to Consider When Buying Engineering Toys for Adults
- Frequently Asked Questions
7 Best Engineering Kits for Adults Reviewed
Best Overall – Elegoo UNO R3 Smart Robot Car Kit
A great way to develop the electrical engineering branch is with an Arduino based robotics kit, such as the Elegoo Smart Car. Arduino is an open source platform used for building and programming all types of electronics projects. It's basically a programmable mini-computer consisting of a micro-controller (circuit board) and some programming software.
The language used is a simplified version of the widely used C++ language, so it is great for beginners to learn the basics of coding. We won't delve much further into it in this article, but you can find a good introduction here.
This kit comes with everything you need to build and control your own robotic RC car. For the price, it also includes some pretty cool bits of hardware. There are 4 motors, 1 servo motor, an ultrasonic sensor, Bluetooth, line tracking & obstacle avoidance modules, and all circuit boards and wiring. We also like how this set includes a built-in rechargeable battery pack – we have seen other sets that do not!
You will be guided through assembly with instructions and video tutorials on the CD included in the kit. However, some users also suggest using YouTube tutorials to help with this. You can find a good one below!
Controlling the car can be achieved using the infrared remote, phone App, or manually programming functions. The language used is a simplified version of C++, and there are tutorials for some examples included to guide you through this.
For example, in Obstacle Avoidance mode, the car will automatically detect obstacles in its surroundings by emitting ultrasonic waves to detect distance. In-Line Tracking mode, you can create a path as a line and have your robot follow it with its infrared sensor.
This really is a great budget engineering toy for adults. Furthermore, once you become familiar with the Arduino, there are hundreds of other projects out there. You are opening the door to loads more possibilities. As such, it is a great learning tool.
Another great electrical engineering toy for adults is the Smart Video Car by SunFounder. The main difference is that SunFounders operates with a Raspberry Pi – a microcomputer similar to Arduino. Raspberry Pi kits are also trendy, but we will not go into them in this article.
Best Programmable Robotics Kit – LEGO Mindstorms 51515 Robot Inventor Kit
LEGO buffs won’t be surprised that the 51515 Robot Inventor Kit is our second option. To be completely honest, the only reason we didn’t kick it up to #1 is its price. The reality is that not everyone will be able to dish out a significant amount of cash for a toy, however brilliant it is.
And this latest iteration of Mindstorms really is brilliant. The fancy purple box shows five cool robots, but you can build many more than that.
Unlike its predecessor EV3, the 51515 has nearly 1,000 pieces. That’s some serious building work ahead of you! As for the robots you can build, the 14-inch tall humanoid Blast will probably be the most attractive. It can punch, hammer, shoot fire missiles, and give you high fives straight out of the box. Charlie, a cute little robot friend, will dance and play drums. (Not very pleasing to the ear, we must admit!) There are also the vehicles M.V.P. and Tricky, as well as an amazing quadruped Gello. Who needs wheels to move when you have four amazingly engineered legs?!
These robots can perform over 50 activities readily available through the app. Along with the building time, that will provide weeks of fun! If you have LEGO Boost, you can use it to enhance your Mindstorms even further.
But the coding part is where this kit truly shines. Novice programmers can resort to Scratch visual coding, which doesn’t require any special skills. Those of you who have gone past the beginner level can do full-blown line-based coding. That really opens up endless possibilities! You can program these robots to the extent of full automation. That would probably take months or even longer. If that’s not an excellent bang for the buck, I don’t know what is!
Many LEGO fans are still fervent supporters of the previous EV3 iteration. Indeed, it’s been hands down the most revolutionary consumer robotics set. Time will tell if its successor is going to beat this popularity. Anyways, the EV3 isn’t always available these days. It comes and goes out of stock, but you can definitely check it out.
Best Budget Option – Engino Discovering STEM Structures Constructions & Bridges
Have you ever wondered how bridges work? Many of them are true construction masterpieces. However, building a small bridge isn’t rocket science! All you need is Engino Construction Kit and some patience.
