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posted by mattie_p on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:29AM   Printer-friendly
from the play-into-our-hands dept.

skullz writes:

"Much ado has been made about SXSW and the resurgence of hardware hacking as apposed to software. Even NPR is getting in on the action, airing a story about littleBits SXSW demo, including some videos. LittleBits are small circuit modules which snap together using magnets, much like LEGOs would if they were held together by magnets. The company pays homage to an open source mentality and hosts example projects, such as this LEGO and littleBit soundmachine, on its website, even though it seems to be missing several (or all) of the actual assembly instructions."

From their website:

littleBits (spelled lower case L, upper case B, all one word) consists of tiny circuit-boards with specific functions engineered to snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap together for prototyping, learning and fun. Each bit has a specific function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc), and modules snap to make larger circuits. Just as LEGO (TM) allows you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are small, simple, intuitive, blocks that make creating with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together.

If you followed SXSW, please share your favorite discoveries or insights gleaned from the conference.

 
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  • (Score: 0, Offtopic) by jimshatt on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:37AM

    by jimshatt (978) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:37AM (#15101) Journal
    FYI. There is no such thing as "LEGOs". LEGO blocks, yes.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12 2014, @09:11AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12 2014, @09:11AM (#15122)

      lol

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by jimshatt on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:42AM

      by jimshatt (978) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:42AM (#15156) Journal
      I meant bricks, sorry. Blocks bricks brocks blicks...
    • (Score: 2, Redundant) by skullz on Wednesday March 12 2014, @02:43PM

      by skullz (2532) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @02:43PM (#15291)

      Haha yup, I was waiting for someone to correct that. I'm from the street, I use "LEGOs".

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17 2014, @06:17PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17 2014, @06:17PM (#17736)

      Yeah stop using uppercase like that. Anyone sane¹ calls them just legos.

      (¹and not payed to protect a certain trademark or something equally stupid)

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by jimshatt on Wednesday March 12 2014, @09:23AM

    by jimshatt (978) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @09:23AM (#15126) Journal
    The littleBit sound machine might be converted into a UTM with a little work. Just need to be able to seek forward and back and swap the colored blocks. Oh, and the loop should be of infinite length, of course. :)
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by wonkey_monkey on Wednesday March 12 2014, @09:46AM

    by wonkey_monkey (279) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @09:46AM (#15129) Homepage

    much like LEGOs would if they were held together by magnets.

    So not at all like actual LEGO bricks then.

    I'm all for making stories accessible to all, but to assume people won't understand what magnets do without a LEGO analogy is going bit far.

    --
    systemd is Roko's Basilisk
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by skullz on Wednesday March 12 2014, @02:48PM

      by skullz (2532) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @02:48PM (#15295)

      Actually I was referring to the way the bits snap together. They don't use friction like LEGOs but magnets. Its the snappy part. *snaps fingers*

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by wonkey_monkey on Friday March 14 2014, @09:17AM

        by wonkey_monkey (279) on Friday March 14 2014, @09:17AM (#16240) Homepage

        Perhaps you should have paraphrased Douglas Adams:

        They snap together almost, but not quite, entirely unlike LEGO bricks.

        --
        systemd is Roko's Basilisk
  • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:04AM

    by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:04AM (#15143) Homepage
    So no learning and no fun then.

    If it's not programmable, then it sounds as educational as a light switch.

    From not reading TFA, obviously.
    --
    Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people; the smallest discuss themselves
    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by kebes on Wednesday March 12 2014, @01:21PM

      by kebes (1505) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @01:21PM (#15243)
      The idea with littleBits is that you can arrange the modules in a wide variety of ways. Thus, it is effectively programming at the hardware level: you are designing a circuit/device by snapping together basic building blocks. Of course, the combinatorial space is not that large, so I'm not saying you can design an arbitrary computation. But that's not the point: the point is to explore what effect different basic electric components have. For that it is reasonably successful. It's also worth noting that nothing prevents you from integrating littleBits with more conventional electronics. E.g. for a given project, you can use wire-and-solder to build some components, but then snap in a sequence of littleBits to handle some portion they are well-suited to. You could even wire them up to an Arduino if you want to add in some software-level programming.

      The littleBits synth kit [littlebits.cc] is perhaps a better example: by providing a bunch of modules to generate tones, modulate sound (high-pass, low-pass, etc.), and so on... they provide a simple and fun way to explore how sound works generally, and how electronic sound production works specifically. If you can understand/predict the effect of all the possible combinations of modules, then you're ready to graduate to more serious electronic music platforms.

      Ultimately, though, littleBits shouldn't be viewed as a way to build anything 'real', even at a hobbyist level. They are just a quick and convenient way to get someone introduced to (and hopefully excited about) electronics. I.e.: they are really a toy for kids who are not old enough or interested enough in playing with conventional electronic kits (I gave some to my nephew). If the kid ends up being legitimately enthralled by the concept, they will quickly run into the limits of littleBits and start wanting some real electronic components to play with. So littleBits are a stepping-stone in learning about electronics (an admittedly expensive stepping-stone).
      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by FatPhil on Wednesday March 12 2014, @01:35PM

        by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Wednesday March 12 2014, @01:35PM (#15249) Homepage
        If you're building circuits, then you learn a lot more by using breadboards, and by having the lamp fail or flicker because of a dodgy contact. Maybe at the crew-in bulb mount, maybe in the battery. You learn about how contacts matter. You might even learn about using a voltmeter in order to diagnose the problems.

        If you don't want the mechanical aspects, just use a Spice-alike.

