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littleBits - STEM Learning Toys for Smart Kids

There's a big push to encourage science and technology education, under the acronym STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math). This has helped to drive innovation in educational toys for kids that can serve as a gateway to STEM, helping kids to learn by doing and by engaging with tangible physical objects, while still having fun.

One such product, the littleBits electronic building blocks, is seeing success -- reporting, for example, that up to 40 percent of kids using its kits are girls, four times the industry average.

The littleBits electronic building blocks, first released in 2014, allow kids to engage with electronic circuits by embedding a collection of electronic modules into "Bits" -- small circuit boards that simply snap together magnetically, so no icky wire wrapping or soldering is required.

There are some 70 different bits now available, along with 10 pre-packaged themed inventor kits.

The individual bits are priced starting at $7.95 and $9.95 for basic bits, around $17 to $25 for more complex bits (temperature sensor or servo motor), and up to $39 and $49 for specialty bits (MIDI or MP3 music). These are designed for ages 8 and up.

You build your invention by snapping together the four kinds of bits -- power bits to power the chain, input bits to control the following bits, wire bits to route and change the flow, and output bits to do something at the end.

The input bits include touch controls like buttons, switches, and sliders, sensors for light, motion, and sound, and sound generators like a keyboard and micro sequencer.

The wire bits can perform logic (e.g., and, or, not), fork the signal on multiple paths, and communicate wirelessly to other bits via radio.

Then the output bits display light like a bargraph or number, generate a sound with a buzzer or speaker, or can be in motion, from a fan to a DC motor.

Newer bits can perform even more sophisticated actions that bridge from toy circuits to smartphones and computers. These include taking input from a microphone or MP3 player, communicating using USB or Bluetooth, sending/receiving signals from the Internet, and programming with mini-computer bits (including an Arduino processor).

littleBits also has packaged a variety of kits with a selection of bits for different themed types of inventions. You can get started with Hall of Fame starter kits ($39), a Rule Your Room kit for touch-based inventions ($79), and a Droid inventor kit for creating robots ($99).

The new collection of Inventor Kits include the introductory Base Inventor Kit to build an intruder alarm or voice-activated robotic gripper arm ($99), the Electronic Music Inventor Kit to experiment with electronic instruments from a keyboard synth guitar to a hands-free air drum ($99), and the Space Rover Inventor Kit to customize a planetary rover ($199).

There's also an Avengers Hero Inventor Kit to build high-tech hero gadgets ($149).

littleBits also has packaged kits for educators and classrooms, and has developed over 20,000 school partnerships and 300 invention clubs.

- See full Holiday Tech 2018 presentation for my local talks in the Princeton area
- See companion article in U.S. 1 Newspaper, Nov. 14, 2018

Find the littleBits Base Inventor Kit on Amazon.com

Manifest Tech Site

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This entry posted on December 15, 2018.

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