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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, to assembling and programming your own RC car, there’s STEM toys aiming 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 2020 for developing both mechanical & electrical engineering, creative design and programming skills.
Last update on 2020-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
First up in our review of the best engineering toys for adults is Vex IQ. This kit is a great way to encourage creative design as it gives you the freedom to build your own robots, machines and contraptions. The components are similar to K’Nex and Lego in that they easily snap together, which makes experimenting with designs easier.
However, if you need of a little inspiration, you can access instructions to 8 cool builds on the website. Additionally, you can also head over to the forum for some more great ideas or to ask any questions you might have. This is one of the things we really love about Vex, the after-sale support and general community are fantastic!
The Hexbug Vex IQ set features over 750 parts with some advanced robotics hardware. At its core is the Vex Robot Brain, a powerful processor with 12 self configuring ports for connecting servos & motors.
The servo motors themselves are called ‘Smart Motors’ and are fitted with their own processors and other technology, giving them amazing precision and allowing feedback to be sent to the brain. The sensors also feature some industry leading technology, with touch, light and color sensors included in the package. Make no mistake people, this is way more than just a toy!
Programming your creations can be done either with a simple graphical, drag and drop UI or with the more complex ROBOTC – a C based text language. You can find out more about this aspect in our article on the best robotics kits for adults.
The only downside of this kit is that the electrical components are all pre-assembled. Therefore, there isn’t much scope to develop electrical engineering skills, with more of a focus on the mechanical side of things. However, if this is the branch you are interested in then Vex is a great choice! If not, then read on for our suggestion of a great electrical engineering toy for adults.
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 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 amount of rotational joints present in the arm, so 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 off 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 as well as high-end servo motors. The result being it can lift 200-250 grams with decent accuracy. Additionally, it also moves with 6 DOF so has has excellent flexibility, whilst many other similar robotic arm sets on the market only offer 4 DOF.
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 with the Playstation-styled remote, through IOS/Android mobile Apps or even with 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 assist beginners. Furthermore, more experienced coders can also connect a Raspberry Pi or Ardunio Microcontroller to create more complex programs for the arm. 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 cheaper on the market, but this would likely be at the cost of one of the above points.
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 here.
Controlling the car can be achieved by simply using the infrared remote, with the phone App or through 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 it’s 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 so 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 between the two being that SunFounders operates with a Raspberry Pi – a micro computer similar to Arduino. Raspberry Pi kits are also very popular, but we will not go into them in this article. You can find a detailed review of the SunFounder Smart Video Car here.
Engineering Kits for Adults Summary
Whether your interest is in mechanical or electrical engineering adults sets, we hope you have found the kits featured here interesting. Our aim was to show you that these are way more than just ‘toys’, they are educational tools that can be used to develop skills, prototype designs and more!
If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences, please leave a comment below and a member of our team will be happy to help. Thanks for reading.
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 fantastic options to start learning these skills. You may also want to checkk out our guide to robotics kits for adults.
Can I learn robotics on my own?
Yes! There are so many options these days, 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 knowledgable 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!