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PAVE’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

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With another long year of AV education nearly behind us, it is once again time for PAVE’s favorite part of the holiday season: our annual gift guide for AV fans. Whether you’re looking to surprise a confirmed AV enthusiast or help a young one take their first steps toward a life-long fascination with robotics, AI, and AVs, you’re sure to find something for everyone on your list. And our gifts aren’t all just for the STEM stars in your life, either: PAVE believes in empowering everyone to be a stakeholder in this transformational technology, so you’ll find options here for loved ones who are more interested in the cultural and social aspects of AVs, as well.

From our families to yours, whatever you may be celebrating during these dark winter months, we hope these gift ideas bring hours of enjoyment and a passion for learning to all of your loved ones.

Japanese vintage-style tin “Robot Taxi” ($25)

This quirky vintage friction-drive tin car toy may be shaped like a humble Volkswagen Beetle, but Liliput Toys decided to tap into the public’s latent desire for autonomous vehicles with the decoration. With a robot behind the wheel and “Robot Taxi” emblazoned on the hood and doors, this classic Japanese tin toy will bring a delightful splash of retro-futurist color to the desk of any AV lover.


DARPA Urban Challenge Finish Line Art Print ($95 and up)

The finish line of the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge marked the end of DARPA’s famous autonomous driving challenges, but it also marked the birth of the modern AV industry. This DARPA archive photo of Team Tartan’s winning “Boss” Chevrolet Tahoe, moments after it crossed the finish line, memorializes the end of a pivotal chapter in AV history, and the start of the first efforts to commercialize this transformative technology. Available in a variety of sizes and print formats.


Takara Tomy Toyota E-Palette Model ($5.65)

Toyota’s first purpose-built AV to operate on public roads is memorialized by famed Japanese toy maker Takara Tomy in this desktop model. The E-Palette is designed to enable a wide variety of bodies for different business use cases, but this affordable, high-quality model is of the urban-mobility-shuttle version that will operate in the automaker’s Woven City. 


Matchbox Self-Driving Bus ($10.20)

Famed diecast carmaker Matchbox got into the AV game last year, releasing its first autonomous electric shuttle model as part of its 2020 MBX City and 2021 MBX Metro collections. Though it’s not a licensed design from one of the many makers of low-speed autonomous shuttles, its design reflects those of the first wave of autonomous shuttles already out in the real world.


IH Case Autonomous Tractor Concept Keychain ($9.90)

PAVE tries to remind the public that AVs are not solely for moving people, and this keychain model of an IH Case autonomous tractor concept is a great reminder of the diversity of driving automation purposes. With the automated agriculture space heating up with a new crop of startups and acquisitions, it’s good to remember the variety of applications where AVs are gaining traction.


“Please Be Patient: Human Driver” bumper sticker ($7.99)

To err is human… which is one of the reasons that PAVE’s members are developing autonomous vehicles! In the meantime, as long as human driving is a messy necessity of life, why not remind your fellow motorists of our shared imperfection? This lighthearted bumper sticker won’t excuse your driving mistakes (so be safe out there!), but it’s a good reminder that a better world awaits.


What To Expect When You’re Expecting Robots by Laura Major ($22.49 for hardcover)

The easiest way to start to understand autonomous vehicles is to think of them as robots, and this approachable, easy-to-read book by Laura Major (CTO of PAVE member Motional) is the perfect way to broach the subject. Everyone from non-technical adults to precocious STEM-loving kids will learn important insights about robots and automation from “What To Expect,” making it a must-read title for anyone who wants to understand our increasingly-automated world.


Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor ($18.85, for hardcover)

AVs aren’t only interesting to technical types and STEM-heads, and this book is an enchanting exploration of our pre-scientific conception of, and fascination with, robots, automation, and even AVs. Understanding how our ancestors imagined the technologies we are just beginning to unlock can cast light on the ways we understand and think about these technologies today, and Adrienne Mayor’s Gods and Robots is a great way to begin this journey. 


The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots by Kate Darling ($18.39, for hardcover)

Scientists and engineers may be the ones bringing driving automation technology into reality, but how we adopt, use, and regulate this new technology is a challenge for all of society. To help cast light on the challenges of adapting society to robots and automation, MIT’s Kate Darling teases out important lessons about everything from legal liability to psychology from our long history with animals, which show that our sometimes-intimidating science fiction future may not be as entirely unfamiliar as it can seem.


