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B-Squares make electronics projects a snap

Clean-tech entrepreneurs aim to make modular solar-powered electronics projects fun and fast with palm-size squares that snap together via embedded magnets.

If a house of cards makes you think of old-fashioned aces, jacks, and diamonds, you obviously haven't heard of B-Squares.

A pair of Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates has developed a unique electronics construction kit comprised of the palm-size squares, which snap together via magnets embedded in the corners. There are a number of different types of B-Squares, including one that's a rechargeable battery. There's also a solar energy collector, a square lit by LEDs, and an Arduino microcontroller. A speaker square is in the works)

Like a rave-tastic deck of electric cards, B-Squares in combination can be used by creative types to make modular sound, light, or other structures or installations, with the electricity flowing through the entire array. The squares can be connected in any combination, and the constructions can be flat or three-dimensional.


B-Squares are the creation of Shawn Frayne, founder of Humdinger Wind Energy, and Jordan McRae, founder of Octo23 Technologies. This week, the pair put their project on peer-to-peer funding site Kickstarter.

The founders hope hobbyists and artists looking for new ways to incorporate unique power supplies into their lives or artwork will adopt B-Squares.

"We think that B-Squares will be a great tool for promoting the use of rechargeable batteries and solar energy to students, artists and all makers," McRae says. They cost $15 for a single Solar Square or up to $250 for a kit containing a mix of 15 squares.

Each B-Square has magnetic contacts on the corners so the squares easily connect to each other. The magnets also transmit electronic signals between squares, and how they're snapped together makes a difference: Depending on how the power squares touch neighbors, either the current or the voltage is increased. If you need more power, simply add more squares. Normally, hobbyists and builders need to custom-fit a battery into a solar array and then solder or wire the pieces together.

Frayne and McRae stumbled on the idea for B-Squares while discussing how to promote solar chargers in developing countries so small shop owners could rent out solar-recharged batteries instead of selling regular disposable batteries to customers. The entrepreneurs were trying to figure out how to make an easy-release battery terminal. Their answer: magnets.

"A lot of people are already saying we should supply B-Squares to emerging markets," Frayne says. "But we are developing something more powerful and specifically designed for those markets. B-Squares are too expensive for people who make a dollar a day."

For now, B-Squares are probably more suited to the tech scene in San Francisco as a battery source for creative pursuits than to rural Guatemala. Even if you don't want stick a solar charger to a window to top off your batteries, you can be the first in your office to get a square that can charge your iPhone.