When the folks at LittleBits asked me to test their latest kit of snap-together DIY electronics, I was really excited. As a gadget-loving person, I love the idea of creating a Rube Goldbergian perpetual motion machine. I even the idea of putting together models and understanding how electronic circuits work. Yet I’ve never gotten around to learning how to solder, putting electronics boards together by hand, and building electronics from the ground up.
LittleBits prides itself as being an educational, open company, and you can even dream up new bits in their GitHub repo. The company produces sets of “bits” – individual units that perform different functions and snap together with magnets – that you can use to make projects. It’s dead simple. Bits come for Power (e.g. a battery or USB), Input (a dimmer or motion switch), Wire (connect all of that stuff together and branch it if necessary), and Output (a buzzer, motor, light, or fan).
LittleBits is great because it gives you the feeling of building electronic gizmos from scratch while providing a color-coded, magnetized set of pieces that you just can’t screw up. Buck Rogers ingenuity with no-brainer simplicity and instant benefit: I love it. The sets are deceptively simple because you start playing with something and how it goes together, and then almost instantly rearrange it into a new configuration because there is almost no switching cost to putting it back together again. Need a diagram? Take a quick photo of the pieces snapped together.
LittleBits allow you to play with electronics in the same way you might sketch a quick drawing, play a piece on an instrument or just goof around. They are a great way to learn about circuits and motors visually – there are lights, pressure switches, motion sensors, and lots of fun switches to make your “stay out of my room motion sensing alarm with buzzer” device, or just to make the simple morse code machine my assistant and I built tonight. It’s time to build more what-is-that-thing-calleds.
(disclaimer: LittleBits provided me with the Extended Kit free of charge in exchange for help testing the product. My young assistant and I are still doing the testing and are enjoying ourselves profusely.)