Kickstarter book: The Complete Guide to Autonomous Vehicles for Kids by Michael Milford ($50 AUD, about $37 in USD for hardcover)

Teaching kids about complex technologies like driving automation is really hard, which is why there haven’t been many books on the subject aimed directly at kids. That’s starting to change, as Michael Milford of Queensland University of Technology has a new book project on Kickstarter that purports to be the “complete guide” to AVs for kids ages 13 and up (parental supervision recommended for younger ages). Kickstarters are never risk-free but Milford has delivered on kids’ guides to AI and other tough topics, so give the page a look.


Robot Take The Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving ($17.83 for hardcover)

Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky is one of the treasures of the automotive internet, following his boundless curiosity and enthusiasm from obscure old cars one moment to detailed explainers of complex driving automation safety issues the next. Robot Take The Wheel has been out for a couple years now, but it’s still one of the most approachable books on the topic for younger AV enthusiasts or anyone coming to the topic from an automotive perspective. Rather than getting bogged down in technical detail, Torchinsky’s fun, familiar style strips AVs of their nerds-only exclusivity and introduces important insights in ways everyone can understand and enjoy. 


Driven: The Race To Create The Autonomous Car ($14.79, for hardcover)

The high drama of the emerging AV sector provides Alex Davies with the fodder for his first book, which traces the birth of an industry from the DARPA Challenges to recent developments. Profiling the personalities, companies, collaborations, and conflicts that shaped the modern AV landscape, Davies’ book joins the small but growing canon of AV-sector histories.


Pick-Up Pete ($14.99)

Though not exactly about autonomous vehicles, Pick-Up Pete is a twist on the stacking game genre featuring a self-driving truck. Stack as many chairs into Pete’s bed as you can while he drives around unpredictably, and hope they don’t all come crashing down. This also doubles as a toy truck for kids too young to enjoy games requiring rules and dexterity.


Transport INC ($11.99)

Transport INC isn’t about AVs themselves, but it’s an enjoyable way to think about the dynamics of transportation and fleet management while enjoying a casual but deep and rewarding gaming experience. Construct your fleet, design your routes, manage your business and build an empire in this fresh take on the “transport tycoon” genre (see “Free Bin” below for more). The lessons you learn might even help you imagine the autonomous future a little more clearly!


CRASH: Autodrive ($9.99)

A narrative mystery adventure set in a science fiction future of “Autocabs” and AI, this Nintendo Switch game begins with four strangers sharing an autonomous taxi. When the Autocab hits a cyclist (who turns out to be one of the developers of the Autocab), you will have to unravel a high-tech whodunnit, in which everyone is a suspect… including the Autocab’s AI! With its retro graphics and soundtrack, CRASH:Autodrive brings classic-style mystery adventure gaming to the Switch with a heavy helping of SciFi flavor.


Bristlebot 4 Pack ($19.95)

Reduce an autonomous vehicle to its absolute minimal essentials, and what do you get? Bristlebot: tiny robots made with pipe cleaners, a toothbrush head and a vibrating motor. With its affordable price point and no need for specialized tools, Bristlebot is a great way to introduce kids ages 9 and up to the fascinating world of robotics without breaking the bank.


Smart Car Cutebot for micro:bit ($29.95)

A step up from the extreme simplicity of the Bristlebot, the Smart Car Cutebot is still affordable and easy to dive into but offers far more capability to build on and will keep future AV engineers busy for hours. This kit does require the separate purchase of a micro:bit processor (~$20, also available from Adafruit, see link in the listing), which opens up a world of codeless and traditional programming. 


DIY Autonomous Vehicle Kit ($199.99)

Developed with the support of R&D engineers at Ford Otosan, this Arduino-based hoby AV kit will be most enjoyed by kids with an interest in STEM/STEAM between the ages of 11 and 14. Beyond introducing young minds to core concepts like sensors, programming and AI, this kit is designed to be compatible with Lego bricks so the self-driving systems kids design are just the start of their self-expression.


SparkFun Jetbot AI Kit v3.0 Powered By NVIDIA Jetson Nano ($249.95)

PAVE member NVIDIA makes the AI processors that power some of the most formidable automated driving systems on the planet, but you can dip your toes in Big Green’s mobile AI capabilities with the SparkFun Jetbot hobby robotics kit. Based on the Jetson Nano embedded/edge platform, SparkFun’s robot integrates NVIDIA’s developer kit, the SparkFun Qwiic ecosystem, ROS and AWS RoboMaker Ready as well as a host of available sensors and peripherals. If you’re ready to start playing with some serious AI but don’t want to break the bank, this JetBot kit might just be right for you.


