Parallax Holiday Gift-Giving Guide 2019

 A Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

Having trouble deciding on the perfect gifts for family and friends? This 2019 Gift Guide has some of our absolute favorite products for you to choose from, suitable for programmers of any experience level. Beginners will love the BlocklyProp-compatible kits and boards, and those with a bit more experience might enjoy testing out the brand-new Propeller 2 microcontroller or adding a LaserPING rangefinder to a New Years project! Read on for more recommendations from the Parallax crew.

Name of Parallaxian Their Recommended Product Why They Love It
Andy Lindsay showing off his AB360.
Andy Lindsay
Applications Engineer
ActivityBot 360 Robot Kit
ActivityBot 360° Robot Kit (#32600)

For someone 14 and up, I'd definitely pick the ActivityBot 360° Robot Kit as a holiday gift! It's the best way to get started with one of the easiest programming languages ever: BlocklyProp. That's the Blockly programming language you might have heard about through the Hour of Code event, but specially designed for the 360°. If you want a more sophisticated programming language, you can also program it in C.  

The tutorials at learn.parallax.com take you step-by-step through building it, programming it, and making it navigate. You'll build systems for detecting physical contact, distance to an object, light levels, and reflection of infrared. Along the way, you will have learned a great deal about building circuits and how to program. You'll also have learned a lot about prototyping and automating an invention of your own.

The ActivityBot 360° is also a very capable robot. The Feedback 360° Servo motors run 2x normal speed and have a positional feedback system managed by the Propeller 1 - an unbeatable combination. When you use a single Blockly tile (or C function call) to set robot speed, one of the ActivityBot's microcontroller cores goes to work checking servo position and adjusting each servo motor's speed 50 times every second to make sure it has traveled the correct distance at any instant. The prototyping area also has more features, like SD card, audio amplifier, and extra ports for more motors/sensors for a wider variety of custom projects than you can do with any of the others. Altogether, it's a great combo.

Bonnie Teuton showing off her favorite FLiP Try-it Kit experience.
Bonnie Teuton
Human Resource Manager
FLiP Try-it Kit
FLiP Try-it & Invention Kit (#32023)

Like most of the Parallax employee kids, my 6th grader was eager to get started with our products.  I knew that I needed to start at the very beginning since I'm more of a labor law and benefits admin type person versus an engineer. So my son and I got started with the prerequisites outlined on the Learn site for the FLiP Try-It & Invention Kit using BlocklyProp on a Chromebook. 

We started together, learning, laughing, and making mistakes along the way. I returned to labor law and benefits as he has moved forward into the projects (with his little sister eagerly waiting for her turn). I recommend the FLiP Try-It & Invention Kit because I saw the enthusiasm of my son using it!

Stephanie Lindsay displaying her artwork controlled by the LaserPING.
Stephanie Lindsay
Product and Documentation Manager
LaserPING 2m Rangefinder
LaserPING 2m Rangefinder (#28014)

The LaserPING 2M Rangefinder was the perfect sensor for completing my first interactive art project, a proof of concept I've named "True Colors." I have long wanted to make an interactive artwork that responds to and rewards the viewer's attention. I used the LaserPING because it allowed me to create a more nuanced response to the viewer depending on how close they come to the artwork.

From a distance, the quiet stack of gray squares reveals little. Come closer and two squares shift slightly to offer a flash of color. Even closer, and a few more slivers appear. Up really close, the piece rewards the viewer's interest as the panels turn and the piece blooms, revealing bits of its bright red base. Retreat from the piece, and the squares recompose themselves into their ordered gray arrangement, keeping the colors hidden until the next viewer takes a closer look.

I recommend the LaserPING Rangefinder as a useful sensor for anybody’s art, robot or learning kit. It’s a versatile sensor and supported by BlocklyProp, where I wrote the code for this piece. See the True Colors art project.  

Aiden Taylor, intern, posing with part of his Inventing Security Add on Kit project.
Aiden Taylor
Intern
Inventing Kit Security Add-on Pack
Inventing Kit Security Add-on Pack (#32002)

I have the opportunity to work with almost every product we make at Parallax. Recently, I had a great time creating the Carnival Game Megaproject (see the video). Carnival Game Megaproject is a series of cardboard "houses" that the user interacts with physically and visually. You won't know the purpose of the game until you get started and eventually collect three numbers for a passcode. Enter the numbers on the keypad and you're rewarded with candy!

I used the Inventing Kit Security Add-On Pack to do this project because it includes RFID Reader and tags, a keypad, the LaserPing, a PIR and all the components to build the circuits. You'll also need the FLiP Try-It & Invention Kit (mentioned above, by Bonnie) because it includes the microcontroller. Let me know what you think of my Carnival Game Megaproject, too!   

Chip Gracey next to his brand-new P2 Evaluation Board.
Chip Gracey
Parallax Founder and Chief of R&D
P2 Eval Board
Propeller 2 Evaluation Board (#64000-ES)

I really am pleased with how the Propeller 2 turned out after a 14-year effort. After many twists and turns, and much involvement from so many on our P2 forum, we've now got our own spaceship to fly around in! The P2 is going to be a vehicle of invention for easily the next 20 years. I'm really looking forward to being able to program it, at last.

There's a huge expanse to explore that stretches way beyond the horizon. The Propeller 2 Evaluation Board is the fastest way to get started with the P2, but software tools are still in development. 

Jeff Martin and his STOP Light game, programmed with the FLiP.
Jeff Martin
Senior Software Engineer
Propeller FLiP Module
FLiP Multicore Module (#32123)

The Propeller FLiP is my trusty solution to many of my needs. I use the FLiP multiple times a week for simple tests across different platforms- it's small, easy to carry, and can be USB-powered.  With its integrated LEDs for communication/power/code status, plus rugged easy-to-access I/O pins, and even a reset button, I find it has everything I need for most of my breadboarded prototyping tasks.

I recently used the FLiP to build a STEM-themed project for my daughter's school harvest festival.  Made of cardboard, RGB LEDs, wire and spring, my "Stop Light" game is an engaging FLiP-powered challenge for kids and adults.  Try to stop the speeding light within the target! I programmed the FLiP for this game easily with BlocklyProp, allowing me to visually demonstrate the code to those interested and encourage them to change the behavior with a few mouse clicks.  The Stop Light sits in the Parallax museum of history after surviving more than 400 kids! The FLiP is still going strong; runs perfectly every time we power it up. The FLiP Multicore Module is my strongest recommendation!

Ken Gracey playing his clarinet, keeping tempo with the Metronome he designed on the ABWX.
Ken Gracey
Parallax CEO
Propeller Activity Board WX
Propeller Activity Board WX (#32912)

The most versatile product we make at Parallax is the Propeller Activity Board WX - which is my certain recommendation as a gift! I use these in almost every project I do because it has everything I need: a Propeller 1, XBee/WiFi socket, power supplies, breadboard, audio amplifier, servo/sensor connections - and it’s all supported in BlocklyProp (my “goto” language)! With the Propeller Activity Board I’ve made an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) to navigate large lakes, a tuner for my clarinet studies, and most recently the Visual Metronome project.

I made the Visual Metronome because my biggest challenge of learning to play clarinet music is keeping time. When my teacher stands behind me and yells “one-and-two-and” in a cut-time format I play well but you can’t always have the instructor yelling the counts behind you, so I made the Visual Metronome to replace him with a highly-visible beat. In 4:4 timing, blue is the first beat and the other three are white.

If you give the Propeller Activity Board as a gift, you can buy it alone or get it in the very popular ActivityBot 360° Robot Kit (Andy’s pick). Be sure to get some sensors, too!