littleBits’ Exploration Kits Will Make You Think Differently About Building Hardware

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Whole worlds have been built out of LEGO and K’Nex and Meccano and a seemingly endless supply of childhood wonder, but the world is changing and so too are our toys. That’s where an ambitious New York hardware startup comes into play — littleBits is trying to create a sort of LEGO for a new generation of tinkerers.

The company just recently launched its new batch of Exploration Kits to bring its vision of clever, fun hardware education to the masses, and founder/CEO Ayah Bdeir joined us in our office to show off what people have managed to create with those cutesy components.

But let’s back up a moment first: what exactly are littleBits? They’re a bunch of color-coded components — think motors and lights and buzzers and sensors and batteries — that can be snapped together (thanks to magnetic connectors) to create honest-to-goodness circuits and systems. The beauty of these little things though is that they require precisely zero expertise, and encourage blind experimentation — I spent a few moments snapping a few of them together while shooting the video above, and I wished I had the rest of the day to just muck around further.

What happens when you connect a battery bit to a light bit? Or a light-sensing bit to a motor bit that can drive a small set of wheels? All it takes a few clicks to assemble those rudimentary designs, and just a few clicks more to refine and augment them further. And perhaps best of all, since the team are strong believers in the power of the open-source community, you could always download bit schematics from Github and modify those too.

That family of bits is growing by the moment, too.The startup raised a $3.65 million Series A last year and since then it’s been dutifully chugging along, configuring new kits to introduce to the masses and developing new bits to extend the value of the littleBits ecosystem. Bdeir also offered us a very quick peek at some of the more interesting new bits that are currently under development — expect to see a number bit and bits that enable wireless communication sooner rather than later.

As our own John Biggs noted while playing a with a very early version of the littleBits kit, these things don’t always come cheap. The most basic Exploration Kit offers up 10 bits and the accoutrements to make them work, and will set tots and tinkerers back $99. Meanwhile, the $149 Premium kit comes with 14 bits and the $199 be-all-end-all Deluxe kit ships with 18 bit modules. For some though, it’ll be a small price to pay into get their young ones and the people around thinking about hardware in a different light.