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! These 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 2017 for developing both mechanical & electrical engineering, design and programming skills.
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 it’s 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.
A great way to develop the electrical engineering branch is with an Arduino based robotics kit, such as Elegoo. Ardunio is an open-source platform used for building and programming all types of electronics projects. Its 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 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.
The difficulty of assembly will depend on the version you have purchased. Version 1.0 features many pins on the circuit board, allowing you to customize your car with additional sensors for more functions. However, the downside of this is that if you wire it all up incorrectly you could burn out your sensors and boards. Therefore, we recommend V1.0 if you have some prior experience. In version 2.o they have added XH2.54 interfaces to the circuit boards. This simplifies the process as wires can only slot into specific places. However, you will not be able to customize your car any further. That said, Elegoo do sell their parts separately, so you could buy the V2.0 board and their 37 in 1 sensor expansion pack after you get to grips with things!
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 it’s 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 SunFounders Smart Video Car here.
Engineering Toys for Adults Summary
Whether your interest is in mechanical or electrical engineering, we hope you have found the toys 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 and prototype designs. 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.