Technology within the toy industry is advancing at an astonishing rate. Computing power that many years ago could have cost thousands of dollars is now available for a fraction of the cost in tiny toys that fit the palm of your hand. For the first time AI (well, not true AI) robots are moving out of research labs and into peoples lives. Not as helpers, carers or apocalyptic killing machines, but as lovable robot toys.
You are never ‘too old’, ‘too mature’ or ‘too smart’ to play with toys. Not only because they are a massive amount of fun, but because they are a great way to learn new skills. Skills which could one day land you a job!
It’s estimated that between 2014 and 2024 the number of jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) fields will grow by 17%. Conversely, non-STEM jobs are set to grow just 12%. But the benefits don’t stop there, STEM skills could also boost your earnings! This is where STEM toys for adults come into play – pun intended.
STEM toys are educational toys that teach fundamental principles about science, technology, engineering and math. They may be designed for beginners, but don’t let that throw you off! Many of the toys start with the basics, but have scope to move into some really advanced concepts.
Our first recommended STEM toy for adults is the revolutionary Mindstorms EV3 set from Lego. This kit gives you the power to create your own fully functioning robots, contraptions and machines. Complete with servo motors, infrared sensors, colour sensors, touch sensors and the powerful ARM9 processor, Mindstorms is so much more than just a toy!
Download the app and bring your creations to life by programming them with Lego’s intuitive drag-and-drop software. Then step things up with the more advanced programming software for PC/Mac. However, this software has it’s limitations and we suggest updating the EV3’s firmware if you want to create more complex commands. You can find out more on this in our main article on the best robotics kits. Whilst Mindstorms is primarily for developing engineering and robotics, it’s also a great coding toy for adults.
The set comes with build instructions for 5 robots with a further 12+ fan builds on the website, but the rest is up to your imagination. However, if you’re in need of a nudge in the right direction there are many guides and idea books available.
Additionally, the active Lego Mindstorms online community is a great resource for ideas, support or just to show off your designs. Check out the video compilation of the awesome things fans have made. You’ll soon realize why we recommend Lego Mindstorms made our list this year!
If you are looking for a more budget friendly STEM toy for adults, the Makeblock DIY Starter Kit is a great place to start. Similar to Mindstorms this set is all about building and programming your own robots. The starter kit comes with building instructions for 2 models: a robot tank and a 3 wheeled robot car. However, there are are many add-ons if you want to expand and build more!
Additionally, the components of Makeblock kits are all metal and so might be a bit more durable than other kits. They also provide spare screws and nuts which is great.
Makeblock is a great way to learn how to control physical objects using sensors, all through programming the Arduino Micro Controller board. This can be done in several ways. Firstly with Scratch 2.0 – a simple drag-and-drop based interface which involves dropping blocks of code into your desired sequence. This is a great way to learn the fundamentals.
The downside of this is that graphical code sequences can become limiting if you want to create more complex programs for your robots. However, you can also run text based coding languages on Arduino like C or C++, which are more dynamic and efficient. All in all, we think Makeblock are great coding toys for adults for those with a smaller budget.
Cozmo is the robot companion who seems to have fallen straight out of a Disney movie. Anki have worked with top animators to create hundreds of emotions, voice tones and facial expressions. What’s more, with state of the art facial recognition software Cozmo is able to recognise you, your friends and even your pets. When Cozmo calls your name and nudges you to play, you’ll have a hard time believing the robot isn’t alive!
Download the app and play games to unlock new experiences and modes. The more you play the more Cozmo will develop a unique personality – you really feel like Cozmo is your friend! With the ability to adapt and change in response to the environment, Anki’s creation is moving us ever closer to true AI for the masses.
And we haven’t even got to the fun part yet! The Cozmo Software Development Kit (SDK) is where the magic really begins. With the SDK Anki put the power in your hands to develop your own custom software for Cozmo. Some example scripts are provided including turning Cozmo into an alarm clock, teaching him to sing a scale or patrol the room for intruders. But the rest is up to your inner creative…
With access to higher level functions like the vision system, localization system, animation & behaviour systems and path & motion planners, there are tons of possibilities. Cozmo can also connect to third party APIs like Twitter and IFTTT which further expands what you can do. For example, you could tweet Cozmo to turn on your smart lights, or program him to show an umbrella animation when it rains!
Furthermore, the SDK uses Python which is one of the most widely used and dynamic programming languages. So you can also build a valuable and transferable skill by experimenting with the SDK. This is why Cozmo makes such a great coding toy for adults. Anki have given us an affordable robot with high-tech hardware that was previously only available in research labs. We can’t wait to see how Cozmo will help to advance robotics in the future!
Last on our list of STEM toys for adults is CoDrone by Robolink. This innovative kit enables you to build a remote and program your own drone. The easy to follow online video tutorials will show you how to assemble the electrical components which make up the remote.
Then you can learn how to code by using Arduino to program your own flight paths! This is also taught through video tutorials which teach fundamental coding concepts such as inputs and loops. Additionally, the Arduino coding language is composed of C and C++ which are both widely used languages. So again, you are building a valuable skill with real world applications. This is why we recommend Codrone as one of the best programming toys for adults.
Codrone is not just a kids toy, but a real working drone with a range of up to 160 ft. It’s also full of technology to improve flight performance including a barometer, IR sensor, and a special optical flow sensor. The only downside is a fairly short battery life, but for the price this is to be expected. After all, this is a learning resource as much as a toy…
That said, with version 2.0 Robolink added the option to easily fit replacement motors if yours burn out. You can also buy a camera add on! It’s clear that Robolink are listening to users and fixing any bugs or adding new features. Combined with the extensive online video tutorials and resources, we think this demonstrates the company actually cares about creating a great experience. Hence why we have recommended them!
Summary of the Best STEM Toys for Adults
We hope that after reading this article we have opened your eyes to the potential of STEM toys. They are a great way to learn valuable skills like coding, engineering and computing, which ultimately can make you more employable. We will update our list with any new coding & programming toys for adults, so make sure to keep checking back! However, if you are looking for more suggestions you might enjoy our article on the top STEM toys for learning to code or the best robotics kits.