The littleBits Ted Talk

The Gotham Gal is an investor in littleBits, which means that our entire family is an investor in littleBits, which means that this is a disclosure.

It's not surprising that the Gotham Gal is an investor in littleBits. When you meet Ayah Bdeir, you cannot help get excited and inspired by her vision. I've blogged about littleBits before here at AVC, but I'm doing it again because I just watched Ayah's TED talk and I am compelled to share it with all of you. It's short, just five minutes. So check it out.

#entrepreneurship

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    These are the legos of the generation Z ūüôā

    1. fredwilson

      that would be awesome if that happens

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Yeah, I would have loved this when I was a kid. In fact I love it now but I can’t find an excuse ūüôā

    3. Guest

      Please look at Snap Circuits. 

  2. Rohan

    Nice.Bit by bit, we make little changes to the world.And little change after little change, we make big changes!I had already recommended littleBits to 2 friends for their kids.What I would love to see is a ‘gift’ kit for around $49 between the $29 teaser kit and the $89 starter kit. (And maybe an extra $10 for international shipping?). It should be an easy gift purchase for kids’ birthdays..Another idea would be to segment from simple to hard (and cheap to expensive, perhaps?) based on age group.I’m sure they’ve thought of all of this. My 2 cents just in case..All in all, definitely an idea worth sharing. All the best Ayah! ūüôā

    1. fredwilson

      great suggestions. what i would like is for the prices to come down across the board. they are still too expensive.

      1. William Mougayar

        The price point when reached will be a game changer. And Distribution/Marketing as well, of course. 

      2. LE

        They could also setup some kind of exchange where people could trade used little bits.One question though. If the items are in stock, why the long ship times? It says “41 in stock” but “ships in 3 weeks”.¬†http://market.littlebits.cc…Spot check of a few items shows the same.

      3. Yaniv Tal

        The good news is that COGS can’t be more than $5 for these things. Once their volumes increase I’m sure they’ll be able to make them more affordable.This is a tremendous project. We have to find ways to teach our kids math and science at an early age. Engineering is a way of looking at the world and you don’t have to be solving partial differential equations to begin to understand how technology works. These babies that are playing with iPads at 2 – they should be playing with little bits by 5, coding at 10, and building iron man suits by 20.

      4. Robert Holtz

        Thanks for telling us about this Fred. ¬†I’ve seen a few things along these lines but the TEDTalk drove it home. ¬†I love the way Ayah drew a lineage from concrete block, to the emergence of the transistor, to her invention.My father was an electronics engineer and he used to show me on paper how circuits work. ¬†In the same way artists doodle figures and line art, he would literally doodle out on a pad of paper small circuits and explain to me what each of the symbols signified.Part of why I grasped computer software as quickly as I did was because I paralleled those symbols in my mind with the commands I used. ¬†Interestingly, today would have been his 70th birthday. ¬†He passed away due to illness in December 2010. ¬†This is something I would have certainly wanted to share with him. ¬†Its a shame he isn’t around anymore to have enjoyed it. ¬†I KNOW he’d have loved this.I was also a serious Lego maniac in my childhood so this really resonates on a lot of levels.Fred, I have some thoughts on places to take this and ways to expand it. ¬†I don’t know what Ayah’s or Gotham Gal’s plans are going forward but if that is of interest to you, Fred, please do not hesitate to make contact.

    2. panterosa,

      Shipping is a huge pain when you are a small company. I can’t see how $10 is feasible for international. It cost’s me $5 to send a deck of cards with postage and packing and addressing (and I’m not even invoicing – I’m sending prototypes for feedback). FAKE GRIMLOCK talked about pain in the arse of shipping posters.You talk about teaser and birthday. I design in series so you can get more of the thing you like – the compliments, in card games, blocks, other. I agree $29, $49 but $89 is high, I’d put it to $79, just talking price points here. I have designed it from the beginning that way, like Froebel gifts, and I also have apps in the works to compliment and mirror.You should be able to buy $29 and then $49, or the reverse, but it’s hard when there’s overlap.¬†

      1. Rohan

        Just FYI – $29 and $89 are their existing price points. :)And I understand the problem with shipping. It’s a wish.All the best with the pushing ahead! ūüôā

        1. panterosa,

          Yes I know little bits has no middle price. But I do have one. Thanks for the best wishes. I should send you my latest prototype.

          1. Rohan

            Look forward-o! ūüėÄ

      2. ShanaC

        That makes it one of the more expensive toys though. They need to figure out their distribution, stat.

      3. Brandon Burns

        jcpenny has a program that allowed them to save millions in shipping costs. they find neighborhood non-jcp retailers (like your local coffee shop), and bulk ship jcp packages for people in the neighborhood to that 1 location where people can pick it up, instead of the more costly option of shipping to individual homes.¬†for jcp consumers who choose this shipping option, they get a discount on shipping and, in addition, have a more flexible way to pick up packages since they no longer have to sign for the box. its also a revenue stream for the local non-jcp retailer because jcp does all the set up and shares some of their shipping costs savings w/ them. my mom let jcp set one up in her business and it’s an extra $25k annually that she doesn’t even need to think about.¬†maybe there’s a startup idea in building this model for many small businesses instead of one big company?

