On-Site Hosts First Silicon Valley littleBits Chapter

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l​ittleBits Electronics, Inc.,​ the hardware startup that is democratizing hardware by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with its easy ­to ­use electronic building blocks, opened its first chapter in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley littleBits fishing game.

Silicon Valley littleBits students work together to build a motorized fishing game using the eponymous littleBits.

In a way, littleBits is a throwback to Silicon Valley’s analog roots and companies like Hewlett Packard and Fairchild Semiconductor.

l​ittleBits Electronics, Inc.,​ the hardware startup that is democratizing hardware by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with its easy ­to ­use electronic building blocks, opened its first chapter in Silicon Valley. On the first Thursday night of every month, students ranging in age from eight to seventeen meet at On-Site headquarters in Campbell, CA for Silicon Valley littleBits. On-Site, a tech company that makes cloud-based software for apartment owners and property managers, sponsors the monthly event.

At the center of each class are the eponymous Bits. Looking something like high tech Legos, each Bit comprises a small circuit board with a specific function built to snap together with other Bits using magnets—no soldering, wiring or programming required. Using the power supply, dimmer switch and LED Bits, for example, students can make a primitive flashlight. But that’s just the beginning.

littleBits students from across the world have used the 50 plus types of Bits to make devices ranging from practical to Rube Goldbergian, including analog music synthesizers, mini boomboxes, voice controlled remote control cars and automated cat food dispensers.

For now the students in Joe Dean’s littleBits class focus on building the fishing game. The littleBits instructor, Dean gives students a demo of the device they’re going to build and gives them the Bits they’ll need. From there, it’s up to the students to figure out how the device is put together and make something that replicates Dean’s archetype or betters it.

One student earns praise for figuring out how to power the motorized pond and the fishing pole using one nine-volt battery instead of two.

“Seeing this type of creativity and innovation from the kids is what inspires me to provide these monthly classes for the community,” says Dean, a software engineer at On-Site who volunteers as the class instructor.

“I started teaching my own kids about computer programming because they were not getting this level of technical education at school,” Dean says. “As I was doing this I realized that this is important knowledge for all kids to have and I wanted to provide other kids with the same opportunity that I'm providing for my own kids.”

After years of teaching computer programming to kids Dean heard a story about littleBits on the This Week in Tech podcast.

“I decided to check it out and within one week I was the founder of the Silicon Valley littleBits chapter, the first and only chapter in Silicon Valley,” Dean says.

With dozens of littleBits chapters around the world, Dean considers it ironic for an area that hosts some of the world’s biggest tech companies to only now get involved with littleBits.

“I think the focus today in Silicon Valley is on software development as opposed to sitting down with a soldering iron and making something tangible,” Dean says. “In a way, littleBits is a throwback to Silicon Valley’s analog roots and companies like Hewlett Packard and Fairchild Semiconductor.”

Eventually, Dean hopes to bridge the gap between analog and software engineering by teaching students how to program their littleBits devices to perform more complex functions.

“It’s a way of bringing engineering to life that analog or software technology alone can’t match,” Dean says. “It’s a holistic approach to teaching kids about engineering.”

Founded in 2011 by Ayah Bdeir, littleBits’ mission is to democratize hardware by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with their platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks.

Silicon Valley littleBits meets the first Thursday night of every month at the On-Site building located at 307 Orchard City Drive, Suite 110 in Campbell, California. The free classes, sponsored by On-Site, are open to students ages eight to seventeen.

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