Factor’s Gift Guide: 10 Gifts for Tech-Loving Children

If you’re not sure what to buy for a science, tech or gadget-loving kid, do not fear. We have a host of options that are sure to bring delight well beyond December 25th.

Jr. Astronaut Helmet

£45 from the Science Museum Shop

jr-astronaut-helmet

For all the space cadets out there, this helmet is the perfect gift to help them blast off. With details such as an oxygen vent, pressure indicator and a button to automatically open the visor, this is a must-have for any budding astronauts. Press one of the buttons to activate a countdown with realistic blast off sounds, and enjoy the wonders of space through fresh eyes.

FUZE T2-A Workstation with Raspberry Pi

£149.99 from Fuze

fuze-t2-a-workstation-with-raspberry-pi

Any kid out there with an interest in programming is sure to appreciate this. Combining the simplicity of the Raspberry Pi Version 3 with a whole host of other gear from FUZE, this is a great kit to get kids into computing at an earlier age.  Pre-loaded with FUZE BASIC, and coming with the FUZE BASIC Programmer’s Reference Guide, this is perfect for any young Turings out there.

Y Flyer Red

£129.99 from Yvolution

y-flyer

The all-new release from Yvolution, the Y Flyer Red features a fun and unique forward propelling motion with a sort of bike-scooter combination. Super grip foot plates provide ultimate control, while a quick-response handbrake ensures fast stopping. With a folding frame for easy storage and transport, the Y Flyer Red is a brand new way for your kids to get out and get moving.

ReimaGo Activity Sensor

£39 from Snow and Rock

reimago-activity-sensor

A fun new way to motivate kids to move and play outdoors, the ReimaGo is an activity sensor based on Suunto’s Movesense technology, which measures a kid’s physical activity during the day. Using an app that offers parents the ability to set rewards, and kids the chance to transform their activity scores into energy for a virtual character, the ReimaGo is sure to get little ones exercising.

Cubetto Programmable Robot

£159 from Primo

cubetto

Montessori approved, and LOGO Turtle inspired, the Cubetto is a friendly wooden robot that offers young children easily accessible programming. Powered by a playful programming language that the kids can actually touch, Cubetto offers simple access to the foundation of computing. Coming with a world map and story book, this is a toy that allows your kids to go on an adventure and also get a head start on programming.

Kurio Watch

£79.99 from F Hinds

kurio-watch

The ultimate watch for kids, the Kurio is preloaded with 20 apps for motion gaming, education and social communication. Able to take pictures, edit photos with effects, record videos, text and play music and videos, the Kurio brings everything but the kitchen sink. With a rechargeable battery and even more features than already mentioned, it’s sure to keep kids entertained and active.

Cardventures: Stowaway 52

£9.99 from Amazon

stowaway-52

Stowaway 52 is a Cardventure, an interactive story that puts players in control of the outcome as they try to score the maximum points. Set aboard an alien ship, it’s up to the players to stop the extra-terrestrial attack on Earth. A game that reinforces language and vocabulary development skills, if you’re having any trouble getting your kids reading, this is the perfect way to get them involved.

DIY Electro Dough Kit

£20 from Technology Will Save Us

diy-electro-dough-kit

If Playdough is no longer hitting the spot, here’s a gift to take it to the next level. After creating scenes and sculptures with the dough, this kit helps your kids learn how electricity works and gives them a chance to play with lights, buzzers and switches.  With hours’ worth of online resources available, you’re sure to have a host of creations to bring to life with light and sound.

4D National Geographic: Imperial China

£21.99 from Amazon

4d-national-geographic-imperial-china

The world’s first multi-layer jigsaw puzzle to teach history at the same time, this 4D puzzle combines physical puzzling with an app to make history interactive. Consisting of 613 puzzle pieces that make up a historical map and 26 model replica monuments and buildings, the learning truly begins once assembly is finished.  Kids can learn key facts through the app, view beautiful images of the monuments or even test themselves with trivia.

3Doodler 2.0 Set

£9.99 from the Science Museum Shop

3doodler

The world’s first 3D printing pen fully redesigned, the 3Doodler 2.0 is even smaller and lighter than the original. Extruding a thin, flexible filament of heated plastic that quickly hardens, the pen allows the user to draw three dimensional shapes in real time. With just a little practice and parental supervision, kids can soon be creating 3D masterpieces, working just as if they were drawing with a pen. The only limit is imagination.

Elon Musk isn't so keen on flying cars

"Obviously, I like flying things, but it’s difficult to imagine the flying car becoming a scalable solution,” Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek. “If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you.”