        1. matthughes

          That’s pretty interesting.Who knew jcp had it in them?

        2. panterosa,

          Thanks for the info here. Interesting idea. Yes, there is an idea for someone to pluck!

    3. Luke Chamberlin

      In my afterschool program we used computer-controlled LEGO Technics for many projects (aside: I was expelled once for organizing a secret robot fight club that was deemed “too violent” by our teacher. After one week they let me back in after an apology from me and a petition from my parents).LEGO had a special catalog for afterschool programs that contained the big, expensive kits with lots of parts designed for classes of 10+ kids.But LEGO also sold smaller sets through its catalog and through retail. All the kids in afterschool programs around the country could now get the sets for their birthdays or whatever.It was a good strategy.

      1. ShanaC

        I’m a bit surprised they are not working with Lego…..that would be fun (at least for me)

        1. Luke Chamberlin

          I don’t think LEGO would be interested in the Creative Commons aspect. They have a long history of enforcing their patents and shutting down similar products.

          1. JamesHRH

            This will get some blood boiling, but that is exactly what LEGO should do, IMHO.I disagree with little bits being open. Open minded is one thing – open sourced is another. Great ideas come from everywhere; great product experiences require a commitment to your market that should be more highly valued.It is clear that Ayah has spent an incredible amount of time & energy to see little bits as clearly as she does. Being able to describe what she wanted to do so cleanly and simply eludes 90% of entrepreneurs.¬†And, she has likely put even more time and effort into turning that vision into reality.LEGO was the same, just 70+ years ago.Open sourcing really seems to degrade the value of the product innovation. While I am sure Ayah’s motivation is principled, I think the practical reality is that her¬†failure to properly value the things she creates will inhibit her success.As Po’s Dad says: ‘their is no secret ingredient.’If you don’t think it is special and treat it that way, why should anyone else?

          2. Luke Chamberlin

            I’m not sure how open source works to littleBit’s advantage either.

          3. fredwilson

            i disagree. open source opens up innovation. you are thinking old school James.

          4. JamesHRH

            @fredwilson Old school like Grandmaster Flash ? ;-)I agree that open source fosters innovation. But high value experiences need high value infrastructure. Open source creates a perception of commodity.LEGO enforcing their patents = LEGO protecting their brand.

          5. fredwilson

            Mysql is not commodity and never has been. Open source wins because everyone pitches in to make it the best product in the market

          6. JamesHRH

            @fredwilson:disqus¬†I am not close enough to the DB space to comment on mysql & happily accept your example.There seems to be an inherent weakness to open source, in some instances. I am sure I can readily outline the instances, but would take this stab at a generality…..in a B2C offering, where brand and experience create significant value, I worry that open source creates a base perception that ‘no one is minding the store’.Just bought a set for my son for his birthday, FYI!

          7. ShanaC

            I know, still, technics is not nearly as engaging as littlebits – lego’s solution is much more complicated.

  3. kirklove

    GG’s Women Entrepreneur series on Mondays is great and¬†littleBits is very cool.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah. we talked about her Women Entrepreneur series over the weekend. she’s been doing it for almost a year and a half now. she has profiled close to 100 women. i think the fact that it is easy to find a new women entrepreneur every week to blog about says something in and of itself.

      1. kirklove

        Exactly. It’s kind of bullshit when people say there aren’t a lot of women entrepreneurs. There are tons, doing amazing stuff. Maybe they aren’t coding in VIM or Python, but they are building great stuff. As Lili’s job has taught me ‚Äď empower women and you empower the world.¬†

        1. awaldstein

          I couldn’t agree more.

        2. William Mougayar

          Nicely said!

        3. LE

          My stepdaughter (7) follows me around and wants to know how I repair or put something together. My stepson (9) has no interest only cares about sports.  

          1. kirklove

            I’ve got a daughter and hoping for the same. ūüėČ

          2. LE

            Kids get excited about what their parents reinforce and get excited about.¬†Why do you think so many boys like sports?¬†Daddy gets all excited around sports.¬†How many adults talk about how they like theater and then mention how they went as a kid with a grandparent to the theater (I didn’t).I know a woman who had an eating disorder because her father was only happy when eating food (other times he was miserable).¬†So the bottom line is that if you get excited and make it a fun situation with positive reinforcement you stand a good chance of fostering that behavior.Same goes with employees. We used to get all excited when new customers called on the phone. Since employees experienced this they had the same behavior when taking the call. They knew how we would react. ¬†

  4. DanielBrujis

    These are awesome, I am going to buy some.You should suggest to Ayah to talk so some people at Columbia Engineering (my alma mater), sounds like good things happen when you put these in the hands of students. I am happy to help make the connection if it would be helpful.

