Are there enough dreamers thinking up new connected hardware to fill an app store or sustain a business model built on an app store? Those are the questions you have to ask when assessing the direction that littleBits is heading. Once a connected toy maker somewhat stuck in the education toy ghetto, the New York based business has come into its true vision of building the prototyping gear for the anticipated wave of connected objects.
[company]LittleBits[/company] makes a line of connected products that involve sensors and actuators. You can buy kits that let you snap together circuits that combine a power pack with inputs like noise or pressure with outputs including lights and motors. It’s easy enough that kids can use them, but fun enough that even adults will play with them. On Tuesday the company launched a hardware development kit and Quirky-like crowdsourcing model for new connected sensors.
The idea is that people can submit ideas for new sensors to the bitLab, and if these ideas get enough votes, littleBits will manufacture the sensors and offer them for sale. The person with the idea gets 10 percent of the proceeds. Ayah Bdeir, the CEO of littleBits, likens it to an app store while acknowledging the challenges and costs of producing hardware essentially on demand. When asked about how sensors would get made, she suggested a base level of 1,00 votes but said that more complicated products might require more. When people vote, they are only voting with their wishes, not with actual cash, which could leave littleBits with a glut of inventory if those yeses don’t pony up some money as well as their goodwill.
The new labs initiative plus a hardware development kit that will cost $39.95 combine with the recent launches of an internet connected “bit” and an Arduino “bit” to offer a full suite of products that will let an inventor get up and running with a connected device prototype of their dreams. The cloud bit connects to the internet, while the Arduino bit lets makers program their combinations. Finally, the ability to make your own bit lets folks with a few bucks and dream get started with a prototype.
Or that’s the idea. Bdeir, who believes there is a massive amount of creativity and innovation waiting to be unleashed by people if they only had easy tools to work in hardware, is confident that providing those tools will be a good business. I’m curious how many people are out there with the willingness to envision a hardware product that needs to exist, and the ability to make a legit business out of it, who want to use the littleBits platform to do so.
LittleBits is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.