littleBits is an electronic building block company that wants to democratize hardware. From a burglar alarm to a smart doorbell, littleBits empowers people to create their own electronic devices by sticking different modules together. DirectIndustry e-magazine talked to Paul Rothman, Director of R&D.
DirectIndustry e-magazine: littleBits makes easy-to-use electronic modules. What are those modules and how do they work?
Paul Rothman: The modules are electronic circuits with individual functions. They are equipped with our own custom magnetic connector that makes it easy to connect them to one another. This allows the user to assemble things very quickly. It also helps them orient the modules correctly.
We have different categories of modules, some of which are outputs, such as a gear or a motor. We also have input modules—sensors, switches or environmental sensors, such as for lighting or temperature, as well as a power module. Then there’s a wire category, for example the WiFi connector modules.
DI e-magazine: Where did the idea for democratizing hardware come from?
Paul Rothman: The idea came from our founder, Ayah Bdeir, who went to the MIT Media Lab. She saw all those new technologies and realized that a majority of people in the world, although they interact with technology many hours a day, don’t know how it works. The project started as project for designers, to allow them to easily use electronics in their work, but quickly turned into an educational tool for everyone. The idea is to make kids and adults comfortable enough with technology to create electronic devices.
DI e-magazine: So you don’t need particular skills to be able to use littleBits?
Paul Rothman: No particular skills are required to use littleBits. Anybody can do it. That’s part of our design philosophy. We tried to design products that don’t require an instruction manual. You can just pick up a Bit and, without any electronics knowledge, plug it into another module, like a Lego.
DI e-magazine: What’s the minimum number of modules you must use?
Paul Rothman: You need a minimum of two modules—a power module and an output module, for example a motor or something else that has an output reaction.
DI e-magazine: Your cloudBit module enables the connection of any electronic device to the cloud. How does it work?
Paul Rothman: The cloudBit is a WiFi-connected module that allows you to connect other littleBits circuits to the internet and control them via your website browser or using the littleBits Invent app. For example, if you put a littleBits button on your doorbell, your phone will send you a text message if someone rings the bell when you’re not home. cloudBit can also send a signal via the internet to activate littleBits circuits. For example, you can use your phone to remotely turn on your electric coffee maker.
DI e-magazine: How long do the modules last?
Paul Rothman: It depends on how many littleBits you have in the circuit and what they are. A simple circuit like a battery and an LED will last 12 to 16 hours. A circuit with a motor will last less—about 6 hours. We also offer a USB power option so that you can plug your modules into a wall socket via a USB adaptor. With the connected cloudBit modules, we recommend keeping them plugged into a wall outlet for permanent operation.
DI e-magazine: What about cybersecurity?
Paul Rothman: We implemented a security protocol for cloudBits so that your modules can only connect to your account. The connection between a user’s cloudBits and the littleBits cloud platform is encrypted using TLS, the same technology that encrypts credit card information for online shopping. Also, littleBits does not store any of the information coming from cloudBits. The absence of a central database for cloudBit user data mitigates privacy concerns.