protoTYPING: Holiday Gift Guide – 5 of the most important new tools and gadgets

protoTYPING: Holiday Gift Guide – 5 of the most important new tools and gadgets

It’s that time of year again…

It is two weeks until Halloween, the leaves are falling and the morning air is crisp. Of course, this could only mean that it is time to start Christmas shopping. It is still 80 degrees in the Carolinas and there are 40 odd days until the “trampled on Black Friday” headlines, but the big box stores have set aside their lawn care supplies for the season. Santas and Frozen characters have set up court in their place, dancing to candy cane-sweet holiday tunes.

However, it is not all “bah-humbug” for those of us who like to enjoy our holidays in sequential order. It has been a great year for new products for inventors and makers. Here is a gift guide with my five favorite new items to help fill your stockings and garages with tools and gadgets to make 2018 your best year for prototyping.

OMAX ProtoMAX Personal Waterjet, $19,950 (protomax.com)

It is no secret that the OMAX water jet is one of my favorite machines in the Enventys Partners shop. It can rip through metal, wood and plastic with ease; nearly all of our products have prototypes built with parts made on this machine.

Full-size water jets are large, and have a price that is out of reach for many inventors. So I was giddy to see that OMAX has scaled down the power of the machine to make it accessible to the masses. The ProtoMAX has a 12-by-12-inch bed size and delivers 30,000 psi cutting power that can go through 1-inch-thick steel. The unit only takes up 39.5 inches of floor space, so it can fit in any garage. It also comes with all of the necessary pumps and hardware, 55 lbs. of cutting abrasive, as well as a laptop with the software to run the machine. The machine has just been released. Initial orders ship in December.

Kano Computer Kit, $249.99 (kano.me)

The Kano kit, which raised more than $1.5 million on Kickstarter, is endorsed by Apple guru, Steve Wozniak. Though technically for kids, it is a great tool to help anyone learn about computer hardware and coding. The kit is driven by a Raspberry Pi 3 micro-controller and includes peripherals such as a keyboard, touchscreen, speaker and all of the requisite cabling.

The hardware is brightly colored to make assembly easy, but the real genius of the kit is educational support and the ecosystem. The kit includes a storybook to aid assembly, which the makers boast is as easy as building a LEGO kit. You also get 150 hours of coding challenges that will help you or your little one learn the basics of coding, including loops and logic.

Adabox by Adafruit, $60 quarterly (adafruit.com)

If you or your loved ones are interested in DIY electronics, the Adabox is for you. Each quarter, Lady Ada and the Adafruit team curate a box of electronics, tools and goodies and ship them straight to your door. The themed boxes contain all you need to complete projects to help you learn how to use micro-controllers, sensors and other electronics. Easy-to-follow tutorials allow even novices to complete the projects and build the skills necessary to build their own prototypes. Previous box themes have provided hardware to explore IoT, motion and light. The final Adabox of the year ships in mid-December, allowing time to get it under your tree.

Smooth-On Pourable Silicone Starter Kit, $52.49 (https://www.smooth-on.com/products/pourable-silicone-starter-kit/)

Molding is a great way to make prototype parts. But it can be difficult, messy, and require special equipment. Smooth-On’s Pourable Silicone Starter Kit does not make molding any less messy, but it will help you learn the basic techniques. It includes trial sizes of silicone and casting resin for making molds and parts. The resins are 1:1 mix ratios, so they do not require a special scale, and their viscosity allows for trapped gases to escape without having to use a vacuum chamber. A user guide and instructional DVD provides tips and tricks, and helps get you molding quickly.

The Visual MBA by Jason Barron, $17.00 (http://www.thevisualmbabook.com/product/the-visual-mba-ebook/)

Inventors love building stuff and spending long nights in the garage. Learning about business and marketing are rarely on the agenda but can be crucial to helping navigate the financial world of product development. Fortunately, MBA student-turned-author, Jason Barron, realized how dry business concepts can be and wrote a book to help. He condensed his MBA learnings into sketch notes to explain concepts such as net operating income, debt ratios and expense reports. Each chapter is arranged as a business school class—surely the fastest and cheapest way to get the knowledge you need to help understand the financials of launching your product.


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