Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition

Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition

Spring 2017 Toys
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Price: $199.95

The litteBits company's second edition Gizmos & Gadgets kit provides all the tools needed to create Bluetooth-controlled circuits, complete with two motors, a servo, and various light and sound outputs. The Bluetooth unit connects to a littleBits app on a smartphone or tablet which can then be used as a remote on any design.

littleBits electronics are small, magnetically-connected units that allow nearly error-free circuit design. A battery plugs into a power unit, fundamental to every design; this feeds into input bits (in this kit, a light sensor or a slide dimmer, but there are many other compatible littleBits parts available in other kits) which lead to output bits (an LED bar graph, a buzzer, or the motors and servo). The magnetic poles ensure that circuits cannot be connected backwards to form an electric short, making this design safe and particularly suited to younger engineers.

The 60-page, full-color manual goes through each unit in detail and encourages exploration and basic circuitry play before branching out into the app-controlled designs. The manual is easy to read and provides an excellent and inspiring tutorial. The manual specifically describes a spinner, a remote-controlled car, and a pinball game, all of which can be built entirely from the kit supplies, though kids are encouraged to embellish with materials from home.

The app serves numerous purposes. It pairs with the Bluetooth chip to send signals to the motors and servo; the app provides controls that respond to shaking and swinging, a button press or slider, and a steering module. It also gives timers and readouts for feedback or to allow delays in circuit operation, and users can create custom controls. The littleBits app keeps track of all the circuit pieces in a library, so as the collection grows with the addition of other kits it is easy to remember what is available, and quickly to look up the features of a particular circuit unit. Finally, the app also has a library of designs beyond the three in the paper manual, even allowing user feedback and suggestions for design changes, so kids who need more guidance before branching out have plenty at their fingertips.

The kit includes several accessories to turn the circuits into mobile, dimensional objects; a particular favorite was a ball caster that allowed for fine-tuned steering (a knack that takes some practice with the steering module in the app), but the set also included wheels and a mechanical arm (which is designed to hold markers or other drawing implements for a more artistically-inclined robot) as well as paperboard templates for projects explicitly described in the manual. The set uses a mounting board as a base for the accessories and circuits; this was occasionally a point of frustration, as the connectors did not hold as well as the more LEGO-like connectors do. Fortunately the developers also included a few pieces to make the connection to actual LEGOs easier—not to mention paper, cardboard, chenille sticks, rubber bands, plastic cups, or anything else a creative child can get his or her hands on!

Emily Crawford   ©2017 Parents' Choice
Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master's in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Look for this product at:
littleBits Electronics, Inc.

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