Today's tech toys go way beyond just making noise and lighting up. Though items that drain countless batteries and offer very little in return aren't hard to find, many of today's tech toys are educational, creative, and extremely cool.
Jealous? Don't be. We found a slew of toys that are perfect for tech geeks of all ages. For this article, we're staying away from smartphones, tablets, and videogame consoles. Instead, we focus on not-so-obvious toys that you'll want for your budding tech geek—and possibly for yourself!
11. View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack
The Starter Pack includes the viewer, a preview reel, an iPhone adapter, and a user guide.
The original View-Master was like a primitive version of virtual reality, providing multi-image peeks into nature, space, and even animation. But it was very two-dimensional. The View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack ($30) works with compatible iOS and Android smartphones to put you in the middle of the action, with 360-degree views of people, animals, places, and scenery that you can almost reach out and touch. Using it is like taking a family vacation without having to leave you living room and not be there yet.
The Starter Pack comes with a preview reel that samples the six different Experience Packs (sold separately for $10 each) currently available. View-Master also sells an updated Deluxe VR Viewer ($40) that works with Google Cardboard.
10. Anki Overdrive
Racers can build up to eight battlefields in seconds with the Anki Overdrive starter kit.
This high-tech racing game will blow the doors off your old Hot Wheels set. That's because Anki Overdrive combines the concept of slot cars with robotics and artificial intelligence. Because the system is modular, you can create all sorts of custom tracks. Players then use mobile devices to race against friends, family, or "AI controlled commanders."
The starter kit ($150) works with Anki Supercars, Anki Drive cars and trucks, and a new lineup of Anki Supertrucks developed by Hollywood car designer Harald Belker (who worked on films such as Minority Report, TRON: Legacy, and the 2012 reboot of Total Recall.
9. Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar
Kids connect the segments to make Code-A-Pillar go forward, left, right, or wherever they choose.
It may not seem fancy, but Fisher-Price's Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar ($45) can teach your kids to code. It's possible to spend an entire day with this adorable larval lepidopterid, because you can connect and reconnect the segments in many, many different ways.
Once everything is in place, pressing a button will send the critter off on a path defined by the way it was put together. Three expansion packs ($15 each) add more moves, sounds, and even lights. Fisher-Price says that the Code-a-pillar is most suitable for three- to six-year-old kids.
8. Thames & Kosmos Geckobot
The Geckobot can climb windows, glass, mirrors, and other smooth vertical surfaces.
This crazy little creature can teach older kids (eight and up) about engineering and robotics. The Geckobot ($50) can even teach them about air pressure, suction, and surface texture. The wall-climbing robot uses its a motorized air suction system to scale smooth surfaces horizontally and vertically. Its battery-powered motor makes it move like a real gecko, with two feet gripping the surface while the other two find the next foothold.
The kit provides instructions for building six other projects (besides the robo-gecko) with the 176 included plastic pieces: a vacuum suction-cup gripper, a crawling inch worm, a smartphone holder, a suction tow truck and car, an ellipsograph, and a suction gun.
7. Actev Arrow Smart-Kart
The Arrow Smart-Kart includes an app that lets you remotely stop, control speed, and more.
Forget heading to the track. This electric go-kart allows you to feel the wind in your hair seven days a week. Made for mini-drivers ages five to nine, the Arrow Smart-Kart ($1,000 for the go-kart itself, plus $150 for the formula racecar body kit in red or silver) was designed by professional racers. It retains all the thrills and chills, but its built-in smart technology keeps spills to a minimum.
Besides being capable of a maximum speed of 12 mph, the Arrow has an emergency stop button, a collision avoidance feature that can detect obstacles, and geofencing to keep the car from rolling off into uncharted territory. An iOS/Android app lets kids add customized sounds and lets parents monitor activity from the sidelines.
6. HexBug Vex Robotic Arm
Once built, the Vex Robotic Arm can move and pick up objects.
Sick of feeding quarters into the claw machine? Kids of all ages can build their own with the HexBug Vex Robotic Arm kit ($50), consisting of 350 snap-together pieces. The construction process will expose kids to engineering tasks and possibly spark an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
They'll also have an awesome towering arm to show for their efforts—one that features turning gears, a 360-degree rotational crane, and an articulated claw. Enterprising young builders can use the same kit to construct a (nonflying) helicopter or a (nonambulatory) scorpion.
The Flybrix kit comes with all the components, design plans, and software you need to get flying out of the box.
Ever thought about how much fun a Lego-themed drone would be? Well, now you can find out, using Legos and a basic Flybrix kit ($169). The kit comes with everything you need to make and fly a rebuildable, crash-friendly quadcopter, hexacopter, or octocopter.
The package includes the necessary Legos, a minifig pilot, the motor, and much more. The heart of the system is a 96MHz ARM Cortex-M4 processor, along with a PCB that has a barometer, a magnetometer, several LEDs, ADC converters, an SD card slot, and Bluetooth support. Once your creation is completed, just download the free Flybrix Flight Control app for iOS and Android devices, and you'll be ready for takeoff. A joystick radio controller is available as the main draw of an $80 radio control expansion pack.
4. 3Doodler Start Essentials Pen Set
The 3Doodler is easy and safe, and uses specially developed bioplastic.
Mattel plans to release a full-on 3D printer for kids later this year. (And yes, we want that, too.) In the meantime, you can jot down a few things—and make them into real-life models.
The 3Doodler ($50) charges up via USB and uses that power to melt colorful, biodegradable plastic bars that are nontoxic, and BPA-free. As you draw, the plastic oozes out, but cools and hardens in seconds, bringing your creations to life. It's perfect for drawing on surfaces and even in the air. Additional plastic bars are available in packs of 24 for $5 a pack.
Users can create and customize video games, and share them with others.
This clever set can turn any kid into a game designer—a 13-bit game designer. Just use the included colored blocks to lay out the game on the gamerboard, snap a picture with the free app, and start playing.
The Bloxels game builder starter kit ($50) includes options for building and animating characters, developing villains, dropping in power-ups, creating obstacles, and more. Gamers can even share games using that same app, which is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire devices.
2. Sphero Force Band
The Force Band uses Bluetooth to control select robots with hand gestures.
The force to play is strong with this one. The Sphero Force Band ($80) is an add-on controller that works with Sphero robots. Young Jedi masters can use it to control the BB-8 App-Enabled Droid, the $150 robot released last year. Just strap the Force Band to your wrist and, with a few Jedi hand tricks, make your BB-8 roll all over the room at your command.
After mastering the basics of Droid Control, BB-8 will guide you through the more advanced Force Training and Combat Training. You can even use the band by itself to complete Combat Training for Blasters, Lightsabers, and the Force itself, as well as to uncover and collect digital holocrons in your environment with Force Awareness.
1. Bosebuild Speaker Cube
This kit allows you to build and personalize your own Bluetooth speaker.
Your kids may not appreciate your taste in music, but you can make them appreciate the medium with this build-it-yourself speaker kit. The Bosebuild Speaker Cube ($149) has everything you need to make a Bose Bluetooth speaker. It even includes options for personalizing it with different colors and covers.
The kit is designed to teach kids of all ages how music is made from pieces built around a simple magnet and coil. The instructions also explain how a speaker reproduces music. There's even a free app to help guide music makers along the way.
Image credits: Anki, View-Master, Fisher-Price, Thames & Kosmos, Actev, HexBug, Flybrix, 3Doodler, Bloxels, Sphero, Bose.