How One Entrepreneur Is Bringing Fringe Maker Knowledge Mainstream

Ayah Bdeir and littleBits are introducing future creators to the interactive building blocks they’ll need to go from concept to programmable prototype.

When Dorothy and her friends are rewarded by the Wizard of Oz for having melted the Wicked Witch of the West, they discover that the things they most desire (a brain, a heart, etc.) have always been close at hand.

They simply needed the right perspective.

The Scarecrow was plenty smart but lacked the diploma to make it official.

The Lion wasn’t truly a coward, but he lacked a medal to proclaim his courage to the world.

Similarly, many within the Makers community are finding that they needn’t be daunted by the mysteries of soldering, programming or chip manufacturing. Instead, they’re building dynamic, interactive and even web-enabled devices with the help of new kits that use interchangeable pieces to string together basic inputs and outputs.

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These “Interactive Building Blocks” consist of increasingly powerful circuit boards and sensors that can be connected and programmed together out of the box. Soon enough, you’ll quickly be on your way to constructing an expanded array of creative technologies.

Ayah Bdeir is the founder of littleBits, the creator of one of the largest and most comprehensive library of ready-made components. She was described as a Kitchen Table Industrialist by the New York Times after leaving her high-paying corporate job to pursue an unfulfilled passion.

“I see a lot more interest from people that were designers, that are friends of mine that never had an interest in technology, now realizing that the technology is empowering, and allowing them to create their own inventions,” said Bdeir.

“Sometimes it’s an art piece. Sometimes it’s a fashion statement. Sometimes it’s a prototype for a company, for a product. It’s a lot of people that are outside the tech community that are getting inspired by it.”

These sets of ready-made components tap into the core of the Maker spirit, says Bdeir, and enable the re-imagining of whole industries.

“We’re not just passive consumers, waiting for a product to come to us. We are inventing, recreating, hacking, re-questioning, and being inspired by the objects around us. And pockets of people that have the same idea are now saying, ‘OK, these are nice ideas, but how do we also make them into businesses? How do we also make them into contenders to large companies and to the economy?’ That’s why it’s now breaking into the mainstream.”

littleBits was born out of the Maker movement and its very first prototype was shown at the 2009 Maker Faire.

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“It’s easier to get funding because of things like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, so when you want to make a hardware product you’re able to get a little bit more of the funding up front and you can get started,” she said.

“It’s also tools that are really democratic and acceptable but powerful like littleBits, like Arduino, like Raspberry Pi, and those other tools that allow you to enter easily but also tackle those complex things.”

Bdeir said that when creating hardware, it’s necessary to learn about electricity, how current flows and how resisters work.

“You could actually make mistakes that are reasonably dangerous, sometimes,” she said. “That creates a barrier to entry that scares people from getting started.”

 

Bdeir created littleBits because she wanted to solve a problem. She wanted to democratize electronics.

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“Software was democratized when Apple made an App Store and object-oriented programming came along,” she said. “Now anybody with a computer and a couple of weeks can make the most successful games or pieces of software. How can you do that to hardware, which is typically a very top-down, very corporate-controlled industry that has either people making millions of something or, on the other fringe, people that are Makers that are doing one-offs in their garage?

Bdeir is making modules small enough building blocks that they allow for any combination that you can think of, but powerful enough on an individual level that they could get balance.

“Many of the Kits that we have, have firmware on them. They have computers. The key technical problem to solve was to make hardware modular, and to make it a building block so that you could create circuits in a very instantaneous and immediate-feedback way. They go through six, seven, eight months of development even though they look cute and small and unintimidating.”

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That’s a balance that’s important, and that’s what makes it a building block.

Bdeir believes anybody should be able to snap the Internet to anything.

“Whether it’s an object in your home, a new invention like the next-generation Sonos or Nest, or whether it’s creating the next billion-dollar idea, you should be able to do it for yourself.

She’s like to see a lot more people become Makers, especially those people previously cut out of the process.

“The bar will get higher and the things that are around us will become more exciting,” she said “Our lives genuinely can improve, as opposed to just waiting around for the next company to make something for us.”

Ayah Bdeir and innovators like her have declared that It doesn’t take a Great and Powerful Oz to bring Maker visions to life. Empowered by kits like littleBits and other Interactive Building Blocks, do-it-yourselfers everywhere are taking us on an innovative romp down the yellow brick road of technology. Who knows where it will lead?

The ‘Maker’s Manual’ spotlights the do-it-yourself Maker Movement and how new computing technologies are helping democratize the creation of things once limited to craftsmen and professionals.  This 10-week series from PSFK and iQ by Intel will explore trends and feature interviews with artists, inventors and entrepreneurs who are turning their ideas and dreams into reality.

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