Source: Bloomberg

Is the woolly mammoth about to come back from extinction?

Scientists from Harvard University say they are just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant. The embryo would essentially grow to be an elephant with a number of mammoth traits.

Source: The Guardian

Congress is repeatedly warned NASA’s exploration plans aren’t sustainable

An expert panel has wanred that while NASA might have some of the right tools to launch and fly to destinations in deep space, it doesn't have the resources to land on the Moon, to build a base there or to fly humans to the surface of Mars.

Source: Ars Technica

IMAX unveils first virtual reality center

The IMAX VR center, which opened this week, houses 14 different pods, each containing different VR experiences that allow users to temporarily escape real life. One of the pods takes users to the desert planet of Tatooine, which will be familiar to Star Wars fans.

Source: Variety

Could Alexa be forced to testify in an Arkansas murder trial?

A trial is about to begin over the mysterious death of a former police officer at a home in Bentonville, Arkansas. The case is significant because it could help decide whether prosecutors should be allowed to subpoena a virtual assistant.

Source: VICE

Dwarf planet Ceres emerges as a place to look for life in the solar system

Pockets of carbon-based organic compounds have been found on the surface of Ceres. The identity of the tar-like minerals have't been precisely identified, but their mineral fingerprints match the make-up of kerite or asphaltite.

Source: New Scientist

Beyond biomimicry: Scientists find better-than-nature run style for six-legged robots

Researchers have found a running style for six-legged robots that significantly improves on the traditional nature-inspired method of movement.

The research, conducted by scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland, found that as long as the robots are not equipped with insect-like adhesive pads, it is faster for them to move with only two legs on the ground at any given time.

Robotics has in the past few years made heavy use of biomimicry – the practice of mimicking natural systems – resulting in six-legged robots being designed to move like insects. In nature, insects use what is known as a tripod gait, where they have three legs on the ground at a time, so it had been assumed that this was the most efficient way for similarly legged robots to move.

However, by undertaking a series of computer simulations, tests on robots and experiments on Drosophila melanogaster – better known as the common fruit fly – the scientists found that the two-legged approach, which they have dubbed the bipod gait, results in faster and more efficient movement.

The core goal of the research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, was to confirm whether the long-held assumption that a tripod gait was best was indeed correct.

“We wanted to determine why insects use a tripod gait and identify whether it is, indeed, the fastest way for six-legged animals and robots to walk,” said Pavan Ramdya, study co-lead and corresponding author.

Initially, this involved the use of a simulated insect model based on the common fruit fly and an algorithm designed to mimic different evolutionary stages. This algorithm simulated different potential gaits to create a shortlist of those that it deemed to be the fastest.

This, however, shed light on why insects have a tripod gait – and why it may not be the best option for robots. The simulations showed that the traditional tripod gait works in combination with the adhesive pad found on the ends of insects’ legs to make climbing over vertical surfaces such as rocks easier and quicker.

Robots, however, are typically designed to walk along flat surfaces, and so the benefits of such a gait are lost.

“Our findings support the idea that insects use a tripod gait to most effectively walk on surfaces in three dimensions, and because their legs have adhesive properties. This confirms a long-standing biological hypothesis,” said Ramdya. “Ground robots should therefore break free from only using the tripod gait”.

Study co-lead authors Robin Thandiackal (left) and Pavan Ramdya with the six-legged robot used in the research. Images courtesy of EPFL/Alain Herzog

To for always corroborate the simulation’s findings, the researchers built a six-legged robot that could move either with a bipod or tripod gait, and which quickly confirmed the research by being faster when moving with just two legs on the ground at once.

However, they went further by confirming that the adhesive pads were in fact playing a role in the insect’s tripod movement.

They did this by equipping the fruit flies with tiny polymer boots that would cover the adhesive pads, and so remove their role in the way the insects moved. The flies’ responses confirms their theory: they began moving with a bipod-like gate rather than their conventional tripod-style movement.

“This result shows that, unlike most robots, animals can adapt to find new ways of walking under new circumstances,” said study co-lead author Robin Thandiackal.

As bizarre as the research sounds, it provides valuable new insights both for roboticists and biologists, and could lead to a new standard in the way that six legged robots are designed to move.

“There is a natural dialogue between robotics and biology: Many robot designers are inspired by nature and biologists can use robots to better understand the behavior of animal species,” added Thandiackal. “We believe that our work represents an important contribution to the study of animal and robotic locomotion.”