littleBits, the RadioShack electronics kit of the future has arrived. Consisting of dozens of unique self contained modules or bits that snap together magnetically, joining together to do useful little tasks.
Using littleBits anyone can now build their own electronic gadgets, no soldering or electronics expertise required, thanks to the clever littleBits. Currently the most popular projects consist of turning cardboard cut-out animals and robots into living animated and reacting characters.
There are however many other projects available, projects ranging from handy and amusing to advanced interactive system. What the future holds is only limited by the imagination of the bitsters. All of the projects are free and awaiting download, thanks to the fast growing community.
Making electronics accessible to those without a soldering iron LittleBits is part educational tool and part electronics platform, either way the littleBits are all fun.
LittleBits is the latest member of a new generation of electronics toy, the intelligent toys. Replacing RadioShack kits with solder free, quick starting, fun. In the same way that AdultSwim delivers cartoons to adults, littleBits and this new generation of toy is just as much fun for adults as it is for kids.
Ayah Bder is the creative spark and driving force behind littleBits. An MIT Media Labs graduate and TED Fellowship holder, Ayah has spent the last 4 years developing and fine tuning the system. She was invited in 2011 to join the prestigious TED Fellowship, giving her inaugural speech in 2012 and now as CEO of littleBits she is making a splash. A massive hit at this year’s US Ty Fair, and also taking the PopSci award for Toy of the Year 2012, littleBits are on everybody’s lips, generating headlines.
The two keys to the littleBits system are the clever magnetic connector and the complete system design approach to each block. The specially designed magnetic connector guarantees correct plug orientation, snapping together when lined up correctly.
Each block has at least one connector, commonly blocks have 2 connectors to work as a pass through. A block cannot live in isolation after all. Each block is designed to do a simple task, switch, light-up or proximity sense for example but each block has all of the required circuitry to achieve the task in a self contained bit.
The magic of littleBits system begins when you start to imagine the possibilities of various combinations of bits. All projects naturally start with the power bit, battery or USB with solar on the request list. Start snapping together various combinations of switch, sensor, input and output bits, in sequence, to create instant working circuits and gadgets, no soldering, programming or electronics knowledge required.
The Bits and Pieces
Part of a new generation of high-tech toys each littleBit is a mastery of miniaturization, with complex circuits squeezed into square centimetres.
The bits are broken down into colour coded functional categories; power, input, output and wire; blue, pink, green and orange. Currently there are dozens of bits available, they can be purchased individually or as part of larger packs.
Displaying and actions are taken care of by the output bits which include LED, RGB LED, UV LED, fan, buzzer, DC motor, vibrator and a Bargraph LEDs. The long list of input bits includes micro switch button, dimmer, light sensor, pulse timer, motion sensor, pressure sensor, roller switch, slide switch, temperature sensor and toggle switch. Various connectors or wires are available to join it all together and provide a little logic. The wire bits include a 4 way branch, Double And logic, Double OR logic bits to allow logic switching and a wire connector to allow bits to be easily located away from the main modules.
The starter pack includes 10 bits; bargraph, button, dimmer, LED, power, pressure sensor, pulse, RGB LED, vibrator and wire, the kit sells for $89.00. While the extended pack costs $149 but includes 14 bits; branch, buzzer, DC motor, fan, light trigger, Long LED, motion trigger, roller switch, slide dimmer, toggle switch, USB power and wire.
With dozens of other parts on the site, not in the packs, purchasing separate bits is unavoidable. As is the fact that the extended pack is twice as handy and twice the value when purchased in pairs, a single DC motor is never enough.
Projects are appearing through the community at a steady pace, with a number of projects already rising to popularity. RoboBird and PiggyBank both combine simple paper and plastic bodies with littleBits electronics to produce some incredibly cute homemade robotics. Other stand out projects include the littleBits watch that does something and the super stirrer.
Interestingly many projects are relying on old hobby crafts, most commonly and our favourite, the old paper and cardboard crafts. The other long lost tradition being reborn is the art of duct tape construction, using only duct tape and cardboard. Now the duct tape RoboCop masterpiece can finally be brought to life.
littleBits are also making developing custom bits easy. Being a philosophically open source company littleBits has fully opened the design requirements to the community. Designs and specifications are available on the website to get started.
Hopefully the community will spawn many interesting new bits. New bits are also always being developed by Ayah and her team; with the magic magnetic connector and basic bits out of the way hopefully the team can concentrate on new bits, as well as making the littleBits a success of course.
The only bit missing from the littleBits picture is a micro-controller. The desire to keep the system programming free and quick to get started has kept the micro-controller bit an idea only. There are however a number of controller bits in the works, a number of community based teams are working on a solution.
The future looks bright for littleBits, having secured funding earlier this year littleBits has also signed on with manufacturing and distribution company PCH ensuring everything behind the scenes is in place for fast growth.
While littleBits isn’t as complex as more advanced kits such as MindStorm Lego, the simplicity allows littleBits to be much easier to learn and far faster to get up and running, instantly in essence. Complexity with the littleBits is an art form, the combination of creativity and large numbers of bits, now where did I leave that glue gun and duct tape?
Bringing the kid out of engineers and the engineer out of kids littleBits is set to be one of this year’s Christmas hits. littleBits is available for order now.