Growing up in Beirut, Ayah Bdeir was taught that art and engineering occupied separate realms. “In Lebanon, as in most of the world, there is little blurring of the boundaries between the professions: doctor, teacher, scientist, and designer exist in separate silos,” she says. The company she founded in 2011, called LittleBits Electronics, goes against that idea by making technology accessible across all disciplines and ages. It sells a library of modular electronic units that can be easily connected for projects as diverse as a sound machine, a night light, or a lifelike robotic hand.
LittleBits makes roughly 50 different modules, which cost up to $40 each or come in kits of $99 and up. Each module is a thin rectangle measuring between one and four inches in length and containing complex hidden circuitry. Blue modules provide power. Pink ones allow for inputs, like switches, microphones, and motion sensors. Green ones are for outputs like lights, motors, and speakers. Orange ones provide wires or logic functions. Bdeir designed all the modules so they fit together magnetically, ensuring that users join circuits correctly.
Her New York–based company has sold hundreds of thousands of units in about 80 countries, and Bdeir takes pride in the fact that the product appeals to girls and boys, children and adults, designers and engineers. “A screwdriver is a screwdriver for everybody,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how you use it. Every person will find what they want.”
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