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Holiday gift guide: 12 ideas for presents created by U of T alumni (and a student)

The aerelight A1 OLED Lamp is the first product by OTI Lumionics, founded by U of T alumnus Michael Helander (photo by Roberta Baker)

A build-it-yourself robot kit, a revolutionary pressure cooker and the first universal hex key for bikes: They are just a few of the products designed by alumni and students of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering in our holiday shopping guide.

Looking for gift ideas? Here are 12 options for everyone on your list.

aerelight A1 OLED Lamp


Alumnus Michael Helander gave up a career in academic research to start a technology company called OTI Lumionics. Their first product, the aerelight A1 OLED Lamp, is a sleek aluminum-and-walnut desk lamp powered by cutting-edge organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. Hand-crafted in Canada, the aerelight A1’s soft, warm light is emitted from an ultra-thin, 10-centimetre-square wafer. 

Cargo Cosmetics

Star Wars

Cargo Cosmetics, a makeup line founded by alumna Hana Zalzal in 1995, is known as one of the most innovative and sought-after brands among professional makeup artists, celebrities and consumers worldwide. Cargo has all the high-quality makeup essentials – including an out-of-this-world Star Wars-themed line just in time for the new film.

everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too

Alumnus Jonny Sun is a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet Society at Harvard, and a creative researcher at the Harvard metaLAB, where he studies social media and online community.

He also found time to write and illustrate everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (Harper Perennial), which, according to celebrated actor and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, you should read “only if you want to feel more alive.”  

Alkaline batteries

AA batteries

A pack of alkaline batteries is an essential stocking stuffer – but did you know that the technology behind them was developed by alumnus Lewis Urry? While working for Eveready Battery Company in 1957, Urry and two of his colleagues invented a long-lasting alkaline battery using a zinc/manganese dioxide chemistry. We know it today as the Energizer battery, the source of power for toys and electronics around the world.  

How We Can Win

How We Can Win

Best known as the founder and CEO of Wind Mobile, alumnus Anthony Lacavera knows a thing or two about founding and building a successful brand in Canada. He ended up selling Wind for $1.6 billion after it grew to become Canada's fourth-largest wireless carrier. In his inspiring new book, How We Can Win (Random House Canada), Lacavera outlines how the Canadian entrepreneurs of tomorrow can build big, powerful companies – and keep them here.  

Instant Pot

Co-created by alumnus Dongjun Wang, the Instant Pot has earned cult-like devotion from users since it debuted in 2009. The New York Times has professed its love for the device, and The Wirecutter selected it as the best pressure cooker you can buy. There’s even an Instant Pot Community Facebook group with more than 800,000 fans. 

Kamigami Robots

Kamigami Robots

Shortly after alumnus Andrew Gillies graduated with a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, he co-founded Dash Robotics, Inc. with the mission of creating affordable, educational robots designed to inspire students to get involved in robotics and engineering. The company’s six-legged Kamigami Robots are easy to fold and snap together from flat sheets into insect-like creations – no tools required. The free companion smartphone app enables users to remotely control their robot, battle with friends, play interactive games and more. They’re perfect for the budding maker (or future engineer) on your list.

Kitty Hawk Flyer

Alumni Todd Reichert  and Cameron Robertson are veteran world-record smashers: They achieved the first flight of a human-powered ornithopter, the first sustained flight of a human-powered helicopter, and the world’s fastest bicycle – twice. It only makes sense that they have teamed up with Google co-founder Larry Page and Google X founder Sebastian Thrun to design the Kitty Hawk Flyer personal air vehicle. It’s possibly the closest humanity has yet come yet to a true flying car, and according to Engadget, the company is currently accepting $100 down payments, which gives you for a $2,000 discount on the finished product. 

Nanoleaf Aurora Rhythm Light Panels

Founded by alumni Gimmy Chu, Tom Rodinger and Christian Yan, Nanoleaf first made a splash on the lighting and design world with its premier product, the Nanoleaf One bulb, in 2014. It's their deconstruction of the lightbulb that really caught our eye. The Nanoleaf Aurora Rhythm is a fixtureless, customizable, integrative light source that brings the beauty of the Aurora Borealis into any room. Users can create custom lighting animations in the free Nanoleaf Smarter Series App and watch them come to life right before their eyes. The Rhythm add-on module converts music into light through the panels, transforming any wall into an avant-garde audio-visual art installation.

Nymi Band

Nymi Band

Nymi, the Toronto-based wearable tech company co-founded in 2011 (as Bionym) by alumni Foteini Agrafioti and Karl Martin, has generated serious buzz with its Nymi Band, the world’s first wearable authentication system. Worn around the wrist, Nymi Band is embedded with an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor that uses your heartbeat as a unique ID to seamlessly unlock mobile devices, remember passwords and even make retail payments – an all-in-one solution to the security measures we all navigate on a daily basis. It's currently on back order, but the Nymi Band is a gift worth waiting for. 


Peter Wen, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, has been a serious cyclist for many years and his company, TeleHex, aims to make bike repair easier – not just for pros like himself, but for newbies as well. Wen has designed a unique telescoping tool that automatically adjusts to fit the metric bolt sockets on most bikes. The device is half the weight and volume of products currently on the market. And it’s not just for bikes – rumour has it that the TeleHex hex key also comes in handy when putting together Ikea furniture.  

2XL Snocross

After conquering Hollywood in the late ’90s with his flight simulation software, alumnus Rick Baltman set his sights on making video games, eventually founding 2XL Games. When Apple debuted the iPad in 2010, they used the company’s 2XL Snocross title to demonstrate the iPad’s graphic capabilities. An updated version of the iOS game is available in the App Store for a toonie – the perfect gift for the mobile gamer in your life. 2XL also has games available for Android devices, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.     

Visit the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering web site to read more about U of T Engineering students, faculty and alumni