You don’t even need to know any laws of physics, to begin with. This set contains a bunch of components that you need to piece together, plus a booklet with building instructions for nine bridge models. It’s also available online on Engino’s website. Builders who prefer 3D instructions can download their interactive app! By following the instructions, you will learn how different types of bridges are made. Those are beam, arch, cable, truss, and suspension bridges.
However, this building kit doesn’t just teach you to assemble a structure. It also teaches you how it works – and why! In other words, it’s theory and practice at their best. You’ll figure out all kinds of forces that are at work here. If you want to test your knowledge, there are quizzes. And if you want to prolong the fun, you’ll also get a bunch of experiments!
All of the above adds to the impression that this is one of the best mechanical engineering kits for adults. Engino STEM kits still haven’t gained much popularity, but I sure hope they will. They are just fantastic for kids and curious adults alike! If you want to know how gears, pulleys, solar panels, robots, Newton’s laws or motors work, Engino is your go-to company.
Best for Robotics Beginners – Bristlebots Introductory Robotics Kit
If building sets with hundreds of pieces intimidate you, the unassuming Bristlebots could be the right option for you. It really doesn’t look like much, but that’s the beauty of it! Who would have thought you could build a functioning robot from a few household items and a motor board?!
You’ll get material for four little robots: white, yellow, green, and pink. But that’s not all there is. Once you learn how it works, you can add more items to customize them. It can even turn out into a fun contest for the whole family. Who’s going to be the quickest in assembling a bristlebot?
Once you build them all, you can have them race each other. Then reassemble them and use toothbrush heads instead of the bristles that come in the box. And if you make them new pairs of eyes and funny faces, you’re going to have a blast!
Assembling these adorable bots really isn’t hard. That’s why this is probably the best option for people who don’t have much time but still want to dip their toes in robotics.
Best of all, once you master this easy process, you can make a bristlebot from scratch. And have it clean your floor! No need to splurge cash on those costly robot vacuums! 😅
Best Electrical Engineering Kit – LewanSoul Robotic Arm
Robotic arm sets are some of the best engineering kits for adults to learn how to build and control servo motors in a fun and interactive way. Additionally, given the prolific use of robotics arms in factory automation, we also think experimenting with these sets is a great way to learn skills that could be valuable in the industry. Aside from that, they are also tons of fun!
When it comes to recommending the best robotic arm kit, one of the key considerations are the degrees of freedom (DOF). This relates to the number of rotational joints present in the arm, so it is essentially a measure of its flexibility. Another two important factors are the max payload – the mass it can lift, and the control element, i.e., is it remote-controlled, easily programmable, etc.
Based on these criteria, we believe the LewanSoul XArm is a good option. It may not be the cheapest option on the market, but the quality is very high due to the use of all metal components and high-end servo motors. The result being it can lift some 8 ounces with decent accuracy. Additionally, it also moves with 6 DOF, so it has excellent flexibility. Unlike many other similar robotic arm sets on the market that only offer 4 DOF!
The assembly of the arm is guided through a detailed 3D video tutorial. Through this process, you can learn some mechanical and electrical engineering concepts. Once the robotic arm is built, it can be controlled remotely with multiple options, including the Playstation-styled remote, IOS/Android mobile Apps, or even a mouse!
The third option is to program movements with the graphical PC software, which is good for learning coding concepts. Additional video tutorials are also provided to help beginners. Furthermore, more experienced coders can also connect a Raspberry Pi or Arduino Microcontroller to create more complex arm programs. See GitHub for more details!
Overall, we think the quality of build, programming/control options, and overall support for the LewanSoul xArm are fantastic for the price paid. Yes, you could find it cheaper on the market, but this would likely be at the cost of one of the above points.
Best Mechanical Engineering Kit – HEXBUG Build Blitz Construction Kit
If you’re into building robots but need a more wallet-friendly solution than the above Mindstorms, HEXBUG Build Blitz might be the right choice.
With this set, you can build seven designs. The most impressive is Raptor, who is driven by a smart brain. But the others are also amusing to build and control: Crane, Balancer, Racecar, Monkey, Gator, and Pinch. There are printed and online instructions for every model – check out the one for Raptor.
