littleBits, The Inspiring and Inventive Story of the Toys with a Purpose

littleBits building kits

With the holiday season fast approaching, many shoppers are no-doubt looking for inspirational, innovative, and imaginative toys that not only entertain but educate kids and adults, across the world. Since 2011, littleBits has been striving to inspire and empower kids with hands-on electronic technology building kits. These kits and accessories are quite remarkable on their own, but founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir’s story about building the company from the ground-up is equally as inspiring.

Bdeir was born in Montreal, Quebec and raised in Beirut, Lebanon by an entrepreneur father and banker mother who wanted to impart the importance of math, science, and design onto her and her sisters. As a child, Bdeir loved exploring the frontiers of natural science with chemistry sets and took programming lessons on her Commodore 64. Although there were societal and cultural pressures to discourage girls from pursuing a future in science and engineering, Bdeir’s parents firmly did not believe in gender roles and gave their daughters the tools and education to thrive in STEAM fields.

Having completed her undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering and Sociology from the American University of Beiruit, she went on the earn her Masters of Science degree from the MIT Media Lab, an antidisciplinary technology, art, and design research lab. Soon after in 2008, she started a residency at Eyebeam, a collaborative workspace for the intersection of art, design, and technology in New York City.

Ayah Bdeir at her workspace at Eyebeam. Photo by Lenard Smith for ArtAsiaPacific.

At Eyebeam, Bdeir worked on art and technology projects that examined the media’s representation of the Middle East and its identities. Alongside her pursuits at Eyebeam, Bdeir taught graduate classes at NYU and Parsons The New School for Design. She even made television appearances as a mentor for the Middle Eastern technology and design competition, Stars of Science.

Her formative years ingrained a passion for exploration, innovation, and teaching, which is prominently represented in undertaking with littleBits. During her 2012 TED Talk, “Building Blocks That Blink, Beep and Teach,” Bdeir lays out the parallels between littleBits kits and Lego blocks. Legos seamlessly taught a generation of children the fundamentals of architecture, design, and construction fueled by creativity and imagination. With littleBits kits, Bdeir seeks to unlock the same creative force driving the popularity of Legos, and at the same time, teach the basics of electronics and technology—a discipline not taught in most US public school curriculums.

littleBits kits have not only been a huge success in the consumer market, but educational organizations and public schools are also using the products to inspire and motivate STEAM learning. Although children are the ideal market for littleBits, artists from designers, to sculptors, and musicians, are using the products to enhance their works.

In her TED Talk, Bdeir emphasized littleBits purpose of decoding the science behind electrical circuitry. With these toys, the ideas behind what makes elevators stay open, or how iPhones respond to touch, for example, are explained in plain detail. littleBits blocks are a series of connectable modules that have specific functions such as controlling light, sound, motors, and sensors. They are color coded and snap together with magnets. No soldering or wiring skills are needed, and the kits come with all the tools needed. They are sold as kits, bits, and accessories that give detailed building instructions, or leave room for exploration and experimentation.

Unlike Lego’s past boy-centric marketing campaigns, littleBits is marketed to all genders; and certain kits, like the collaboration with Korg synthesizers, are sought-after by adults. The idea behind littleBits is unique, innovative, and exciting. These toys have the potential of inspiring a future of inventors who have in-depth knowledge of electronics, technology, and the Internet of Things. So, if you’re shopping for the perfect gift for your young inventors—or maybe for yourself—littleBits is the right move.