    1. fredwilson

      i will see where they are in their school outreach program and get back to you

      1. ShanaC

        I really think Cooper would be a good match because they have a significant art program. And lots of engineers

  5. Dave W Baldwin

    Glad the Little Bits project is moving along!Get to finally insert a related story.¬† We are in our third year of participating in the FIRST Tech Challenge, an 18″ cubed robot that High School students design from scratch to perform tasks related to given game.Moving into this year, I took the reigns through 4H to start a FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) team in the Southeast Missouri area.¬† The FRC robot is 2’x3’x5′(h) machine.¬† The game in 2012 involves basketball.I figured most teams would design their bots going for offense.¬† Knowing that less than 1/6 of the teams would do something with defense plus work with the 4’x8′ bridges in the middle of the court, I pushed that way.Luckily, I was fortunate to get the help of Jaron McMurry of a small school in Chaffee, just South of Cape Girardeau.¬† Due to time constraints, the guys in Chaffee plus two girls in Cape built the robot in 24 working hours.We went to the St. Louis Regional Tournament the weekend before last.¬† Sticking to strategy, we found out that other teams were scouting us and the stats showed we were up in the top three regarding ‘bridge’ points.The second morning, leading to Quarter Finals, I could tell the team was anxious (understandably) and had ready an inspirational talk regarding strategy/execution and thinking outside box… it was tagged with “Have A Little Faith”.I decided to not bother the team, keeping them focused on the game…. but it was great to say the tag as we were chosen by the number one team moving into Quarter Finals and went on to win…. and now we’re off to World Finals at the Edward Jones Dome the last weekend of April!!!As we try to accomodate the forward looking needs of the younger population, there will be naysayers and so on… just keep at it and Have A Little Faith.Good job, the Wilson Family!

  6. panterosa,

    I met Ayah in December as a result of your first post. I am also designing and producing toys and games for kids in a unit system, except mine are in the field of botany and zoology not electricity and circuits. I face the same challenges with price points, and particularly with regard to magnets.¬†Ayah is delightful and had great suggestions for me. I got in touch with Siftables and Project Noah at her and her engineer’s urging.My quest is to manufacture green, and Ayah said green will be really tough to make happen in the already hard price point. In my case though, games to teach about nature, I feel this is part of what my company is about. I ranted on the Shapeways post about green prototyping. Everyone agrees its a great idea but to few people are doing it.¬†I saw the TED post and hope that little bits finds a manufacturing partner to solve these issues for her. I would like then to follow her footsteps.¬†

    1. William Mougayar

      Keep pushing ahead. There are parallels in the concept of marketing Building Blocks that become great enablers.

      1. panterosa,

        I will push ahead William!!Simplicity in teaching, building blocks as you say, is a real game changer. To deliver it thru gaming is like adding rocket fuel. 

        1. JamesHRH

          Hmmm. Games are, by definition, supposed to be games. You can’t trick people much.

          1. panterosa,

            Since you haven’t seen my products your comments don’t make sense.

          2. JamesHRH

            Not trying to be a knob…..but I have bought my kids educational games & they figure out that it is not fun they are getting, it is learning.

          3. panterosa,

            A recent thing I made was fought over by the boys and then the girls at a party. And they did not go to get cake so they wouldn’t lose control of the thing. Everybody wants one, yesterday. But I have to sort out green production, which is more complicated, and all the attendant marketing and so on.

  7. William Mougayar

    I recently met Ayah & she gave me a tour of littleBits. Her vision is very compelling and its time has come.¬†I’d like to see them in every school & in the hands of creators and designers, pursuing the Lego dominance ¬†dream.¬†But it strikes me that this is a high stakes game that requires a big investment to take it to the next level.¬†LittleBits needs to a) Educate more of the world about what it enables, b) get to a more massive production scale so that their prices can come down.¬†It makes me want to create something just to put a LittleBit of sound, light, touch or movement in it.LittleBit makes objects come to life. I can also imagine synergy with 3D printing.¬†

    1. awaldstein

      Good comment William.I agree that price is an issue.But I would argue that educating even a part of the world is a painful way to approach a market. As a marketer I cringe whenever I hear this.The way to educate is to inspire. You touch on it with a program for creators and designers but I encourage everyone to remove the word ‘education’ from their marketing vernacular.Understanding will following inspiration. And inspiration is a lot more viral and shareable than just information.

      1. panterosa,

        Interesting point Arnold, about removing ‘education’ from the marketing material. I make “educational” products – but I rather see it like this: ¬†learning is a by product I want primarily for my user to have fun. That fun will teach them, but more I want them to be inspired. That is the challenge of building the fun right.

        1. awaldstein

          Couldn’t agree more.I come from a family of science teachers. As a tech marketer what I learned from them is that discovering and sharing inspiration is the key to learning, selling and creating community. Inclusiveness as a poise is what we share when we really connect. Exclusiveness is what we put out when we lecture.I”m all about education. I just never use the word.