        It's probably great as a toy. And yes, it's a zillion times more educational than most toys, I don't mean to denigrate it. But I think real learning involves more challenges.
        --
        Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people; the smallest discuss themselves
        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by MikeVDS on Wednesday March 12 2014, @02:22PM

          by MikeVDS (1142) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @02:22PM (#15275)

          I love these things because it's something a 5 to 10 year old can play with, especially if they have a parent willing to help them along. Some kids that young will play with breadboards but most will turn up their nose to something like that. Heck, not even just kids; I know a lot of adults in trade schools who might find these a more palatable way of starting out.

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by terryk30 on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:43PM

            by terryk30 (1753) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:43PM (#15327)

            For beginners young or older, aren't those "100 in 1" kits with the spring contacts still a great choice for basic electronics? Example. [radioshack.com]

            • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13 2014, @05:50AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13 2014, @05:50AM (#15719)

              No. I hated those spring terminals. They should be wiped from the face of the earth. If I'd had breadboards instead of spring terminals as a child, I might have been interested in hardware first, rather than software. The frustration in wiring things with spring terminals cannot be overstated: wires popping out, loose contacts, spaghetti-wiring... Only now, as an adult, am I revisiting electronics because a friend gave me a breadboard and a handful of components to get me started.

        • (Score: 2) by EvilJim on Wednesday March 12 2014, @11:25PM

          by EvilJim (2501) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @11:25PM (#15601) Journal

          I gotta say, I learned a lot from creating millisecond duration sound and light shows with perfboard and a handful of components... mainly how not to fuck up like that again :)

    • (Score: 2) by wjwlsn on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:17PM

      by wjwlsn (171) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:17PM (#15501) Homepage Journal

      How is it not programming? A single lamp & switch circuit is basically "Hello, World!" done in hardware. It just gets more complex and interesting from there. Tell a kid to add a second switch and make the circuit behave such that any switch flip causes the lamp condition to change... then sit back and watch them struggle. :)

      --
      I am a traveler of both time and space. Duh.
  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Jonny on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:40AM

    by Jonny (3014) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:40AM (#15155)

    I'm not sure this has much advantage over... Lego.

    The Lego Mindstorms and Lego Technic lines have done circuits for ages and are really fun.

    I guess perhaps you're less likely to stick Lego to the bottom of a guitar, but if you're looking at this thinking 'Cool, I should get me some of that' then look at the Mindstorms stuff, too!

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Wednesday March 12 2014, @12:19PM

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @12:19PM (#15209)

    For $200 for something that looks like about two hours of entertainment, you can hire me at a special discounted bench rate of $50/hr and I'll professionally solder up anything you'd like. I personally probably do not scale as well as the output of a Chinese factory. Also I would assume that once the Imaginary Property thieves get to work this stuff will rapidly drop at least one zero off the price. And they're probably aiming a K12 STEM .edu where pretty much anything goes when there's money in the budget (which is not all the time, but for a world wide shipping product thats not a huge issue)

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by umafuckitt on Wednesday March 12 2014, @12:49PM

      by umafuckitt (20) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @12:49PM (#15222)

      Yeah, exactly. An Arduino starter kit can be had for $50 to $100 or so and will be more flexible, educational, and useful.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by VLM on Wednesday March 12 2014, @12:38PM

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @12:38PM (#15218)

    I've posted before on the topic of there is no resurgence only careful and intentional NIH.

    If you're very careful to avoid accidentally researching the past, then you too can be a hardware startup in the "new" field of hardware hacking.

    There is a microscopic truth in that "the hardware hacker market" STILL has not recovered from the shockwaves of the implosion of heathkit about two decades ago. Heath used to have about 75% of the pie before they blew up. Now the pie is about ten times bigger, but none of the hundred or so small companies are even a 10th the former size of Heath. By analogy its like the death of the Atari 2600, and now there's a million app store developers (or whatever) but none of them are individually as big as Atari was at its peak therefore the market is dead, or some such.

    Well, maybe Elecraft and Ramsey are finally more than 10th of a 1990s Heath. But the general truth stands.

    The NIH aspect is pretty insane. The world is full of accomplished metal and wood and electronic workers, but there's a whole "thing" around makerspaces full of daytime web developers spending weeknights trying to learn how to use a table saw, all by themselves, ab initio, having never seen nor touched nor operated one before, which is somewhat scary. I grew up with two generations of family members successfully explaining how not to put body parts between the B+ and ground of a 1500 watt amplifier, but going in self taught and ab initio, more or less by intent and desire to be "psuedopioneers" these guys are quite literally going to get themselves killed. "We're the first pioneers to ever do electronics outside a corporate or university laboratory", (pats java programmers head condescendingly) "yes, yes you go on thinking that if it makes you feel better, you too can get a participation trophy"

    Don't get me wrong, I have 1000x to 1000000x more respect for someone screwing around with electronics than I do for a couch potato watching Oprah reruns. And I'd rather see 1000 people F up trying to do something than one person sit around doing nothing. Yet, face it, by intentional avoidance of research, they're just screwing around, and the feeling toward "pretend you're pioneers in the great western desert of NIH" looks more cute than annoying, as long as they can avoid electrocution and fires which would force our overbearing central controlled government / economy to negatively impact my craft.

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Bob the Super Hamste on Thursday March 13 2014, @01:01PM

      by Bob the Super Hamste (3514) on Thursday March 13 2014, @01:01PM (#15836) Homepage

      From what I remember from high school shop class the most likely outcome of someone who has naver worked with a table saw or other power tools is that they usually end up taking one to the seeds as the piece that they just cut off gets kicked back by the saw. Every quarter at least one kid had that happen to them, and it was really hard not to laugh since the teacher always shows them how to use the tool correctly and points out that you should stand off to the side a little bit.