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degisn & prdoucts Anaglo degisn A key feature of the modules is the way they connect to each other, something that’s covered in a patent application made by the company. The components only fit together in ways consistent with how electricity needs to flow, and the connections are secured by tiny magnets. Because of this the likelihood of damaging the components or connections, or even of making a bad circuit, is very small. Many of our Analog Aficionados friends come up with great product ideas that never make it past tabletop or workbench demos, so I was pretty interested in how littleBits was able to generate funding and sales attention. Bdeir leveraged connections she had made at MIT and elsewhere and then showed the initial littleBits modules at conferences and exhibitions. She’s a co-founder of Open Hardware Summit and received early support there and at Maker Faire. Lipman joined the company as Employee No. 6 and helped expand the line of projects and modules. The company has been tripling in size every year for three years now and has over 100 employees. Most of the employees are engaged in creating internet-based tools to assist people building littleBits projects and also to support the community of users who exchange videos, information and assistance. The company’s web site lists about 150 local littleBits chapters in 45 countries. I looked at a couple dozen videos describing things littleBits users have designed, and the most interesting projects are the ones where users connect either physically or digitally to things beyond the littleBits modules. Some of the younger users connect the DC motors and servos to Lego constructions, while others rig projects to connect with cell phones and smart house components. “As a modern tech company, community is one of the big things that we have to worry about, and we put a lot of effort into it,” Lipman said. “Like a lot of people I try to do things myself, but honestly when I’m trying to get up to speed quickly, I look at what other people have done.” Some of his best product demonstrations have come from watching videos of what users have built, he said. “If you’re a responsible parent and you can help your child there’s no safety problems with working with it in a mentored context,” Lipman said. “They don’t overheat, we’ve addressed the thermal issues pretty responsibly, they’re hard to destroy from an ESD perspective, partially because of luck and partially because of design. And then we try to keep the corners not too sharp.” Feedback from the kids was excellent. I found that pretty much any kid can help build and enjoy projects with adult supervision. Sasha, the 9-year-old son of my friend and the selfappointed spokesman, said he enjoyed being creative with the littleBits kits. “My favorite thing is to do the hand buzzer and the tickle machine,” Sasha said. “I like to make my own stuff.” “I really liked littleBits and I really liked how you could do multiple projects with one set,” he said. “I liked the magnet connectors, and I really liked the synthesizer. I did most of the projects in the book, and I would like more parts to work with.” My conclusion after playing around with the kits, have my friend’s kids work with them and viewing the online info is these kits will do a lot to get a broad range of people into some level of hardware design. A design community that brings in people who might have virtually no electronics experience is a valuable addition to other electronics design communities, such as diyAudio and of course the worlds of LTspice and other design tools. In a software/app/videogame-centric world, a kid actually creating a hardware device is a big step forward. One useful addition to littleBits’ support of this community, I believe, would be a simplified version of an LTspice-like circuit simulator to get kids into the world of circuit design as they would encounter in engineering classes. MEMS fabrication on the cheap By Julien Happich The mass fabrication techniques used for today’s Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) rely on costly semiconductor lithographic equipment. As for silicon chips, it will take a fairly large market to justify the production costs for any given device, and then commoditization is lurking. Researchers at MIT’s Microsystems Technologies Laboratories have demonstrated new ways to build MEMS on the cheap, not only enabling easy customization of the devices being produced, but also offering an alternative route to their manufacture with desktop-sized 3D printed fabs. This new route to fabricating MEMS could yield new sensors and devices which otherwise may not have found a largeenough market to justify their full development from IP to final product using traditional processes. The researchers’ fabrication device sidesteps many of the requirements that make conventional MEMS manufacture expensive. “The additive manufacturing we’re doing is based on low temperature and no vacuum,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories. “The highest temperature we’ve used is probably 60 degrees Celsius. In a chip, you probably need to grow oxide, which grows at around 1,000 degrees Celsius. And in many cases the reactors require these high vacuums to prevent contamination. We also make the devices very quickly. The devices we reported are made in a matter of hours from beginning to end.” The actual manufacturing technique relies on the use of dense arrays of emitters that eject microscopic streams of fluid when subjected to strong electric fields. To build gas sensors, Velásquez-García and Anthony Taylor, a visiting researcher from the British company Edwards Vacuum, used so-called “internally fed emitters.” These are emitters with cylindrical bores that allow fluid to pass through them. The researchers used a fluid containing tiny flakes of graphene oxide, to be sprayed in a prescribed pattern on a silicon substrate. External row of seven emitters that are part of a 49-emitter array. The scalloping on the exterior of the emitters, due to the layer-by-layer manufacturing, is visible. Source: Anthony Taylor and Luis F Velásquez-García (edited by MIT News) 38 Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2016 www.electronics-eetimes.com


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