Kids of all ages — even middle age — dream of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, running at superspeed or punching through brick walls. Announced today and due out on August 24th, littleBits' Avengers Inventor Kit gives children an awesome superpower: the ability to program.
The $149 electronics kit comes with all the parts you need to build a wearable "gauntlet" filled with sensors, lights and sounds, along with a Marvel-themed companion app that teaches about coding. Best of all, the lessons are designed around different heroes, including Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, Black Panther and, my favorite, Shuri.
I got a chance to go arms-on with the Avengers Inventor Kit and it looks like a lot of fun. The box comes with nine Bits, electronic parts that snap together using magnets to form a circuit. It also has a plastic chassis that holds all the components, except for the LED light box, which is attached to it by a wire.
There's also a plastic stand that looks like Iron Man's arm. You use this to hold the gauntlet while you're working on it, but it doesn't have any other function. It's like having a styrofoam head to hold a wig.
The gauntlet slipped comfortably over my adult-sized arm with its straps you can tighten or loosen. The LED light box has its own strap and goes over the middle of your palm. Having the lights in your hand makes it seem like you're carrying a laser around, but it also prevents you from wearing this contraption while doing other things with your hand.
Once built, the device can take advantage of a light sensor that detects how bright the room is, an accelerometer that knows when you move your arm and a button you can press. Based on these three forms of input, the gauntlet can make sounds or illuminate its LED lights in a creative pattern. Imagine writing a program that causes the gauntlet to play laser sounds and light up purple only when you turn the lights out.
The app which controls the Avengers Inventor Kit has an initial set of lessons you need to complete, but after that, you can choose among the different superheros and take the coding lessons that they offer. As with most other children's programming apps, littleBits' software uses a block-based coding language where you drag and snap conditionals, loops and functions together. The blocks have text on them so children do need some reading skills.
The kit comes with a variety of stickers so you can decorate the gauntlet in the color scheme of your favorite marvel characters. I particularly liked the purple and gold color scheme I saw during my hands-on. Kids are also free to try to add their own home-brewed decorations; littleBits showed a unique skin that made it look like even more like Shuri's armband in Black Panther.
If you have other littleBits sets such as the Droid Inventor Kit, a $99 set that lets you build an R2-D2-like robot, you can combine the Bits with those from the Avengers Inventor Kit to build something completely new. Imagine adding the LED light from the gauntlet to a moving robot. More advanced makers may appreciate littleBits Arduino Coding Kit, which lets you program your Bits using Arduino language.
We look forward to getting a closer look at the littleBits Avengers Inventor Kit closer to the time when it ships on August 24th.