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littleBits at MoMA Design Store

Oversized kinetic sculptures made of minuscule components take over

by James Thorne in Design on 09 April 2013

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Small objects make big waves as the MoMA Design Store unveils a series of kinetic sculptures created from littleBits electronic elements. Essentially the Legos of electrical engineering, littleBits allow people young and old to imagine and create systems complete with light, sound and movement. Having carried littleBits in the MoMA Design Store and featured the line in the museum's "Talk to Me" exhibition, the company was an obvious choice to implement a creative installation in the store windows.

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littleBits CEO and TED Fellow Ayah Bdeir sees the challenge as a natural one for the educational company. "One of the triggers behind littleBits early on was to create a platform for artists and designers to use electronics in their creative process," says Bdeir. While the focus moved toward young people and education, the elements were from the start intended for designers.

"The value of littleBits is that it breaks down technology into its most basic parts. Take a battery, a switch and a light, and together you've reproduced the light switch in your bedroom," explains Bdeir. For children especially, the bits help demystify electricity. Bdeir's hope is that through exposure to electrical systems, we can better understand our technological surroundings.

Bdeir sent out a challenge to the designers at Labour in Brooklyn to create five-foot-tall kinetic sculptures exclusively using littleBits and craft materials. "They're not trained engineers—they're visual designers who aren't used to with electronics," says Bdeir of the team at Labor. Nevertheless, using littleBits' spartan system of one-square-inch magnetic parts, the designers were able to make sharks swim and ferris wheels spin in the windows at MoMA Design Store. Bdeir notes that the shark is something of a metaphor—a small lure activates the much-larger shark just as hidden electronic elements control much of the world around us.

Currently, littleBits plays host to a large community of tinkerers who upload projects and instructions for others to imitate. Each of the kinetic sculptures made for MoMA are available in kits and the directions are online for people everywhere to try their hand. littleBits has also issued the "Make it Big" challenge, for which people are called to design their own robotics installation on a large scale. Vying for a prize of $500 worth of littleBits, contestants are encouraged to upload their imaginative sculptures at the littleBits website.

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The window installations will be on display at the Midtown and SoHo MoMA Design Store locations through 12 May 2013. See the display in action by watching the video from littleBits.

Images courtesy of littleBits

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