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LittleBits, A Starter Kit For Aspiring Engineers And Makers

 Aya Bdeir, a Canadian-Lebanese engineer and former MIT MediaLabber, had something more flexible in mind when she founded LittleBits. Bdeir’s one-year-old company makes “Bits,” or electronic modules, which connect to each other with color-coded magnets. When you order a kit online, the shimmering purple box that arrives will look more like a box of chocolates than circuitry. That’s part of the fun: dissolving the aura of inaccessibility that surrounds engineering. Inside, neon-colored Bits range from USB power sources to solar panels to sound sensors.

Bdeir compares the Bits to concrete masonry units (e.g., cinder blocks) which revolutionized the construction industry, and transistors which did the same for electronics in the 20th century. “The transistor was only for experts,” she says. “I personally don’t accept this, that the building block of our time is reserved for experts. At the Media Lab, I started exploring how to put the power of engineering in the hands of artists and designers.” LittleBits, the company she founded after leaving MIT, is like Lego for engineers. In the time since, LittleBits has blossomed into a full-fledged startup, receiving nearly $4 million in Series A funding in July.

The sets are designed to get people making right away. Anything. A light-up Halloween costume, say, or a remote control car, or a blender. In place of step-by-step guides or goals, the company has an online community of LittleBits owners who upload videos of their creations and troubleshoot what they’re working on. The bits themselves can be bought in sets, but you can also buy individual bits to suit your interests, and suggest new bits for the company’s ever-growing offerings.