Chibitronics connects circuits with stickers for entertaining electronic education
By Heidi Hoopes
January 22, 2014
"Cute circuitry" is not a term you hear often – if at all – but it could be used to describe Chibitronics, which is a crafty merging of electronics and paper. The system combines familiar adhesive stickers with electronic components, such as LEDs, sensor circuits, and even a programmable microcontroller, to create a play set that educates while adding some flash to one’s works of art or otherwise mundane birthday cards.
The concept, developed in a partnership between an electronics artist and a well-known hardware hacker, is simple: circuitry is printed on stickers with conductive adhesive on the back and then connected into a circuit on any medium. Stickers are available in four types: LED stickers in four colors, sensor stickers (light, sound, and timing), effects (currently blink, fade, twinkle, and heartbeat) and a touch sensor that can also be used as a programmable microcontroller.
While the conductive adhesive acts a lot of like a normal sticker, that is, it can be removed and reapplied or not depending on where and how firmly you’re sticking it, one can apply extra adhesive to continue to reuse the sticker.
The various elements can be combined into a circuit with any kind of conductible material, including the copper tape, conductive plastic, and Z-conductive tape that comes with the starter kit, or with things like the Circuit Scribe. When all of the stickers and circuit elements are combined to form a circuit, the result is a piece of art or a craft project that can light up or even be interactive.
Despite the whimsical nature of the stickers and the project’s name ("chibi" refers to a style of character in manga that’s cute and goofy), one of the designers, Jie Le, is a PhD student in the MIT Media Lab, while her partner bunnie directs a Singaporean company with the "broad vision" of enabling users to print their own circuit designs as stickers, and is also known for hacker projects like creating an open-source laptop.
Because the project’s primary focus is to educate as well as entertain, the creators have established a wiki for Chibitronics. Stickers arrive with a Circuit Sticker Sketchbook, which functions both as an instruction manual and also a "coloring book" of circuit designs to for the user to implement. They also point out that anyone can simply photocopy (or scan) a design and pass it on to someone else as a template to recreate the original circuit.
The pair describe Chibitronics as a research project, not a company, and explain that their crowd funding page isn’t to obtain financial support or capital, but simply to determine how many stickers to print. Bearing in mind the potential obstacles they address on their funding page, shipping for Chibitronic sets is anticipated to start in May. Beginner sets can be pre-ordered for US$25.
In their video below, you can see a few projects get assembled with Chibitronic components and hear what Jie Qi and bunnie say about their motivation.