LittleBits has had a busy year. First, it released an Arduino module that let you program your own littleBits circuits and then the CloudBit that let any circuit become internet-connected. Now, the pioneering startup is launching the final piece of the puzzle: the bitLab.
The bitLab is basically an app store for hardware. It will empower hardware makers to create custom-built modules that littleBits can then make and sell to the world at large. LittleBits will sell a Hardware Development Kit for $US40 that includes the basic building blocks for a bit, and hardware developers can create pretty much anything they want that will plug into the littleBits ecosystem. Designs can then be submitted to the new bitLab website, where the community will vote on their favourites. Once designs pass a certain threshold, littleBits will vet and refine the design to get it ready for manufacturing. Eventually, it will go on sale with the rest of the littleBits library. LittleBits shoulders the cost of manufacturing and then gives 10 per cent of the sales revenue to the developer.
In the same way that the App Store did for software, the bitLab aims to democratize hardware development. Granted, the way the costs and profits are distributed because a lot more work falls on littleBits than your average apps store. But the endgame is the same; the company wants to open up the electronics industry as a whole.
The bitLab is off to a promising start. Launch partners include Bare Conductive whose conductive ink can now be plugged into littleBits circuits to create innovative proximity sensors on the fly:
Other partners include Backyard Brains who made an EKG sensor for neuroscience (see below), Bleep Labs who made a simple drum kit using the building blocks from the littleBits synth kit, and MaKey MaKey whose sensor hardware can turn any object into a button. "It was an adventure to prototype the MaKey MaKey module and we're excited to see what else the community dreams up," said the company's founder and CEO Jay Silver. "This is one small Bit for makers and one giant leap for maker kind."
LittleBits looks at the explosive success of Apple's App Store as a guide. "We believe the same thing will happen with hardware -- developers just need one common platform to develop on, a supply chain that powers it, and a marketplace for community and distribution," littleBits founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir said in a release. "We believe the bitLab will be the hardware industry's solution to innovation, scale and growth."
Of course, that's up to the community of developers now. LittleBits has no idea what people will build. But the company can't wait to find out.