          1. panterosa,

            So stealth Arnold.

          2. JamesHRH

            Have you seem this –¬†http://www.startwithwhy.com/ ?I think I have mentioned it to you before – for sure I have posted it here before.Simple but true.Simon can get his feet pretty far off the ground, if you follow him on twitter, fyi. Occupational hazard, I guess :p

          3. awaldstein

            New2me, I’ll check this out.

        2. ShanaC

          Have we made education depressing?

          1. panterosa,

            According to Sir Ken Robinson, who I watched again yesterday, the answer is a resounding YES. BORING!So sad. I so am ready to tip that apple cart over!!

          2. JamesHRH

            The customers of education are disinterested in the product.

          3. ShanaC

            and I am looking forward to watching…

      2. William Mougayar

        I agree with you in principle. But reality is that- some people will be inspired, and others need to be educated. Not everyone can be inspired. The reason why this may be relevant for LitteBits is because some of the gatekeepers to their success might need to be educated. I agree that having to “educate” the market is not an ideal position to be in as a startup, because it’s costly and resource intensive.

        1. Adrian Palacios

          I agree William–education is important. I think back to my experience with Legos: I would always buy the package that fit my mood at the time (spaceships, pirates, or something else) and then build said spaceship or boat according the instruction booklet. After a while, I amassed a large enough amount of Legos, and enough experience building with them, that I started building my own things. Education can come in all shapes and forms…a simple instruction booklet was all I needed until I was confident enough to let go of the training wheels.

        2. awaldstein

          I think that to have to educate the market is an untenable situation actually.Don’t get wrapped in the linguistics. Education will happen. It depends on how you intend to go about marketing the change.Change within education, the enterprise, and industry after industry will happen from the bottom up, not the gatekeepers down.My radical web self is showing.

    2. kidmercury

      totally, seems like lots of potential case uses…..i think the initial customer base that develops will play a huge role in shaping the growth curve of the company…..perhaps there are multiple players that could work with this type of idea……

    3. LE

      I agree. I also think there is a window of opportunity where they have to execute before another company comes along and does essentially the same thing. 

    4. panterosa,

      I can also imagine synergy with 3D printingThey need to figure out how to apply the magnets. And then I’m in too on making my products order able thru Shapeways only!

    5. JamesHRH

      I am a non-believer in the impact this will have (don’t get me wrong, still cool).LEGO did not make more engineers or architects. It gave kids who wanted to build things an early start. And it gave a bunch of other kids something to do that was fun and easy.LEGO has two modes that cover 90% of its use: ridiculously simplistic creations (snapping 2 to 20 blocks together into something) & ridiculously well laid out instructions for the assembly of pre-packaged outcomes (HERO bots, Pirates of the Caribbean ships, etc.)My kids (6&9) are not creating with LEGO – they are assembling. They are not makers (what ever that is, frankly), they are unskilled labourers.LEGO is training them to work at Foxconn more than Apple.¬†But, to be clear, they like it and it gives them a sense of accomplishment and the colours are bright and they make great gifts.¬†There are 1000’s of things they could be doing that would be far worse.Unleashing innovation and creativity takes a lot more than tools – mainly, it takes intuitive ability and interest. And, quite likely,¬†@JLM:disqus¬†would suggest that it takes a crucible of some sorts (competition, survival, any of the tiers of Maselow’s hierarchy of Needs).Could little bits become a major division of LEGO? Absolutely.Will little bits alter the world in some way? Did LEGO?

      1. Shyam Subramanyan

        Agree. Well said.

  8. awaldstein

    I love this idea.Lego is an amazing company in every way. LittleBits has chosen a proud path to connect physical connections with unleashing our mind’s imagination. I wish them well.An anecdote.My dad (a physicist and teacher) made us collect old radios and toasters and we would put them together. (My brothers more than I). He never started with what the pieces could do, always with what we wanted to create–like a light came on when your bedroom door opened.Big difference in learning from a creative spark and assembling underneath it to learning the building blocks first. Learning and understanding should support creativity, not the other way around.Don’t know LittleBits but liked the presentation. Starting with a cement block was brilliant.

  9. panterosa,

    I love that they took little bits to the art schools. Great place to test but also important to bring new tech to people who are designing and building. Love that RISD built a cannon! My favorite part of my education – the place where nothing was sacred except creativity and inspiration

  10. kidmercury

    the user/customer base is kids (i.e. parents who buy for their kids)? are there any other notable customer segments? just curious. 

