Here’s a list of the top ten tech toys from the 2014 Toy Fair, which was held in NYC in mid-February. Highlights include a shout out to our friends at littleBits, as well as MOSS, a company that makes robotics kits for kids ages 8 and up, via USA Today:
Where can you find a talking bear that responds to your questions, a golf-ball-sized robot that follows the lines you draw and a watch that not only tells time but takes videos? At the 111th American International Toy Fair in New York City, which ran from February 16-19, 2014.
After scouring the football fields full of toy booths, here are my picks for 10 exciting tech toys coming to shelves later this year.
littleBits (Ages 8-up, kits range from $99 to $199:
Kids become inventors with these magnetized snap-together electronic blocks (little bits). The blocks – each a tiny circuit — are color-coded so that kids know that blue blocks are power units, pink represents controls (such as dimmers, motion triggers or slides), while green blocks are outputs (such as sounds, LED lights, etc.). Using their own imagination, kids can create cars that run, whirling dervishes, mini boom boxes, robots and more
MOSS (Ages 8-up, kits range from $149.95 to $399.95)
Building robots becomes as simple as connecting square blocks that are color-coded to perform different functions. There is no writing of code or wiring, just snapping together the blocks with steel spheres to build things that spin, crawl and move. These sets make the complicated process of designing a robot a snap..
littleBits: Prototyping is easier than you think with littleBits! No soldering, no programming and no wiring needed. Just snap together these magnetic circuit boards and get ready for some creative fun with modular electronics. Each piece has a different function from light and sound to motors and pulses. These kits come with instruction sheets and project ideas to get you started. Visit the littleBits community for more project ideas and don’t forget to post your “dream bit” to their site!
Each Tuesday is EducationTuesday here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts about educators and all things STEM. Adafruit supports our educators and loves to spread the good word about educational STEM innovations!
Send your littleBits circuits out into the world wearing SHOES! Now you can hold your circuits together and place them on any surface. Try magnet shoes on your refrigerator, hook & loop shoes on your dog’s collar, or adhesive shoes for more permanent installations. Check out the projects below for inspiration and be sure to visit our Shoes Tips & Tricks Page for more ideas.
Magnet Shoes in Action
Make a mailbox indicator light. This circuit sits directly on your metal mailbox (due to magnet shoes) and signifies when mail is placed inside. When letters are placed on top of the roller switch, the long LED on the exterior of the box shines bright. Out with the flag and in with the long LED! littleBits circuit: power + roller switch + wire + bright LED.
Hook & Loop Shoes in Action
Shoes on shoes — secure your circuit to a pair of sneakers to make these Stomping Shoes. The light wire lights up whenever you stomp down due to a sound trigger. All you need to do is stick an adhesive velcro adhesive strip to the sneaker, add hook & loop shoes to your circuit, lace up the light wire and start dancing.
Make a light-up dog collar! Design your circuit (we used a power module, a sound trigger, wires, and bargraphs) and lock it together with hook & loop shoes. Sew parts sections of a velcro strip to the collar, position the circuit, and watch the collar light up when your dog barks.
Adhesive Shoes in Action
Using adhesive shoes, secure your synth circuit to any material and make an instrument. We made a Keytar! The adhesive on the shoes sticks nicely to the acrylic surface of our keytar and holds the modules snugly in place.
Need some littleBits shoes in your life? Click here
Hit the streets with littleBits. Check out projects featuring our newest accessory, the mounting board. The mounting board allows you to keep your circuit intact and move it around with ease! Simply snap together your littleBits circuit and press the feet of your modules into the holes of the mounting board. Here are a few examples of what you can make!
Skateboard – Trick out your ride with littleBits light effects. This sound-activated skateboard lights up the streets with LEDs and a light wire as you ride along. Simply attach your modules to the bottom of the skateboard with mounting boards! Hit the road and never look back.
Boombox –This portable mini boombox is great for carrying around town. Just place a synth circuit (with 2 speakers) on two sandwiched mounting boards and add an exterior casing. Then spread some music love to the streets.
Mounting Board Puppy Robot –This little puppy bot has two mounting boards for a body. Just add littleBits and some sturdy legs to get him walking. Control his stride by adjusting the pulse and slide dimmers that connect to his servo-activated legs. Activate the sound and motion triggers and he will happily come over and greet you.
Want to add a set of mounting boards to your littleBits collection? Click here.
Try your luck with the littleBits Lucky Slot Machine and win a handful of candy hearts for your special someone. This slot machine operates just like the real thing. Pull the lever to start the graphics spinning on three DC motors. As they stop spinning in succession, win big when three hearts line up. When the hearts align, so do three bright LEDs and three corresponding light triggers. This signals the servo-activated trapdoor to release a candy jackpot. Find more Valentine’s Day projects made with littleBits here.
Last week we had the pleasure of hosting Bilal Ghalib, a hacker aficionado and founder of both GEMSI (Global Entrepreneurship and Maker Space Initiative) and pocketfactory.org, at our offices in New York City. We asked Bilal to come spend time with us at littleBits and make the craziest project he could think of.
