Wednesday 26 January 2011

Meeting the Maker of littleBits due to Canceled Flights

I got up this morning before 4am… that is really early. Arriving at the airport I found out that the 5:40 flight was canceled. I should have checked the flight status before getting out of bed (or TAP/Lufthansa could have sent me a SMS). It was not a complete surprise as yesterday someone mentioned that due to the strong rain some flights did not arrive in Funchal.

I was rebooked on a later flight and met by chance Ayah Bdeir, who was at TEI and on the same flight to connect vi FRA. At the demo session I saw her product: littleBits ( but did not talk to her.

littleBits is a set of different hardware modules that can be connected by small magnet. On the website it is described as
"littleBits is an opensource library of discrete electronic components pre-assembled in tiny circuit boards. Just as Legos allow you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are simple, intuitive, space-sensitive blocks that make prototyping with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together."
The approach is very interesting and shows one trend that is currently ongoing in the TEI community: enabling a wider set of people to create functional interactive products by lowering the barrier and effort for prototyping systems that consist of physical components, electronics, and software. The target audience ranges from designers to artists, but also includes the education domain. A point that makes littleBits interesting is that they will be open source. They are not yet available, but one can subscribe for further information on the website: there are also some cool videos...

At TEI it was great to see so many toolkits and platforms appearing. When we did our first open source hardware/software platform in 2002 with Smart-Its we followed a DIY-approach for building the hardware (having a step by step photo tutorial to building the modules) and having a lot of options for programming it. Additionally each module had wireless included. At the time we consider this a good idea - we thought it will empower the developers. Looking back this limited the number of people that would be able use it - but allowed the one's how made the effort to do very forward looking prototypes. We summarized some of the experience in [1]. The current research and products seen at TEI focus much stronger on making it easy for a large set of people to use it - it will be exciting to see if and how this speeds up the creation of new products in the next years.

[1] Gellersen, H., Kortuem, G., Schmidt, A., and Beigl, M. 2004. Physical Prototyping with Smart-Its. IEEE Pervasive Computing 3, 3 (Jul. 2004), 74-82. DOI=