  11. K_Berger

    My apologies in advance for going off topic but I believe the AVC community expects that we share the news when someone hits the pay window.¬† Last week, our company, UpstairsSolutions.com, was acquired by a competitor to form the biggest provider in our space.¬† http://www.upstairssolutions.com/P…Both teams are staying on board to help merge the two companies together and create a ‘best of the best’ product.¬† We were a bootstrapped company of about 20 people.¬† They are private equity backed with about 100 employees.¬† And while I was the COO and not the founder, I could not have been more mentally and emotionally invested in this business over the last six years.¬†Actually, maybe this is not so off topic since the founder of Upstairs Solutions is a woman.So, a thank you is in order to Fred and the whole AVC community for the knowledge, advice, and camaraderie.¬† I also want to give a special thanks to Phil Sugar.¬† When we were looking for advice and a sounding board, I reached out to him and he was a great help.¬† Needless to say, I only knew Phil through AVC.com.Now on to the next leg of the journey…

    1. awaldstein

      Choosing Phil was a smart choice.Congrats!

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks.¬† Phil was great.¬† I will add that finding a good brain to pick around here is easy pickings, but Phil’s guest post really resonated with me.

        1. awaldstein

          HIs post was a keeper. I have it bookmarked.

    2. Rohan

      Congrats Ken! All the best!

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks.

    3. RichardF

       fantastic news Ken.  Congrats

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks.

    4. andyswan

      Boom! ¬†ūüôā

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks, Andy.¬† (I feel like ‘Boom!’ deserves a better response than that but I cannot think of anything suitable.)

    5. JLM

      P A Y ¬† W I N D O WA very good thing.Very, very well played!Now, don’t spend the money just yet. ¬†Savor that elixir for a bit. ¬†Well played!I smell a Pay Window tee shirt in your future.

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks.  I meant to give you credit for the pay window reference.

        1. JLM

          Oh, no, my friend. ¬†Every journey to the Pay Window is like Lewis & Clark, uncharted wonder and adventure.You have made it and own a special insight into your own soul. ¬†You did it by yourself and you, and you alone, should savor that triumph.You have come as close to making chicken salad out of chicken excrement as a man can come. You have wrestled with triumph and disaster and bested them both.Well played and enjoy!Now you can fund the good works that were always within you plus that trip to Fiji you always wanted.Enjoy the fruits of your labor before they get “redistributed”!

    6. Carl J. Mistlebauer

      Congratulations! Having checked out your links it appears that this is a great match that is a win win for everyone!I also really admire this statement: “And while I was the COO and not the founder, I could not have been more mentally and emotionally invested in this business over the last six years. “

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks.¬† The term ‘win win’ gets used a lot nowadays but I do believe it applies here.

    7. ShanaC

      Congrats, what are you thinking about your next steps?

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks, Shana.I will be sticking around.  Our leadership team is staying on and while an integration is incredibly difficult to do well, I enjoy trying to get different opinions to work together and learn from each other.

    8. Mark Essel

      Well done, and best of luck to your combined company’s future.Invictus, William Ernest HenleyOut of the night that covers me,Black as the pit from pole to pole,I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul.In the fell clutch of circumstanceI have not winced nor cried aloud.Under the bludgeonings of chanceMy head is bloody, but unbowed.Beyond this place of wrath and tearsLooms but the Horror of the shade,And yet the menace of the yearsFinds and shall find me unafraid.It matters not how strait the gate,How charged with punishments the scroll,I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul.

      1. JLM

        Hell, well played, to you Marcus!  Love it.

        1. Mark Essel

          It’s the poem that is triggered in my head when I hear “pay window”. That feeling is what I’m hooked on. The combo of victory, freedom, righteousness, and confidence will outlast us all. Bask in it!Of course I look forward to your presence when pay window comes up. That view out your airplane is a pay window.

      2. K_Berger

        Thanks, Mark.

      3. Cash Advance

         Great poet William Ernest Henley and not a bad critic

      4. Emily Merkle

         that is my personal gospel.

    9. EffectiveWebSolution.info

      Cool, how much did you make? :-)Congrats!

      1. K_Berger

        A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.¬† Thanks.

    10. Tom Labus

      This news is certainly not “off topic”.Congrats!

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks, Tom.

    11. fredwilson

      well played!!!

      1. K_Berger

        Thanks, Fred.

    12. Robert Holtz

      Sincere congratulations. Way to go!

  12. sigmaalgebra

    Suggestion:Take the hardware pieces of littleBits and partition them into (1) sensors (for temperature, voltage, current, magnetic field, gravitational field, bar code reading, acceleration, flow rate, pH, salinity, digital cameras, GPS, oxygen content, light, infrared, ultraviolet, wireless reception, RS-232C input, etc.), (2) transducers (linear motion, digital displays, circular motion, audio speakers, power relays, LEDs, radio frequency generators, heat source, wireless output, RS-232C output, etc.), and (3) everything else.For (3), f’get about it!Then for the sensors in (1) and the transducers in (2), give them USB interfaces.Then for the connections among the sensors and the transducers, have some software that is nearly as easy to use as the physical pieces.So, with a $35 computer with a root of a USB tree and with also a network interface card (NIC, i.e., Ethernet LAN connection), could build autonomous cars, airplanes, machine tools, materials handling robots, house monitors, house controllers, smart thermostats, electric power peak load minimizers, proportional integral derivative (PID) controllers (super smart slow cooker or deep fat cooker!), inventory system, BBQ cooker/smoker, etc.So I’m suggesting adding control.Five points:First, soon would also want some pieces of software that look as modular as Lego blocks (I told IBM that years ago!) or littleBits.Second, soon would have to address the software issues of parallelism, concurrency, locking, transactions, etc.Third, soon would build some serious systems and would have to consider reliability.Fourth, eventually would also have to consider security.Fifth, a first cut view of the future is getting what people want in the famous one word answer, “More” via more in automation via people managing computers managing computers … several levels deep managing computers doing the work, and at the last level we need lots of sensors and transducers and ways to control them.Exciting times to be living in!