Not only did Bilal create a mind-blowing project with interesting interfaces that challenge the way we think about littleBits in combination with the physical and digital realms, his process truly showcased the power of littleBits as a prototyping tool.
Bilal was interested in how he could create an interface between the littleBits synth modules and his own music making tools (apps like Alchemy on the iPad) to make a more robust musical experience. His project has a number of physical and digital components that make up a multi-channel music-making machine.
“Piano Roll” Sequencer
The entire project is controlled by a “piano roll” sequencer that operates under similar principles to a player piano and is triggered by light. Bilal created a scrolling musical score by filling in dark spaces on an Excel spreadsheet and running it in between a series of 4 bright LEDs and 4 light triggers. When a dark square moves between a bright LED and a light trigger, a corresponding oscillator plays a note. This “piano roll” sequencer has four output channels and plays three notes. These sounds can be modified by adjusting the oscillators, but also by adding and mixing in other synth modules. The fourth channel, rather than producing a note, is connected to a long LED which lights up to the pattern of black squares on the scroll. The squares on this fourth channel are spaced at regular intervals and produce a pulse of light.
The light pulse put out by the long LED is read by a light trigger in a subsequent circuit that activates a drum beat in time to the “piano roll” sequencer. A normal pulse module could have been used to control the drum beat (the 2nd circuit), but with the light pulse, the drum beat corresponds with the speed of the DC motor that spins the scroll of notes, keeping the two circuits in sync with one another. The transfer of electrical signals between two isolated circuits via light is called opto-coupling. Not only is this a great way to sync up the two circuits, and it also helps the project to run more smoothly as each circuit has a separate power source. The larger and more complex a circuit gets, the more power it needs. This project also uses power adapters vs. batteries.
Conductive Servo Arms
The drum beat circuit is all based off a single pulse, but it produces three different rhythms simultaneously. This is done with a branch, a series of logic modules, and three servos. The servos are positioned on top of an iPad that has the Alchemy app open. Alchemy is a synthesizer app with a variety of sound sets and modification features (drum sounds were selected for this demo). The servo arms are dressed in conductive foam and wired to a copper pipe. When they are activated by the pulse signal, the conductive foam arms move up and down and touch certain spots on the iPad, creating different sounds of a drum rhythm. This conductive setup takes the place of a finger tap.
Logic-Based Drum Beat
This drum circuit, though controlled by one pulse, creates three different rhythms. The pulse goes into a branch where the three servos are connected. Before each servo are a series of logic modules (latches and inverters) that switch up the beats.
What’s great about this project is that you can modify the sounds and the rhythms by making physical changes (no programming is needed whatsoever). Switch up the rhythms by filling in squares on an Excel sheet, speed up the tempo by adjusting the speed of the dc motor scroll, add and subtract logic modules to mix up the drum beat, and change the quality of sound by experimenting with various synth modules.
A zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion by rapidly spinning a series of static images. It is a classic invention with ancient roots and has gone through many iterations over the years. We thought we would put our own “spin” on the zoetrope using littleBits and 3d printed parts.
For this project, our circuit was relatively simple. It has a DC motor and three bright LEDs controlled by a pulse. We also used a button in combination with a latch in order to be able to turn it off and on.
If you don’t have a 3d-printer, but would still like to be able to use these parts, you can 3d-print our files via Shapeways. Shapeways is a 3d-printing marketplace and community. If you don’t want to go the 3d-printing route, try creating figures using Lego or clay.
You can also find all the 3d files for this project on Thingiverse.
We are very excited about some of the new projects that we’ve been working on as well as the projects that the littleBits community members are coming up with. In this post, we will showcase robots that react to their environments in a variety of ways and rely on no programming whatsoever. The following robots are able to navigate a space and each depends on a different set of sensors to do so.
Through a combination of LEGO and littleBits, we were able to create a super smart cockroach that reacts to its environment just like a real one would. It is able to navigate tricky spaces and it scurries when it is exposed to light. When it finds a dark place to hide, it lays low and stays put.
How it works:
Navigation – The two bend sensors act as sensing antennas to help the cockroach navigate its surroundings. When the cockroach approaches a wall, the closest bend sensor will be activated. This will cause the opposite wheel to stop spinning due to the inverter before the dc motor, steering the cockroach away from the wall.
Shadow Seeking – The cockroach has two light triggers. The light trigger is set on light mode, so when each of the sensors sees light, the wheels spin. When a light trigger sees darkness, it’s corresponding wheel stops spinning, making it so the cockroach turns toward the darkness. If both light sensors are in the darkness, the cockroach stops moving completely.
This smart little creature roams the table on a central wheel that is connected to a dc motor. Little plastic arms activate three roller switches on the side as they bump into cups and bowls, causing the robot to turn and try elsewhere. This happens because there is an inverter in between the first dc motor and a second dc motor positioned on the edge. More info about the circuit here.