That’s not all there is, though. The Vex Pilot app provides many more building ideas and instructions. With 800 pieces, the set is rich with opportunities! The robots’ powerful functionality unlocks within the app, which you can use to control them. Check out the video below for a glimpse into the marvelous world of HEXBUG robots!
VEX Robotics may not have become a household name as LEGO. Still, it’s one of the most respectable consumer robotics companies globally. They even hold the largest robotics competition globally and have gained an almost cult-like following among enthusiasts.
Much as we love robotics, we have to admit that there is engineering beyond robotics! Some people just love the good old building kits that don’t feature any electronics. The Engino above is one of these kits; this CubicFun 3D is another.
In this listing, you can choose from three real-life models: the Notre Dame from Paris, Duomo di Milano, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We have only seen the latter, and it really is marvelous. True to life to the last tiny detail, it’s both an engineering feat and a collector’s item you will be proud to display. The pieces are made of 3D foam, which means you won’t need glue or extra items.
The 643 pieces take about 16 hours to assemble. At least that’s what the product description says! In reality, it will take more, what with all the errors and issues you’re bound to encounter. Note that this isn’t an easy challenge! You will need focus and patience. The great news is that you’ll feel surges of motivation and enthusiasm every step of the way. Once you complete it, you push the structure open and take a glimpse into the interior!
The only objection we have is the material. Personally, I would prefer wood over 3D foam. It’s both sturdier, more durable, and would have been much more stylish.
What to Consider When Buying Engineering Toys for Adults
Does Age Really Matter?
If you read age labels, you might find yourself a bit disheartened. Not many engineering toy manufacturers will claim adults as their preferred customer base. Ages 4 to 7, 7 to 10, 10+, those are the most common labels you’ll see.
However, this exclusivity is slowly starting to reflect reality. And the reality is that many parents buy these kits for their kids and end up using them themselves. Most engineering kits are so elaborated that they have something for everyone.
So, don’t feel guilty if you want to buy such a toy for yourself. Contrary to what most people assume, play isn’t just for kids. It has many benefits for adults too, helping us cope with daily stress and refine our cognitive skills. Moreover, you’ll end up learning so much about mechanical or electrical engineering and even coding.
How much free time do you have?
Alas, leisure has become a luxury these days. And leisure is exactly what you need for productive and fulfilling play.
So, before you spend a hefty sum of money on a super cool robotics kit for adults, make sure you have the time to actually use it to its full potential. Elaborate projects require continuous effort, even if it’s as little as half an hour each day.
Many engineering toys for adults have excellent potential for open-ended STEM learning. That’s absolutely fine, but not everyone will want to flesh out their knowledge.
Some people are in it just for fun and a few hours of de-stressing. If that’s the case, you may want to go with a cheaper option that doesn’t offer growth opportunities.
Vice versa, if you seek an engineering kit that will keep stretching out your skills, you’ll want to invest in a premium kit.
The point is, you should figure out what a kit can do for you. But also what you can do with your kit!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get started in robotics?
To get started in robotics, the key skills you will need to learn involve electrical engineering and coding (software engineering). Each of the engineering kits discussed in this article are a fantastic option to start learning these skills. You may also want to check out our guide to robotics kits for adults.
Can I learn robotics on my own?
Yes! These days, there are so many options, with incredible robotics kits that guide new learners from the very fundamentals of electric circuits to coding and beyond. There are also Beginner's Guides, such as the one from Robotics Online.
Better yet, there are boundless opportunities to learn every imaginable skill from knowledgeable YouTubers and from the companies that make these kits. Having said that, you may still improve your skills more rapidly by joining a local robotics club, where you can discuss all things robotics with likeminded people who will no doubt love to help a new learner in this exciting field.
Are robotics engineers in demand?
Yes! Incredibly so, and demand is only increasing. According to an article by MachineDesign, the first nine months of 2017 saw the highest number of orders for robots ever recorded. And all these robots need robotics engineers to make them function!
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Last update on 2021-01-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API