    1. Yaniv Tal

      I think you’re describing Arduino, BeagleBoard, and the number of other uController kits out there already. I definitely agree that they should be teaching kids to use these things in school. It really doesn’t take much¬†to get an Arduino board up and running and doing cool things. Littlebits should be a stepping stone – it should make people feel comfortable with electronics and hopefully drive kids to want to play with more sophisticated kits. Maybe they could make wire harnesses for interfacing littlebits to circuit boards. A gateway drug that converts itself.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        > Arduino, BeagleBoard, and the number of other uController kitsI’m not up to date on such things but may be saying something different.Yes, some years ago a guy in the office next to mine had an electronics lab and got some general purpose lab instrumentation hardware with a software interface and used it. So, yes, computer connected lab instrumentation has been around for a while.Actually littleBits reminds me of the single board electronic modules that were the start of DEC!I’m all for such hardware, especially with connections with software. E.g., with old RS-232C, it’s possible to have more fun than is usually achieved without beer or sex! I use RS-232C and three conductors of some old 4 conductor telephone wire to drive my old Xerox daisy wheel printer which is terrific for typing mailing addresses! I just use the three signals Send, Receive, and Signal Ground and jumper some of the other pin pairs inside the plugs. I also used some of that telephone wire when I moved my files from my old OS/2 system to my Windows system: I used the software HyperTerminal, that came with Windows XP and that I already had on OS/2 and Z-modem or some such to send Zip files. Worked well. I had a few GB to move, and it took a while, but it worked. Since I couldn’t find any OS/2 device drivers for any of the several old Ethernet cards I had kicking around, that RS-232C approach was about all I could do.I have kept my eye out for more in Windows software for controlling devices but have not seen much. E.g., for my Web site building work in .NET, Visual Basic .NET, ASP.NET, SQL Server, etc., I have over 3000 pages of documentation but nowhere in collecting all that did I run into how to write software to communicate with a device on a USB bus! Bummer. Of course there HAS to be a way, but apparently the assumption is that only HP or some such would want to do that. No. A lot of people, including in junior high, might want to do that if the software were effective, well documented, and easy to use and there were a nice collection of sensors and transducers something like littleBits but with USB connections.But there are some differences between that old world and the new one now that are possibly significant.One difference, and an important theme, is ease of use, and littleBits has that and as far as I can tell so far the old world doesn’t.Another difference is the theme of the coming of, say, $35 computers. Heck, last I read there is a processor on the way with chip area 1 square millimeter! Little computers can be CHEAP, and if there is a real use for a billion or so a year than they will be cheap. Could have an all solid state computer with a terabyte of mass storage, 4 GB of main memory, a processor with several cores, all the size of a pocket watch, really not much bigger than just the USB plug itself. littleBits could be an entering wedge into that future.As I recall, the last IBM water heater mainframe had a clock speed of about 150 MHz. So, the 1 square millimeter processor might actually be faster in every sense! Cheap computers can be powerful and not just toys.It seems to me that an important, big next step for something like littleBits is control via software. I’m suggesting that the software should be similar to littleBits in that it should be equally easy to use and with the theme of connecting modules like Lego blocks.At least initially the control techniques and software connecting the sensors to the transducers would no doubt be simple, but here is some high level evidence for the importance of control for the longer term:The electrical engineering (EE) community concluded long ago that they needed to move upstream from just Ohm’s law, RLC circuits, transistor characteristic curves, antenna patterns, etc. and connect with the next problem — control. So, long in the MIT EE department was M. Athans as inMichael Athans and Peter L. Falb, ‘Optimal Control: An Introduction to the Theory and Its Applications’, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.and similarly at BerkeleyEugene Wong, ‘Stochastic Processes in Information and Dynamical Systems’, McGraw-Hill, New York.Some years ago I published a paper in some far out distribution free mathematical statistics for monitoring server farms in Information Sciences. Well, the editor in chief was a full prof in EE at Duke! His interests were a very long way from Ohm’s law!The particular examples of Athans, Wong, and my paper aside, from a high level and for the longer term, control, simple or advanced, stands to be a crucial direction.So, if littleBits catches on and is an entering wedge, then broadly the next step will be control. Well, the obvious way to add control now is with little computers. So, rather than connecting one littleBits module to another one, connect both of them to a USB tree and a computer and some control software.Then if want to watch all night to see what wildlife is using the backyard, then use some such modules and a computer, have a camera watch the backyard, have the computer detect a change and, then, keep the picture from the camera! With good modules and software, could set up such a system in a few minutes! Ah, provide a shot in the arm for the little tripod business!To make a business out of it, have the interface be somewhat proprietary and have good infrastructure software. Then get to charge extra for the little hardware modules because they all work so well with the software and, thus, each other!

