Having grown-up with one of those Radio Shack 50-in-one electronics kits (which I still have!) I have first-hand knowledge that those kind of guided-learning/sandbox kits can be educational and interesting to both kids and adults. The field of electronics has changed quite a bit since my 20+ year old kit was produced and one of the huge changes has been the emergence of microcontrollers.
Microcontrollers are basically a full computer (with RAM, ROM, processor and I/O) crammed onto a small microchip. They let you do basic wiring of a circuit with hardware, but then actually program the functionality of the system via software. Really, every electronics hobbiest should take the time to learn about using microcontrollers (I suggest the Microchip PIC or Atmel AVR series) and that’s where this learning kit comes-in.
With the Thames & Kosmos Computer System Engineering Kit, you are presented with an easy-to-use system which introduces the concept of the microcontroller and how to interface it to sensors and controls, as well as programming it. Like my old 50-in-one kit, this new kit includes a buzzer, a couple of digital LED displays, various switches, light sensors, and all kinds of things you’ll need to play in your learning sandbox. For programming, a USB to serial converter is even included in case your computer is new enough to not have any serial ports. Oh, and a manual is included to get you started with the basics you’ll need.
The kit is contained in a nice case and you simply connect the various parts with small bits of wire — no soldering required. You can learn about microcontrollers using this kit for only $149 — a cheap price to pay if you are at all interested in building your own projects using these tiny, inexpensive, versatile computers-on-a-chip.
[Found via gizmo-central.com]