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A48E_EETimes_2_37x10_87_A19.qxd 12/7/15 1:52 PM Analog design Analog Aficionados dinner: littleBits’ electronic project kits Transformers By Tim McCune & Inductors OSURFACE MOUNT ne of my favorite parts of the annual Analog Aficionados dinners is the informal (and thru-hole) Size Does matter! Low Profile From .18” Height 1.2 Grams Weight Reliability: MIL PRF27/MIL PRF21308 Manufacturing Approved DSCC Quality: AS9100C Qualified Facility US Manufactured Military and Commercial Aircraft Supplier for over 45 Years For all your TRANSFORMER & INDUCTOR requirements • Audio • Pulse • DC-DC • MultiPlex • Power & EMI See Pico’s full Catalog immediately at www.picoelect ronic s.com PICOElectronics, Inc. 143 Sparks Ave. Pelham, N.Y. 10803-1837 Pico Representatives Germany ELBV/Electronische Bauelemente Vertrieb E-mail: info@elbv.de Phone: 0049 89 4602852 Fax: 0049 89 46205442 England Ginsbury Electronics Ltd. E-mail: rbennett@ginsbury.co.uk Phone: 0044 1634 298900 Fax: 0044 1634 290904 show-and-tell among designers. Among the items people have brought have been obscure and exceptional analog chips, 50-year-old one-inch wafers, and home-made wristwatches, scattered around the tables at David’s Restaurant in Santa Clara. (The next such event is Jan. 31, 2016, see the Analog Aficionados website at www.analogaficionados.org for details.) The coolest thing I saw last year was something Aficionado Geof Lipman brought, a box of small modular boards that connected to each other using magnets. Geof is the Director of Engineering at littleBits Electronics, Inc., a company based in New York City. I opened the box and soon found the hardest part of getting started was unwrapping the battery, and I was hooked in about 30 seconds. For the past 50 years, any kids who have shown interest in electronics have gotten some variant of the “100-in-1” project box that uses springs and wires to connect parts into circuits. A great way to begin simple circuit design, but with these project boxes the possibilities exhaust quickly, and the concepts and components haven’t advanced much. Getting kids hooked on engineering is an important subject, and I wanted to learn more about littleBits. I caught up with Geof a while back to talk more about the project kits and how they’d come into being. He sent me some of their newest devices, and I passed them on to a friend for testing with his three kids, three, six and nine years old, hockey-playing youngsters who are miniature versions of the Hanson Brothers from Image courtesy of littleBits the movie Slapshot. The founder/CEO of littlebits is Ayah Bdeir, a thirty-something designer and entrepreneur originally from Montreal. After receiving her undergrad engineering degree from the American University in Beirut, Bdeir began working on new projects while earning her MS at the MIT Media Lab. Lipman told me Bdeir did several concepts while at MIT, but what eventually became littleBits was the one that really took off. Bdeir completed the littleBits initial designs in true analog startup form, just herself and an intern doing the first work. The modular electronics circuit building idea wasn’t initially aimed at the education market, Lipman said. “The original concept here is when you’re dealing with designers, industrial designers, sometimes people will be making models that they want to be functional models rather than just a sculpture that they build. “So she started from the idea that people who don’t understand electronics need better tools, because, for example, they can hook up an LED and accidentally burn it up in a second because they don’t understand what’s happening,” he said. “They started as a way for designers to quickly prototype stuff like lights, sound, motion. It started with around ten designs that were completed before I joined the company. Then they added about 20 modules around the time I joined and I helped finish that batch up.” The company describes its work as a “library of modular components” that can be used to make a variety of circuits ranging from very simple to complex. The basic kit includes ten modules such as a DC motor, a switch, and a dimmer. More elaborate kits contain more electronic and mechanical items, as well as wireless interfaces to connect with the Internet and mobile devices. The design and construction of the kits is very high end, with prices ranging from around $99 for the basic one to $1,599 for “one of everything.” Tim McCune is President of Linear Integrated Systems Inc. - www.linearsystems.com www.electronics-eetimes.com Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2016 37


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