Duckietown MOOC Founder’s Edition Kit ($399.99)

Take your AV understanding and development skills to the next level with Duckietown! This starter kit is the entry level of a complete robotics ecosystem including fleets of AVs, a smart-city environment, Duckietown’s famed Massive Open Online Course on robotics and AI produced in collaboration with prestigious universities such as ETH Zurich (the “MIT of Europe”), and even the opportunity to compete in the AI Driving Olympics. This kit includes one NVIDIA-powered Duckiebot and a navigation starter pack, to go from a box of parts to a fully autonomous vehicle tackling non-trivial challenges such as obstacle avoidance and intersection navigation. Though not for complete beginners, the integrated coursework —  used in more than 130 universities worldwide — and a massive community of fellow makers and researchers that Duckietown offers, will help you learn some of the most important skills for future AV developers. 


Boston Dynamics Spot ($74,500 and up)
(pricing: https://spectrum.ieee.org/boston-dynamics-spot-robot-dog-now-available)

Nobody said a real autonomous vehicle would be cheap, but Spot from Boston Dynamics is not only one of the most famous autonomous robots you can buy but also one of the most capable. Technically, Spot is only available for commercial uses, so this would be more of a gift for your favorite corporate entity than something to entertain the kids. Still, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to operate such a unique and memorable piece of robotics… and with so much capability, you’ll have no problem finding a use for this working dog.


Unitree Go1 ($2,700 and up)

Love the idea of a dog-sized autonomous robot, but can’t justify the high cost or commercial-only license of the Boston Dynamics Spot? Unitree’s Go1 is more of a terrier than a lab-sized robodog and it boasts a much friendlier price tag to match, while still offering on-board AI, a person-following mode, and one kilometer of range at a jogging pace. Fancier versions offer more features and capability at higher prices, including programming APIs, 4G/5G connectivity, and even lidar available on the top-spec “EDU” models.


Dolphin Nautilus CC Plus Robotic Pool Cleaner ($839)

With its limited dimensions and consistent features, a pool is a classic example of a simple operating domain for autonomous robots… and therefore, a prime opportunity to automate tedious cleaning tasks. The Nautilus is an advanced pool-scrubbing robot that will roam your in-ground pool’s floor and walls, scrubbing them clean on whatever schedule you set. The Nautilus CC Plus is Amazon’s top-selling robotic pool cleaner, but others are available at both lower and higher price points.


Amazon Astro ($999/$1,499)

One of Amazon’s biggest steps into home robotics, Astro is an autonomous robot that integrates with the company’s Ring and Alexa product lines to enhance your home’s security and convenience. For now you still have to request an invitation to gain access to the Day1 Edition at an introductory price (you effectively serve as a beta tester), but will be available to anyone in the near future for a higher price. Whether you’re already locked into Amazon’s smart home ecosystem and want to add new capabilities, or you just want to play with the latest and greatest in home robotics, Astro will have you looking its way.


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.

Open Transport Tycoon

The Microprose classic computer game Transport Tycoon Deluxe was likely responsible for steering a high percentage of the professionals now at work in transportation and planning toward their careers, with its deep simulation of city transportation challenges. Now there’s a free open-source version of the game available online, just waiting to introduce new generations to the thorny problems of moving people and goods. It may not be the prettiest game available, but if the gameplay gets under your skin, you, too, may end up obsessed with creating and improving transportation systems.


Build a self-driving car game

Part of Technovation’s Families series, this challenge (inspired by PAVE member NVIDIA) guides families as they build a simple circuit board that alerts a moving “vehicle” to obstacles and navigates around them. A fun way to fill a screen-free evening while introducing important STEM concepts, this challenge could just be the start of a young one’s path to engineering AVs. The Curiosity Machine website also includes numerous other STEM challenges, so you don’t have to stop at this one.


Self-driving model for video games

Self-driving vehicles have been starting to appear in more video games, but if you’re a budding AV engineer who wants a challenge, this github project will allow you to start making video game vehicles drive themselves… regardless of what the developer intended. Originally developed for Grand Theft Auto V, this Python-based end-to-end learning model combines Deep Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Networks and can be trained and adapted for any video game.  Needless to say, real computer science and AI skills are highly recommended before diving into a project like this!


CARLA open-source simulator for AV development

If your idea of AV-related fun is a lot more technical than the rest of the items in our gift guide, perhaps you could treat yourself to CARLA: an open-source simulator for autonomous driving development. Sponsored by major industry players like Intel and Toyota Research Institute, CARLA offers deep and detailed simulation that plays well with AutoWare, ROS, RoadRunner and many other common dev tools making it useful for a wide variety of potential projects. Or, since it’s free, you can just play around with it and make a game out of developing your very own virtual AV… at least until a PAVE’s member company offers you a job!