        1. Guest

          “To make a business out of it, have the interface be somewhat proprietary and have good infrastructure software. Then get to charge extra for the little hardware modules because they all work so well with the software and, thus, each other!”Where have I seen that model before?

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Give away the razor and sell the blades?I thought it was just generic, standard operating procedure!

  13. Ela Madej

    “The¬†Gotham Gal¬†is an investor in¬†littleBits, which means that our entire family is an investor in littleBits, which means that this is a disclosure”:) nicely said, I just got my paper copy on “On Writing Well” (which I think you recommended here some time ago).¬†

    1. fredwilson

      i think someone in the community recommended it. i hope you like it.

  14. Jan Schultink

    You should actually integrate this with (Technic) Lego, that combines electronics and mechanics, that would be a great toy

    1. JamesHRH

      LEGO in the last 20 years is flat out amazing.Broadened their reach without damaging the brand. Rare.

  15. Luke Chamberlin

    I clicked through to see if they had acquired littlebits.com yet, and alas, they have not.

    1. William Mougayar

      My understanding is that .cc is more appropriate because it denotes the Creative Commons license. I think Ayah has covered that in the first post that Fred wrote about them.

      1. LE

        While I can’t predict the future, I can say with certainty that you don’t want to brand your company under anything but .com¬†It’s what the people, organizations, and companies who will be paying customers know about. ¬†Not using it will just cause confusion and lost business. ¬†(Besides web visitors there is also the issue of email wrongly addressed to the .com not arriving.)

      2. Luke Chamberlin

        I know that is their stance but nothing beats .com

        1. JamesHRH

          YUUUUP!

  16. falicon

    Amazing product, horrible TED talk (it was basically just a commercial which goes against EVERYTHING I want in a TED talk). I loved the concept behind the talk, and I get the connection, but because she is the head of the company and spends a lot of time demo’ing and talking about the product her company makes, it feels too much like a commercial.I suspect the exact same talk given buy someone that was not affiliated with the company (or better yet, a teacher/professor that is implementing them in the classroom) would probably have come off better.

    1. Cam MacRae

      I had the same visceral reaction, but on reflection I don’t agree.Historically TED has been a festival of ideas, comprised mostly of 18 minute “I saw the world in a different way and here is my idea” talks from intellectuals of all persuasions.But this year they expanded on the format with the “Full Spectrum” concept.Ayah is a maker. Her talk could be equivalently abridged to: “I saw the world in a different way and here is what I made”.Which is exactly what I want in a TED talk.

      1. falicon

        I mostly agree…and her talk was def. in that realm, but I feel like it just had a touch too much ‘commercial’ in it for what I want/expect from TED talks.Take this same video and put it in any other venue and I absolutely love it. ¬†Take this same concept (build blocks of the world), remove the company affiliation (and demo) and I probably view it as a ‘solid’ TED talk…

        1. panterosa,

          See above reply to Cam MacRae, plus…Siftables, whom I got in touch with through Ayah’s recommendation, did a cool TED talk in the same manner, except that was still at the Media Lab, and Ayah is now post Media Lab and is funded. Just different stages of the game in my view.¬†I would be thrilled to do a similar talk on my work. 3 interlocking systems of tools to disrupt botanical and zoological teaching, involving digital and product. So I wonder at what stage that would best become a TED talk – now, as I build the system, or later when I have some partners.

          1. falicon

            I think now as you build the system and are more in the ‘thought’ and ‘vision’ stage than the ‘sell’ stage…

          2. panterosa,

            Frankly I am so drenched in vision and steeped in thought it would be a fabulous release. I was partially motivated also by EO Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Life TED talk, and expressing biodiversity in games and tools for kids. I’m slightly discouraged by the mess the EOL is, and have several ideas for the redesign.¬†In fact the more mess I see around the Tree of Life visualizations the more I am convinced I have unf**ked the learning of it in an elegant fun way.

        2. JamesHRH

          TED talks used to make me stop and think. TED used to mean earth shatteringly cool.Now, most of what I see from TED only elicits a “cool”. And then I stop thinking about it.¬†(Almost everything I see from TEDx elicits nothing).little bits are cool – but I am not a maker, so they don’t shatter my world. So, I will see if I can buy some for my son or daughter to play with……& then I will forget about them.Audience matters.

