The holidays are upon us, affording us techno-geeks the perfect opportunity to share our love of science with the kids in our lives -- not to mention treating ourselves with the kinds of techno-gifts that didn't even exist back when we were writing our own letters to Santa Claus.
So today, we're going to take a look at some of the coolest robot toys out there. This list includes a selection of mechanical marvels that may surprise you with their capabilities. While all the robots listed here come fully assembled, there are a ton of DIY kits out there too, which add a whole other dimension to techno-play (stay tuned for a separate article on robot kits). From the littlest tykes to the most mature folks on your gift list, there's something here for everyone.
Cozmo: With an evolving personality based on user interaction, Cozmo’s expressive face seems alive in ways that you may have only seen in the movies. This little guy can challenge kids to play games with its interactive Power Cubes, or show them what things look like from his perspective via Explorer Mode. A free iOS/Android app brings Cozmo to life. It also comes with Code Lab, a platform for new coders to learn programming. It's a number-one bestseller on Amazon, with a lithium-ion battery included. New for 2017, there's also a Collectors Edition version that's the same robot at the same price -- but with a sleek liquid metal finish.
Age range: 8 years and up. Price (each): $149.99.
Teach ‘N Tag Movi: This robot for the youngest set is designed to teach preschool skills through play. Over 60 different facial expressions, 360 degrees of mobility and multiple play modes. It's part of Fisher-Price’s Think & Learn series, and an Amazon’s Choice product. Four “C” batteries are included.
Age range: 3-6 years. Price: $49.99.
Bit: An award-winning, pocket-sized coding robot. Measuring 6x3x9 inches, Bit uses optical sensors to respond to the OzoCode color-coding system -- once mastered, budding programmers can move up to the block-based OzoBlockly editor. It's available in both cool blue and crystal white versions and a lithium-polymer battery is included.
Age range: 6-10 years. Price: $59.00 (currently available for pre-order; to be released Dec. 1).
Evo: Another award-winning coding robot that’s similar to Bit, but smaller and smarter. It adds a proximity sensor, and can also be connected to an iOS/Android app for play and exploration. About the size of a golf ball, Evo measures just 1.2 inches all around (height/width/depth) and weights just 1.2 pounds. Lithium-ion battery included.
Age range: 8-14 years. Price: $99.00.
Mebo 2.0: The Mebo could serve as your robot interface to the rest of the world -- real-time audio and video are streamed back to a user controlling it remotely, Wi-Fi connectability means it can be controlled from anywhere in the house and its built-in microphone can be used to give it a voice. It features a five-axis, precision-controlled arm and a tank-track system for mobility. A lithium polymer battery is included.
Age range: 8 years and up. Price: $149.99.
R2-D2: How can you go wrong with a robot offering “emotive waddles” as one of its features? Kids can use a smart device for triggering a host of iconic R2-D2 moves. And the little guy will even react if you have him by your side to watch “Star Wars” films. The Sphero Edu app can also be downloaded for coding with character-specific commands. This device is an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award winner for 2017 and number-one new release on Amazon. Lithium polymer batteries are included. (Note: There's also R2-Q5, the Empire's version of R2, with more or less the same specs and a decidedly darker color scheme. It's currently available exclusively at Best Buy).
Price: R2-D2, $179.99 R2-D5, $199.99.
BB-8 and BB-9E: Droids from the more recent “Star Wars” films, one from the Resistance and the other from the Dark Side, are also available from Sphero. Both feature smart device control along with autonomous “patrolling” modes, holographic simulation of “Star Wars” environments and the ability to interact with other Sphero Droids. 100-foot Bluetooth range. Lithium polymer batteries are included with purchase.
Ollie: A cylindrical robot bookended by two nubby tires, Ollie has a tough polycarbonate shell and is designed for all-terrain maneuvers. At 14 mph, Sphero says it can travel “faster than you.” iOS/Android apps control speed, acceleration, turn radius and more. Lithium-polymer battery is included.
Age range: 8-14 years. Price: $99.99.
Sphero 2.0 and Sphero Mini: Similar to Ollie in terms of speed and durability, the Sphero 2.0 “app-enabled ball that does it all” has over 30 iOS/Android apps available for gameplay. Two ramps are included for obstacle-course building. Also available is the Mini, at less than half the size of the 2.0, it's like a robotic ping pong ball. The Mini adds a “Face Drive” feature that gets the ball moving in response to your expressions. Lithium-polymer battery is included.
Price: Sphero 2.0, $129.99; Mini, $49.99.
First Order Stormtrooper Robot: Another cool interactive "Star Wars" bot. You can issue orders via voice commands, create a facial recognition database and use the Augmented Reality companion app for first and third person immersive views. On its own, it can detect and avoid objects via infrared sensor, locate the source of a sound via triple-array microphone and patrol a designated area in Sentry Mode. Lithium-ion battery is included.
Age range: 14 years and up. Price: $299.99 (currently available for pre-order; to be released Dec. 10).
Dot: An award-winning robot packaged as part of a creativity kit that includes 10 costumes, over 100 stickers and 20 project cards, it can play games like Duck Duck Goose and Hot “Dotato.” The robot interfaces with iOS/Android/Kindle devices, and is designed to teach fundamental coding skills. Lithium-ion battery is included.
Age range: 6-10 years. Price: $79.99.
