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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: 2) by FatPhil on Wednesday March 12 2014, @10:04AM

    by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> 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.
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  • (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 [] 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) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> 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. []

          • (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.