      2. panterosa,

        I agree. I met Ayah and have seen the little bits. And it is a maker’s talk.I also think one of the issues of TED is to present cool ideas and not only will they change thinking and perspective, but that change will be reflected in commerce by adoption.Why not have a talk which then inspires someone to partner with little bits idea to enable manufacturing at a price point which will actually ensure the adoption of little bits as a standard kind of toy and hence spread the learning?¬†How would that be so different to seeing a talk about incubators made from Toyota car parts to send to Africa which inspires a philanthropist to fund this project?

    2. William Mougayar

      I found the talk very inspirational and visionary. The value came from that. The demo was to show that her vision is being realized. That carries a lot more weight than if it came from an academic perspective.Some CEO’s (like Ayah) deserve to communicate their vision, because there is originality and value-add in it. Ayah was very open in explaining her vision and the potential that can be enabled by it. It’s very risky for a CEO to be that open, because others can copy their strategy, so in light of that- I thought that full credit is due.¬†

      1. falicon

        I agree that it’s great she is open, and I agree she should be out there sharing her vision…I’m just not thrilled with it at as a TED talk is all I’m saying…I feel like that’s a venue that should be free of commercial agendas (and I know her talk was not entirely skewed towards a commercial purpose, but there was more of a flavor of it in there than any other TED talk I’ve watched).

    3. ShanaC

      I’m starting to think ted talks are becoming overrated….not always, but sometimes.

      1. falicon

        Yep…I think it’s the law of scarcity in action…as the quantity/availability of something goes up, the quality (or perceived quality) seems to come down…sad but true.

        1. Ricardo Diz

          I agree. I’ve noticed I take longer now to get a TED talk I believe it’s interesting…

    4. fredwilson

      it’s not a full blown TED talk. it’s one of their shorts. i think demo’ing is ok in that type of talk

  17. scottythebody

    I am definitely picking some up when I come to the States (whenver that is)

  18. Asdasd

    Wow, this is very very interesting. Im not so sure I can see it take off like “lego”, or at all.http://goo.gl/Lc0j4

  19. S. Pandya

    Out of¬†curiosity, what happened to Bug Labs? Wasn’t its original mission similar?The link for their store doesn’t seem to be working… O_o (http://store.buglabs.net/)

    1. fredwilson

      not exactly. they are still around. but mostly focused on the prototyping market.

  20. jason wright

    I feel I had this sort of thing as a Christmas present when I was nine.

    1. ShanaC

      it was and got caught!

  21. Vinod Ralhan

    FredExcellent Idea. Liked it very much. Can’t wait for my daughter to get little older to play with this.You should also check this out.Squishy circuitshttp://courseweb.st…¬†http://storyofdesign.com/20…¬†She is doing all this with home made stuff.very cheap and very effective.vinod

    1. fredwilson

      cool. thanks for the link.

  22. Pete Griffiths

    Littlebits reminds me of the turtle project. I love its tactile nature. I think things like this are incredibly valuable for getting young kids invested. One of the things that concerns me is that a combination of poor math teaching and the growing complexity of software stacks means that even the successes of the BBC micro project are harder to repeat today. But this kind of project is exactly what is needed to bridge that gap.

  23. Otto

    Fantastic! I love this. 

  24. Brandon Burns

    the artist piggy bank demo was by far the most compelling part of the video. why? it’s selling what the circuits can do, not just the circuits themselves.¬†marketing tip (if littleBits is listening): put¬†more final-product demos front and center on the website with little sidebars for each that say something like “took 3 bits, 10 minutes and no experience”. that makes me want to buy bits to replicate something cool i’ve seen, or inspire me to make something else; otherwise, people are just looking at photos of bits without something to make it clear to them what exactly they can do with them if they buy them.p.s. i love this product. i wanted to get into arduino but the barrier, while low, is still too high for me. this is at my level.

  25. Avner Ronen

    Ordered one for my son ūüôā

  26. Shyam Subramanyan

    Cool stuff, but I can’t buy into the big vision. I’m left with the feeling that this is just an expensive toy for the first world. ¬†Real creativity happens when there are constraints – like that kid from Malawi that made a windmill from junkyard scraps. ¬†When you have bunch of things you can snap together quite easily, it’s not much more than an evening of fun.

  27. Olivier Mével

    I’ll also start with a disclosure ūüôā¬†I’m the cofounder of reaDIYmate (before I created Nabaztag the wifi bunny).We’re also trying to make the building of interactive products (internet-connected objects) easier for everyone and a key element in the “DIY Kits for digital natives” domain is the software. Software running on the bricks or elsewhere.¬†It’s how you make it easy for everyone to be able to build simple if-this-then-that with hardware or with a very simple paradigm; we’re very impressed by the way littleBits implements that!

  28. Esayas Gebremedhin

    creativity and dream are related. her project made me smile.

  29. GlobalDiscussion

    Brilliantly Innovative!!!

  30. GlobalDiscussion

    Brilliantly Innovative!!!