Our lives are electrified. We interact with switches, screens, and button-centric devices constantly. Most of us, however, have no idea how they work. Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of littleBits, has called it a form of “illiteracy.” She wants to put an end to that with nearly 70 color-coded electronic modules, limited in their application only by the imagination of those who use them. For Bdeir, littleBits provides an opportunity to “understand electronics, which govern our modern lives, and to let people become creators and makers.”
Launched in 2011, littleBits makes a library of modular electronics that snap together with magnets. It’s a lot like playing with Legos, except they aren’t static. Put them together and they create something larger — a circuit. Sold in kits or individually, the modules start with a power source and can add everything from lights to WiFi to build larger, more complex circuits. You can make everything from synthesizers to NASA approved tools used for experiments. “We want to make every single interaction in the world into a ready-use brick: light, sound, solar power panels, motors — everything should be accessible,” Bdeir said.
The simplicity is key. You don’t have to solder anything or understand logic and circuitry. The modules are pre-engineered and color-coded to distinguish output, input, power, and the wires that connect them. It’s like learning to speak without having to know the alphabet. The concepts/language of electronics becomes easier to grasp. By demystifying electronics, Bdeir hopes to democratize them. In her paper Electronics as material (PDF), she writes, “We imagine electronics … employed in the same manner as paper, cardboard and other materials found in design shops. LittleBits is now in 2,200 schools and 400 universities.
Fast Company named Bdeir one of its “Most Creative People in Business” in 2013, and Popular Mechanics put her on its list of “25 Makers Who are Reinventing the American Dream.” Bdeir received her master’s from the MIT Media Lab, where she was a student in the Computing Culture group. In 2008, she worked on littleBits during her fellowship at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center. By 2009, she showed off the concept at MakerFaire and won more than 20 awards. Six months after littleBit’s launch in 2011, MoMA included the modular electronics in its permanent collection and Bdeir spoke at TED, where she became a fellow in 2012.
In 2015, LittleBits raised $44.2 million dollars in Series B financing from investors at DFJ Growth, True Ventures, Foundry, and others. The goal is to use the round to invest in STEM/STEAM education and continue to grow globally. “We want to encourage a world of creators, inventors, of contributors, because this world that we live in — this interactive world is ours,” Bdeir said.
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