This project, submitted by one of our community members, is a vehicle that is able to follow the twists and turns of a line made from black tape. It has two bright LEDs, two light sensors, and two dc motors. It works by illuminating the floor’s surface with the bright LEDs. The light sensors then pick up the reflected light from the floor. Lighter-colored surfaces (the floor) reflect more light than dark surfaces (the black tape). When one of the light sensors senses the lower reflectivity of the black tape, its corresponding dc motor slows down, thus turning the vehicle and keeping it on track.
Unable to watch the ball drop in Times Square or on TV? Worry not, celebrate at home with this DIY version made with littleBits. You will be in for a surprise when the ball hits a roller switch and triggers the servo. Confetti may or may not be involved. Learn how to make it!
Countdown to midnight with this voice-changing microphone. You can modify your voice by experimenting with the delay and filter modules from the littleBits Synth Kit.
He sees you when you are sleeping… He knows when you’re awake. Santa watches your every move, just like Great Uncle Edward. This creepy portrait has motion triggers that sense when you are near and eyes controlled by a servo that watch you wherever you go. The double AND, double OR, inverter, and latch make up the logic behind Santa’s eye movement.
Add some fun to your ensemble and surprise your guests with this quirky, sound-reactive bow tie. It moves on a servo and is activated by the sound of your voice! Control how it moves with a pulse and a dimmer.
Time to get fancy! This animated hat will surely impress your guests. Bright LEDs project a spinning image of Santa and his reindeer flying through the night on the wall of the hat. Just touch the pressure sensor at the top of the hat to activate the dc motor.
Time for a sing-a-long! Forget the words to Frosty the Snowman? The Caroler’s Helperis scrolling sheet music that you can use to follow along. Two dc motors turn the scroll of music when you press the pressure sensor on the frame.
Music, like making, is universal. No matter how far you travel, either in distance or time, you’ll find people creating, and whether it’s things or sound, the act of creating is a constant that connects us all. With that, we are extremely excited to announce the littleBits Synth Kit . Developed with Korg, the world-renowned electronic instrument company, we have successfully combined music and making to provide an experience that has never been seen before. Taking our goal of making an electronic design platform accessible for all, now anyone can dream up new sounds or songs and make them a reality as fast as their mind will allow. We think this could be the start of a new chapter in the history of music technology and we hope you’ll join us for the ride.
-Paul Rothman, Product Development
Developed in partnership with Korg, a pioneer of electronic musical equipment, the littleBits Synth Kit is an infinitely customizable and expandable analog modular instrument. The littleBits Synth Kit includes an assortment of 12 electronic Bits modules that instantly snap together with magnets to create circuits like those used in Korg’s famous analog synthesizers (like the MS-20). The Synth Kit also includes a project booklet outlining step-by-step instructions for 10 projects.
The Synth Kit was developed over the course of 9 months and is a collaboration between two seemingly different companies that share very similar ideals and principles. We embarked on creating a kit that would behave as a modular analog synthesizer but was accessible to anyone with an interest in sound. We started by ideating the different modules that might be possible and picked the ones that would offer the most complete and varied experience.
After several modules for the kit were selected, a MAX/MSP patch was created to simulate the behavior between them. This simulation informed a lot of the features and interactions the modules now possess.
When thinking about the hardware layouts, the original sketches included trim pots for controls. This ensured the modules would remain small and there was no current precedent for a module to contain more than one potentiometer. After some reflection, it was realized that creating an instrument that required a screwdriver to adjust the controls would not be useful in a performance setting. We then decided to take the step to replace the trim pots with potentiometers, breaking a current convention but making the kit much more playable.
Each module has a story behind how it came about. Find out more about how each module developed here.
Candy is an important part of Halloween! However, eating all that candy can lead to cavities. Make brushing fun this Halloween by creating your own electric toothbrush! All you need is a toothbrush, rubber bands, a wooden block, and littleBits! This toothbrush also has a programmable timer so you can decide how long to brush your teeth for (the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth two times a day for two minutes). Show that sweet tooth who’s boss this Halloween.
This Lego cockroach behaves similarly to real cockroach, making it a great Halloween prop. It is able to navigate tricky spaces and it scurries when it is exposed to light. When it finds a dark place to hide, it lays low and stays put. See how this clever circuit combines bend sensors, inverters, and light triggers to create this lifelike interaction.
In honor of the littleBits Halloween Costume Contest, we whipped up our own Halloween costume. This glowing dinosaur can be made with the light wire and an old hoodie. Learn to use the light wire as a structural element and light up your night this Halloween. See project details here.
This is part of an on-going series of posts about littleBits. We encourage you to use the Tips & Tricks to enhance your Bit projects. littlebits is available in the Adafruit store – Starter Kit, Extended Kit and Teaser kit.
LED Bits make bright and bold projects. There are 7 LED Bits in the littleBits family and although we don’t play favorites, the light wire is our go-to Bit for making wearable projects. Want to make your own flashy outfits and accessories? Check out these tips.