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SXSW: Software, Apps Still Rule But A Hardware Resurgence Is On

By linking a few Little Bits together, we created a synth kit that made music you heard during our chat on <em>All Things Considered.</em>
By linking a few Little Bits together, we created a synth kit that made music you heard during our chat on <em>All Things Considered.</em>

The task of building your very own toy, or robot, or radio can seem daunting for someone without much background in engineering. But a set of color-coded electronic bits that can be magnetically snapped together called littleBits is aiming to make creating your own electronics easy for everyone. It's like Legos, if only Legos could be connected into circuits that light up, move or make music.

"Circuits in seconds," promises the outside of the box.

LittleBits is the brainchild of founder Ayah Bdeir, an engineer trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We see a lot of kids who are using these to make their own toys, to learn electronics, to play in groups," she says. "But the thing we are excited about is that it's about really democratizing hardware. And democratizing electronics for everyone — designers, inventors, prototypers of any age."

Amid so much talk about apps and software company launches at the South by Southwest festival in Austin is the "maker movement" and the resurgence of hardware — the physical tools and machines of technology — and how to make "making" more accessible. With littleBits, Bdeir and I made a synth kit together in seconds. They're also used to make art installations or prototype projects.

"This has been brewing for a while," Bdeir says. "We need to remember that we are all makers, and touching things with our hands is powerful and inspiring, and some of our best memories growing up are always around things ... . We want everyone to be comfortable making something without being an engineer, quitting my job, taking a six-month learning process."

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