NEW YORK -- At LittleBits' pop-up storefront on West Broadway, employees Krystal Persaud and Emily Tuteur helped me construct a colorful car and its remote control using a handful of the company's magnetically connected components, some stickers, wheels and paper.
The remote-controlled toy, dubbed a "Bitbot," was a small part of LittleBits' push to reach more customers with its latest construction set, the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, which was released Thursday.
The 4-year-old New York startup has become a darling of DIY enthusiasts for creating colorful modules, called Bits, that people can mix and match to create contraptions like remote pet feeders or doorbells that can send a text to a homeowner's phone. But LittleBits executives realized that they weren't providing customers with enough instructions and support to get the most out of their Bits.
A revelation came when employees were reading Amazon reviews about one of their kits. One person wrote about using the kit and being finished in an hour.
"How could they be done in an hour? There's a million things you can do," Persaud said. "We were missing something."
Instead of inventing new components, as LittleBits has done with previous kit launches, the company decided to recreate how its sets are presented so it could make them more accessible to novice builders. After hundreds of hours of user testing, they came up with Gizmos & Gadgets, which is targeted at kids and families. The kit includes a large, colorful manual that provides step-by-step instructions on making about a dozen different inventions, such as a bubble-blowing machine or a bumper-ball game.
There are also design challenges and instructions on how to "remix" these objects to create something new, like a Bitbot that can also draw. Unlike past kits, Gizmos & Gadgets includes all the necessary art supplies that someone would need to create any of the projects in the manual, making it easy to open the kit and start building.
LittleBits' products have been thought of as electronic Lego blocks since the company's founding, and users can be excused for making that connection, especially with the new set. LittleBits this year added two former Lego executives to a strategy committee, and they helped develop the new set.
Gizmos & Gadgets will be available on LittleBits.com, Amazon, Uncommon Goods and several other sites for $199. The company also launched a free app to provide more information on what people can build and to let users show off their creations to others.
"It's totally different than any kit we've ever made, and we're excited to see how people react to it," Persaud said. "Hopefully... people buy this kit and leave it feeling like they're confident makers and can make anything."