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Ayah Bdeir

The Power of Engineers, not just for Experts


How do you make the power of innovation accessible to new audiences? Engineer and artist Ayah Bdeir is a self-professed “big fan of the concrete block” due to the ability to build things that were “larger than us, buildings, bridges, one brick at a time. Essentially, concrete blocks had become the building block of our time.”

The child-friendly equivalent of concrete blocks was created almost 100 years after the invention of the concrete block, LEGO, created the Automatic Binding Brick. According to Bdeir, “it’s estimated that over 400 billion bricks have been produced – or 75 bricks for every person on the planet.” The versatility of LEGO means you don’t have to be an engineer to make beautiful houses, bridges, or buildings.
“LEGO has essentially taken the concrete block, the building block of the world, and made it into the building block of our imagination,” said Bdeir.

Where does the world of imagination do to build upon its building block?

In 1947 Bell Labs patented the transistor, a semiconductor device designed to “take us from a world of static bricks piled on top of each other to a world where everything was interactive” said Bdeir. The issue that Ms. Bdeir takes with the transistor is its exclusivity and design, meant to be used by experts. During her time at the Media Lab, Bdeir began exploring how to take the power of engineers and put it in the hands of artists and designers, exposing a new audience to the potential of new building blocks like transistors.

That’s where littleBits comes in. These electronic modules each have one specific function, pre-engineered to be light, sound, motors, or sensors. Snapping together with magnets, it’s impossible to assemble these innovations in a ‘wrong’ way. A color-coded system allows the user to know which blocks are output, power, input, or wire. Said Bdeir, “all you need to do is snap a blue to a green and very quickly you can start making larger circuits. You put a blue to a green, you can make light. You can put a knob in between and now you’ve made a little dimmer. Switch out the knob for a pulse module… and now you’ve made a little blinker. Add [a] buzzer for some extra punch and you’ve created a noise machine.”

The power and innovation of littleBits extends beyond simple play. Instead of having to program, wire, or solder, littleBits allows you to program using simple and intuitive gestures. “The idea behind littleBits,” according to Ayah Bdeir, “is that it’s a growing library. We want to make every single interaction in the world into a ready-to-use brick. Lights, sounds, solar panels, motors – everything should be accessible.”

One of the most moving effects Bdeir has seen from her creation? How kids have begun to start understanding electronics around them. She explained, “we want to encourage a world of creators, of inventors, of contributors, because this world that we live in, this interactive world, is ours. So go ahead and start inventing.”

This article was written using Ayah Bdeir’s TEDtalk. To view the presentation in its entirety, and to learn more about littleBits, click here.

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