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Exploring the Internet of Everything: Innovative Tech Gifts to Spark the Season

Insights & Ideas Team •  November 25, 2016 | Home and Family

By Karl Gouverneur, chief technology officer at Northwestern Mutual.

The spirit of innovation is everywhere, and it’s fueling powerful change in nearly everything we see and do. In recent years, we’ve moved from the internet to the Internet of Things—and now we’re rushing into the era of the Internet of Everything. With the holiday gift-giving season just around the corner, what better way to embrace this exciting time than by sharing some presents designed to unleash the spirit of innovation among your friends and family?

Innovation is about more than just trying something new—it also involves developing the confidence to explore, experiment, fail, experiment some more, and ultimately experience the thrill of success. These gift ideas encourage people not just to engage with the world through technology, but also to use innovation to see their entire world differently. Some are for kids, some are for adults. Some even offer the opportunity for people of all ages to have fun together while creating some wonderful—and, yes, innovative—shared experiences.

Mozbii Stylus Pen


0907 7The Mozbii stylus allows kids to explore some of the most beautiful aspects of the world around them by “picking” colors from the 65,000+ shades they can find in nature, and saving them for use on a tablet or other touch-screen device. Next, they can create original artwork incorporating those colors—no more guessing what crayon best matches the color of grass—and see how technology can be a tool that connects them to the natural world. Kids love to explore, they love to draw, and they love tablets—this gift brings them all together.

Makey Makey GO


Makey MakeyMakey Makey GO transforms virtually anything into an internet-connected touchpad, letting kids connect the world around them to their computer by simply plugging the keychain-sized Go into a computer’s USB port, and connecting a small clip to the object of their choice. Voila! They have a touch-sensitive interface. All of a sudden they’ve turned an orange into a drum or wired up their dog’s bed so they can start a human-to-pet video chat. This device helps kids understand that technical innovation isn’t something they can only experience passively; it actually lets them take ownership of how they use it to interact.

Meccanoid G15KS


Meccanoid G15KSPutting together a Meccanoid Robot is a lot like building a friend—albeit a 4-foot robot friend. And, like most friendships, this one will take a little while to form. Any adult who gives this present should be prepared for some together time for collaborative work/play with their favorite kid while building it. Once the robot’s frame is complete, things start to get easier: The Meccabrain control unit guides you through the steps to connect its motors. Once that’s done, a child simply says the robot’s name—Meccanoid!—and watches his eyes turn green as he springs to “life.”

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Then it’s time for them to get to know each other! The Meccanoid’s Android/iOS app has two learning modes. The Motion Capture feature uses a smartphone’s camera to show Meccanoid a child’s motions, which it can then mimic. The Ragdoll mode displays a virtual model of the robot on a touch screen—your child can simply drag the model around on the screen and control the robot’s real-world movements. Meccanoid can also learn new motions when your child moves its head and arms or speaks to it. The robot records and repeats those actions right back.

As with any relationship, this one appears likely to evolve over time. Planned enhancements to the Meccanoid app are intended to allow even more programming using a connected Raspberry Pi—offering even more potential for customization and innovation.

littleBits Smart Home Kit


0907 5LittleBits lets you use sensors and circuits to turn almost any object into an internet-connected device. You can set up a “bark tracker” to alert you when the dog’s raising a ruckus, or a garage door monitor that lets you know if you’ve forgotten to close the door. Kids who need a little extra attention can create a fanfare machine that plays a suitably dramatic song whenever they walk into a room.

Sounds simple—but the real benefit is that, whatever the project, using the littleBits allows the builder to identify a “problem” and design a “solution”—an activity that’s at the heart of all innovation. And just in case that sounds a little too educational for some kids, they are almost guaranteed to love the way they can integrate littleBits devices with the very popular video game Minecraft! It’s a great way to build something together that can connect you both to a virtual world. (They’ll show you how; don’t worry.)

Flic Button

1/$34, 3/$99

Flic buttonAt first glance, the Flic button might not look like much. But this simple, adhesive-backed button can operate an amazing variety of smartphone apps and other tools available on the web—all from one device you can place in a location you choose.

Each Flic allows you to define up to three actions you perform most often—and launch them with a click, double click, or hold of the button. These actions can connect Flic to apps like Amazon Echo, Google Nest, Spotify, or Phillips Hue lighting. The result? Using the Flic and your preset commands, you can adjust your lighting, select music, or even order food delivery—all simply by touching the device.  

What’s more, the adhesive back lets you stick a Flic on your nightstand, at your desk, on a wall or even on your belt or an everyday object like a picture frame—whatever makes it most useful and convenient for you. You’ll look at the things you see and use every day differently when they become objects that can make apps and services work more easily for you, right where you need them.

PowerUp Airplanes


PowerUp AirplaneThe PowerUp series of devices lets you bring together the digital and the mechanical, as you motorize and take control of the ho-hum paper airplane through a Bluetooth-connected smartphone or tablet. The kit comes with specially engineered paper, along with detailed instructions on how to fold and cut it into the right shape, providing a perfect opportunity to learn about how the physics of flight really works.

When this design-and-build process is complete, you can install the PowerUp device and connect it to the related app. Now you’re ready to (in the words of the PowerUp manual) “observe, identify, adjust, and try again”—or, in other words, to practice the innovator’s creed. You could order two or more and hold a friendly competition to see whose plane can fly the farthest, longest, or some other criteria you create.

Yuneec Typhoon H


0907 6The Typhoon H has the dynamic features that make drones so compelling to use, including 4k video capture, a live 720p video downlink to the control panel, and an unobstructed 360° view from the camera thanks to retractable landing gear. But there are a few things that set the Typhoon H apart, including innovative safety features that protect your investment and loved ones. Its ultrasonic collision prevention system provides some reassurance for novice pilots. Also, the Typhoon H has six rotors, and can continue to fly even if one becomes damaged.

What’s best about the Typhoon H, though, is its “team mode,” which allows it to operate with two control panels, one for flying the drone and one to control the camera. This makes it a great parent-and-child gift: Adults can handle the more challenging flying tasks, while kids can focus on taking great photos and videos without worrying about crash landings. And everyone can enjoy a fun experience that, thanks to the camera’s capabilities, they can relive again and again.

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