Dash: A turquoise tri-wheeler that’s responsive to its world. Brought to life through iOS/Android apps with built-in challenge tutorials for programming instruction, it can respond to voice commands, navigate objects, sing and dance -- you name it. Also comes with attachments for LEGO and LEGO Technic bricks. Dash is an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winner for 2016, and an Amazon’s Choice product. Lithium-ion battery is included.
Age range: 8 years and up. Price: $149.99.
Age range: 11-15 years. Price: $199.99.
BotSquad: GRiP can build your world, while Joe Plow can knock it down. And both, with their construction-truck appearances, are designed to keep kids entertained in the process. It's compatible with major toy brick brands and requires AAA batteries.
Age range: 4-15 years. Price: GRiP, $49.99; Joe Plow, $29.99 (both are Amazon exclusives).
CHiP Robot Dog: With an adaptive personality shaped by user interaction, CHiP is capable of a number of tricks that rival that of a real dog. The user-worn SmartBand allows him to recognize and follow you, he can play fetch with his SmartBall and when low on battery, he automatically returns to his SmartBed to recharge. It can be controlled with an iOS/Android app, but also works without one. Batteries are required.
Age range: 6-15 years. Price: $199.99.
Chippies Robot Dogs: This family of smaller puppies (Chipper, Chippette and Chippo) will sing together in a “pack,” and can also interact with their big brother CHiP, if he's a member of the household too. Different reactions are produced by head pets and the remote control can be used for singing, dancing, rolling and tail-chasing. Four AAA batteries are required but not included.
Age range: 4-15 years. Price: $39.99.
Elmoji Junior Coding Robot: That's not a typo -- "Elmoji" is the intersection of Sesame Street's Elmo character and those ubiquitous emoji characters, with which the bot can be programmed. Three AAA batteries are required but not included.
Age range: 4-15 years. Price: $59.99.
MiP and MiP Mini:This award-winning humanoid robot balances on its dual-wheel base through gyros and a pendulum-based system. It also responds to gestures, detects sounds and speaks a gibberish language -- called “MiPish,” of course. Like CHiP, MiP can be controlled with an iOS/Android app, but also works without one. There's also a simplified remote-control Mini Edition. AAA batteries are required.
Age range: Mini, 4-15 years; MiP, 8-15 years. Price: Mini, $19.99; MiP, $99.99.
Coder MiP: The balancing robot gets programmable through block-based coding. It's also transparent, allowing you to see its inner circuitry. Lithium battery is included.
Age range: 8-15 years. Price: $99.00.
Robosapien Blue and Robosapien X: Designed by robotics physicist Mark Tilden, the original Robosapien bot is an award-winning, programmable humanoid. Two of its current variations are the Blue, which is driven by Bluetooth, and the X, which is driven by infrared. Both are fast-moving, with fluid motions and gripper arms. There's also a simplified remote-control Robosapien Mini Edition, which could serve as a perfect complementary gift for the younger brother or sister not yet ready for the full experience. Mini requires AAA batteries and Blue and X each require 4 “D” batteries.
Age range: Mini, 4-15 years; Blue and X, 6-15 years. Price: Mini, $19.99; X, $79.99; Blue, $99.99.
Roboraptor Blue and Roboraptor X: The Roboraptors take the Robosapien concept and translate it to the prehistoric era. Personally, if I get up the nerve to tell my wife that I myself want a robot toy for Christmas, one of these would be my top choice -- I always loved dinosaurs as a kid, but my own toys never had capabilities like these. Each is 32 inches long, with fluid walking movement, sound, vision and touch sensors and different personality mood options (hunting, cautious and playful). They require AAA batteries.
Age range: 8-15 years. Price: X, $79.99; Blue, $99.99.
Hedgiez: Interactive, colorful hedgehog series. Hedgiez perform tricks when you pet their heads, or curl up and giggle when you tickle their bellies. Each has soft fur made for petting and combing and, yes, comes with its very own comb. There are eight different versions to choose from and it requires four AAA batteries.
Age range: 4 years and up. Price: $39.99.
Meowzies: Interactive kitten series with “Cattitude.” There are four different versions available and together they will socialize, play games and, of course, meow. Plus, the more you play with them, the “happier” they become. Three AAA batteries are required (not included).
Age range: 5-7 years. Price: $34.99.
Show Pony: Interactive toy designed to move just like a real pony -- if you pet her nose, she’ll nuzzle into your hand and if you wave your hand in front of her, she’ll follow you. And if you let her eat too much of her “sugar cube,” she’ll even get hyper and perform her special “sugar dance.” Also comes with apple, carrot and hair brush accessories, each of which elicits different responses. Four AA batteries are required (not included).
Age range: 5-7 years. Price: $79.99.
Zupps: Pocket-size puppies that can be held in the palm of a child’s hand. Like the Meowzies, these little fellas become “happier” the more you play with them -- pet them enough and they’ll even bark “I love you!” Leave them alone too long, though, and they’ll start to whimper to get your attention. Each version in the series (there are currently no fewer than 24 different pups) has a unique secret trick. Batteries are included.
Age range: 4-6 years. Price: $14.99.
Note: List is organized by manufacturer. Age ranges, when stated, are approximate. All prices are based on manufacturer and/or Amazon list prices, which can fluctuate -- often for the lower, especially during holiday shopping season! Happy robot hunting!