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PAVE’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

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As the days grow shorter, the weather gets worse, and lockdowns keep us at home, this holiday season might be in need of a little extra cheer. So PAVE is stepping up to help out, with a heaping helping of AV-inspired gifts that will bring hours of learning and holiday joy. Whether your loved ones are confirmed AV aficionados or merely robocar-curious, in need of a good read or a vacation-eating project, you’ll be sure to find something for everyone!

For those who are just beginning their journey into AV obsession, an inspiring piece of art can be the guiding light for a lifelong passion. There’s not as much AV-inspired art available as we might like to see, but we can make a few suggestions.

Art Print of Google/Waymo’s “Firefly” AV Concept, $7.99 and up from Catkuma Patent Press on Etsy. Google’s iconic “Firefly” concept opened an entire generation’s eyes to the possibilities of autonomous vehicles, and heralded the rise of modern autonomous driving technology. Catkuma Patent Press sells prints of the Firefly’s 2015 patent drawings on Etsy, in dimensions ranging from 5”x7” to 24”x36” and on a variety of backgrounds.

1982 Knight Rider Metal Lunchbox, $39.99 from eBay. It’s only art if you’re fascinated by the most important American cultural depiction of an autonomous vehicle in the last half-century, and think that being part of a Smithsonian collection can transform a lunchbox into art. Otherwise it’s just a beat-up, overpriced old metal lunchbox. Note: if this example gets sold, many others are available in a variety of conditions and prices, including some that even come with the matching Thermos flask!

Johnny Cab mug, $10.19 from Society6. Where can this mug take you tonight? Spend your coffee-sipping hours with the robocab “driver” who set the bar for creepiness so high you will probably never see a humanoid avatar in an autonomous vehicle ever again. Note: this item may not be officially licensed, and probably doesn’t qualify as “art” by any reasonable definition.

Tamiya Roborace DevBot 2.0 R/C model, $13.60 from Tamiya USA. If you haven’t been watching Roborace’s second season on Twitch, you’ve been missing out on a fascinating experience on the cutting edge of what motorsport can be. If you have been watching, now you can recreate all the most mind-blowing and just downright hilarious moments with your own radio-controlled replica of the latest DevBot 2.0 from Tamiya.

Books are another area where we’d love to see more products available, as AV-related books are still only trickling out at the pace of one or two major releases per year. We’ve pulled from our favorite releases of the last several years to provide this brief list of recommendations, covering younger readers to more advanced AV enthusiasts:

Ghost Road: Beyond The Driverless Car, by Anthony Townsend. $27.95 list price, currently on sale at Amazon. A staff favorite here at PAVE, and possibly the most thoughtful book on AVs to have come out in 2020. Townsend avoids the overwrought hype of so many futurists, providing a more holistic view of the autonomous revolution as a process rather than a singular destination, and examining its effects on a system level rather than fencing mobility off as a singular subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring the myriad possibilities unlocked by this technology.

Robot Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving, by Jason Torchinsky. $24.99 list price, currently on sale at Amazon.On the other end of the spectrum from Townsend’s serious speculation, Torchinsky’s lighthearted introduction to AVs does an admirable job of making a complex topic comprehensible to neophytes and the young at heart. Torchinsky’s wry humor and flights of speculative fancy will keep kids engaged and entertained, even as he surreptitiously slips them their educational vegetables.

Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car — And How It Will Reshape Our World, by Lawrence Burns and Cristopher Shulgan. $27.99, currently on sale at Amazon. The canonical story of the modern emergence of AV technology, from the DARPA challenges to Waymo, told by a guy who was around for a good deal of it. Former General Motors R&D boss and Google Self-Driving Car consultant Lawrence Burns turns his hand to journalism, drawing on personal experience and reporting to introduce the reader to autonomous drive technology, the people who created it and where it might go from here. A few years old now, but still a must in any AV nut’s library.

Policing The Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom, by Sarah A. Seo. $28.95 list price, currently on sale at Amazon. To understand the future it’s critical that we first understand the past, which when it comes to cars, often requires the removal of some thick rose-colored glasses. Seo, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, does precisely that in this unflinching look at how automobiles fueled an expansion of law enforcement whose impact was felt disproportionately by black Americans. This look at the far-reaching impacts of new mobility technologies provides important and sobering lessons for the road ahead.

Hobby robotics suffers from the opposite problem of our other gift categories, as an explosion of offerings provides more options than we could possibly assess. As with our other categories, we’ve tried to pull together a collection of options that can span a broad range of age and experience levels. If you’re not finding a kit at a specific skill level or would like to dive deeper into the hobby, a whole world of endless projects and learning await your next web search!

Wonder Workshop Dash Robot, $149.99 at Robot Shop. Knowing the right time to start fueling your little one’s fascination with robotics can be tough, but if you want to start as early as possible the Dash Robot is suggested for ages 5 and up. Using the simple Blockly drag-and-drop programming language (Scratch is also supported), you can program Dash to move, detect objects, express emotion and string together movement and action in increasingly complex ways.

Smart Car Cutebot, $29.95 from Adafruit (plus $14.95 for a micro:bit). Do you want to encourage an interest in robotics, but aren’t sure the person in question will actually be interested? Are the $100 and up pricetags more of a risk than you’re ready to take? The Smart Car Cutebot lets you dip a toe in at a more reasonable sub-$50 price point, including the micro:bit microcomputer which was developed by the BBC’s Make It Digital projectand can be programmed using Microsoft’s MakeCode.

