In difficult times, sometimes the best thing to do is just escape into a book, a videogame, a project, a movie — anything that will give you some reprieve and allow you a little escapism.
If doing such a thing can also be educational and fun at the same time, all the better. Here are 21 free time activities engineering lovers can do to spend the time productively in confinement.
1. Build your own Mars Rover
It's strange to think that many engineers will be dreaming of space during confinement — seeing as it's a place where astronauts have to deal with isolation and cramped spaces — but the allure of space exploration is simply so high, it keeps us dreaming.
Discover Magazine has put together a tutorial for building your own version of the Mars Rover. Why not check it out here?
2. Learn to become an astronaut, from NASA
Want to go one step further? This might be aimed more at kids, but hey, if you have them at home with you, why not get them set on the route to becoming a real-life astronaut?
NASA is offering online training programs that teach you to build a moon phase calculator, choose vegetation that could grow in space, and many other facets of astronaut life. Have a look at our article on it here.
3. Try a fun science experiment at home
Science experiments are one of the most rewarding types of free time activities out there. So, if there was ever a time to try out a science demonstration you had been putting off, now's the time.
Be sure to be safe though; here's a list of 13 wacky and fun science experiments including glow in the dark goo, a hologram you can make at home, and the famous dancing oobleck.
4. Explore space from your living room
There are many virtual reality and 360-degree video space experiences out there. One we particularly recommend is this one, which shows real footage of Zero 2 Infinity's Bloon going up into space.
What better way to escape isolation than slowly immerse yourself in a gradual voyage out of Earth's atmosphere?
5. Check out BMW's virtual dealership tour
Thankfully, despite the lockdown, nothing is stopping us from hitting museums virtually. One great virtual experience we recommend is the BMW museum virtual tour.
For engineers and car lovers, the tour allows you incredible insight into one of BMW's state-of-the-art dealerships. While you have to give your email address for the BMW official virtual tour, Google Maps also gives a pretty good tour of its own.
6. Learn morse code
Who knows? If we're going to live in an apocalyptic future, morse code might be useful. We jest, but even so, what better time to learn one of those life skills you otherwise might never have learned if you didn't have so much time?
A “With Google” website and app has made it incredibly easy to learn morse code on your own. Why not give it a try? Let us know how it goes — preferably in morse code.
7. See the moon landing site in augmented reality
Ever dreamed of being a part of the first set of astronauts to have landed on the moon? NASA allows you to live the next best thing.
This augmented reality app, called "Apollo's Moon Shot", by the Smithsonian Channel, lets you experience the moon landing with an immersive experience — all you need is a smartphone.
8. Build an Earth-like planet
Earth-Like is a website that allows you to create a — wait for it — Earth-like planet. The creator of the site, Kana Ishimaru, said it was aimed at clearing up the confusion on what the term "Earth-like" really means.
While many potentially habitable Earth-like exoplanets exist beyond our solar system, the website cleverly shows how a single change in the property of a planet can change the environment significantly.
9. Test your reading abilities
If you're like us, reading has been one of your main free time activities during the lockdown was put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Did you know you can make yourself learn to read better though?
Have a look at some practical tips we've written about how to read technical books and texts quickly.
10. Read some great engineering books
Want to put those speedy reading tips (from point 9) to the test, but not sure what to read? Thankfully, we also have you covered there with not just one, not two, but three lists for great books for engineers.
11. Take a break by reading unlimited free comics
Books are great, but comic books are another brilliant, unique form of escapism — something that's needed more than ever right now. Marvel recently announced that it's giving free access to its new virtual comics service for a month, with no need to subscribe, "for fans who are physical distancing."
As Uncle Ben would say, "with great power, comes great responsibility." So get reading those free comics, park yourself on the sofa, and stay at home.
12. Become acquainted with Charles Darwin's manuscripts
Did you know that Charles Darwin was hesitant about publishing his revolutionary Origin of the Species? Want to know why?
13. Read Isaac Newton's papers
Another science giant, and one of the great influential astronomers, who, in this case, had a massive impact on our understanding of the Earth and the universe, is Isaac Newton.
As with Darwin's seminal work, Isaac Newton's papers are available online to read for free.
14. Build your own vacuum cleaner
People all over the world are no doubt having a difficult time during the lockdown and typical flatmate tensions over things like cleaning and respecting boundaries can boil over during these difficult times.
We have something that could help with the cleaning part at least. You can create your very own hand vacuum cleaner to incentivize yourself, and others, to do some DIY-enabled cleaning. All you need is a jug and some tubing. Learn how to build it here.
15. Design the wackiest home project imaginable
Ever had a project you were really passionate about, but you thought it was so crazy that you never dared do it? Now is the time.
Want some inspiration? Look no further than this Engineering student, who designed and built an awesome mechanical dinosaur costume in her spare time. Follow your dreams — even if they take the form of a T-rex.
16. Learn about the history of computing
Another life skill that so many people have thought of acquiring, but haven't quite made the jump, is coding and computing.
17. Make an amazing paper airplane launcher to launch those suckers out of your balcony
While we don't for a second condone the throwing of unwanted materials, to other people's balconies if you're living in a congested city space, if you have space, paper airplanes can certainly a fun way to pass the time.
This paper airplane launcher is a great stay-at-home project that is fun for the whole family.
18. Visit The Natural History Museum, London from your own home
The Natural History Museum (NHM) in London has a great virtual tour, partially developed by Google, that allows natural history lovers stuck at home to see the wonders of one of London's most famous museums.
You'll be learning about dinosaurs, human evolution, oceans, and space, all from the comfort of your own home.
19. Learn how to make your own electric motor
The future is electric, or so they say. If you have no prior experience, building your own electric motor, it might seem like a tall order.
Thankfully, this video can help you learn how to make one with only some pretty rudimentary household items.
20. Check out NASA's virtual tours
Check out the tour to see some of the most innovative inventions in the history of space exploration. NASA's Space Center at Houston also offers an immersive app that provides virtual tours, augmented reality experiences, as well as video and audio stories about the history of the iconic space organization.
21. Make your own robot
Many have suggested that automation will play a big role in creating a "new normal" after the end of the crisis caused by the coronavirus. Robots, alongside engineers, have already been playing a large part in helping fight the outbreak.
Want to be part of the oncoming surge in robotics? Check out how to make a robot here. You don't even need to know how to code.
Though it might be taxing to be stuck at home, just remember that doing so can save a life. And despair not, there is so much you can discover, and so many free time activities you can partake in, all from the comfort of your own home.