Ozobot Evo for Home and Homeschool, $99 at Ozobot. If you’re looking for a step up from the micro:bit-powered Cutebot tier but aren’t ready to invest a huge amount of cash, the Ozobot Evo for Home and Homeschool gets you everything you need to get started for just $100. Though less infinitely-expandable than other kits, this one provides activities with which to learn the basics of programming using the color-coded OzoBlocky language. The dedicated smartphone/tablet app means your learning curve will be more gentle than cheaper but more bare-bones options.

Tinkergen Make A Robot Kit, $199 at TingerGen. The experts at DIY Robocars call the MARK

“my favorite new starter robocar,” saying it achieves the “tricky balance” between being “easy to pick up, but challenging to master.” The MARK comes with pre-trained networks for common objects or you can train your own models on your PC, or even on the vehicle itself. Code using either a Scratch-based visual programming environment or Python, and add a variety of extension packs to extend the fun and learning as your skills grow. Recommended for High Schoolers and up.

NVIDIA Duckiebot, $369 at Duckietown, and free Duckietown MOOC. PAVE member NVIDIA supplies the AI hardware and infrastructure for this adorable little bot project, part of their range of Jetbot kits. What sets this Duckiebot kit apart is that it has everything you need to take a free massively online open course (MOOC) on self-driving car technology from EdX called Self-Driving Cars with Duckietown and a host of other Duckietown activities. Considering that you’re getting a seriously capable little bot powered by NVIDIA’s Jetson Nano 2GB, an education in autonomous driving tech, and the ability to enter the AI Driving Olympics, this gift is a fantastic way to help aspiring AV engineers take their passion to the next level.

ROSbot 2.0 PRO, $2,899 at Husarion. For those who are already deep in their homebrew AV obsession, achieving the big time means two things: joining the ROS (Robotic Operating System) ecosystem, and playing with lidar. The ROSbot 2.0 PRO makes both of those things possible, providing a robust and capable platform for the most advanced home AV projects… albeit at a steep price. If you need a more capable hardware platform for your autonomous creations, it’s probably time to just get a job at an AV developer already!

We’re always being asked when autonomous vehicles will be here, and people are often surprised to learn that they already are depending on where you live… and how you define an autonomous vehicle. In fact, tiny, non-road-going AVs have been improving lives for years now, in the form of vacuums and lawn mowers… so here are a few of the AVs you can buy today!

Roomba i7 vacuum and Braava jet m6 package, $899.98 from iRobot. The original 2002 Roomba was the first-ever successful consumer-facing robotics product, a breakthrough for the robotics world. The i7 vacuum in this package is from the eight generation of Roombas, and the progress it’s made along the way has been spectacular. More powerful than ever, and now learning from your cleaning habits, this robotic duo will even team up to tackle your messes with the mop following the vacuum for a one-two cleaning punch. If your budget is limited, you can still get a more basic 600-series Roomba for as little as $200.

Worx WR140 autonomous lawnmower, $999.96 from Worx. After the success of autonomous vacuum cleaners, it makes sense that lawnmowers would be the next frontier for consumer-facing robotics products. One of the more affordable and well-rated entry models is this Worx WR140, which can cover lawns up to ¼ of an acre and with inclines of up to 20 degrees, cuts grass to anywhere from 2 to 3.5 inches, and includes a rain sensor that will tell it to return to its charger when bad weather moves in.

Free Bin

Not everything has to be expensive! To help stretch your holiday budget as far possible, here are a few free AV-related novelties that will entertain and open minds while killing a little more time while stuck at home.

Humanising Autonomy: Where Are We Going? Free PDF from ustwo. Created by a user experience (UX) design company to encourage conversation and debate, this delightful free PDF book explores how to center autonomous drive technology and automated vehicles on human values. Full of whimsical art and thoughtful exploration of important questions, this little freebie will get you thinking about aspects of AVs you may never have considered before.

How Does An Autonomous Car Work? Free browser game from the Washington Post. Though ostensibly about AVs, and offering some education on how they work, this free browser game is more about how important and demanding the job of a “safety driver” really is. After ominous;y promising that “I’ll stay focused,” you’re tasked overseeing public-road development testing of a fictional AV and hitting “the big red button” to stop the system when trouble arises. If you’ve been watching PAVE’s panels, you already know this might get stressful!

Fuzzy. Free browser fame from Apseren Industries. The ethical questions that arise from autonomous drive technology are a perennial source of fascination, which arguably overshadow their importance for actual AV developers. But if we, as members of society, need to make decisions about the morality of machines, wouldn’t it be helpful to see what others think about them? Fuzzy provides a series of scenarios where you decide which of two suboptimal choices to make, and then get to see what happens and what percentage of players choice which response.

DeepDrive free open-source AV development simulator by Voyage. For those who are ready to dive all the way into AV development, PAVE member Voyage has made its DeepDrive simulation software for the Unreal Engine available for free on Github. This is not for casual users, but anyone who has the chops can play endlessly with its deep functionality and even compete to make it onto Voyage’s leaderboard based on their code’s performance in challenges like unprotected left turns. Just remember to thank PAVE when you snag that lucrative gig developing the next generation of autonomous vehicles!

Intel OpenBot, free open-source smartphone-based robot project. Inspired by Google Cardboard, this Intel Intelligent Systems Lab project seeks to strip robotics projects to the absolute basics. Though not entirely free, as you’ll need a smartphone, either access to a 3D printer or an alternative chassis body, and a few other components to complete the bill of materials, the goal was to keep hardware costs below $50 and you may have some of the components laying around. Like anything else open source you’re going to need some technical chops to complete this project, but once you have you’ll have a new appreciation for low-cost robotics.