littleBits @ DockerCon 2015

By admin


This blog post was written by Bridget McGraw (Oakland Chapter leader) & Iva Peréz (Barcelona Chapter leader).

DockerCon General Session Opening Event

Early in October 2015 we were hired as a “littleBits Educators” by an experience marketing agency that was producing a major technology conference, DockerCon EU in Barcelona, Spain. Docker is an open platform that enables developers to build, ship, and run distributed applications. Kenwood Experiences the agency creating all aspects of the conference in Barcelona, envisioned a Rube Goldberg-esque contrivance that would involve littleBits in a build, ship, and run scenario featuring their mascots, Gordon (a tortoise) and Moby (a whale).


The Kenwood Experiences Creative Director Chuck Conner, Technical Producer Chris Haroff, and Bridget McGraw, the littleBits Oakland Chapter Leader and IoT-focused educator spent a couple weeks hammering out the details of the build, ship, and run scenario. Two teams would come from the audience and build a bitMobile, based on the recipe from the Gizmos and Gadgets kit. Gordon’s wireless receiver would be triggered by a tweet-o-meter that consists of a cloudBit and IFTTT connected to an Arduino bit. Jaki Levy of ArrowRoot Media, Bridget’s fellow alum from Tisch School of the Arts Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) saved the day and programmed the Arduino/cloudBit master controls. The code lives on GitHub here.


The controller was programmed so that tweets with the hashtag #GoGoGordon would increase the voltage on bar graph lights. Once the lights reached full power, a wireless transmitter would ping the GordonMobile’s receiver, which would then activate DC motors to spin his wheels to roll along through a village full of colorful little cardboard buildings. The LEGO crane in the center between two eight-foot long tables, had a second tweet-o-meter on it, which fueled the MobyMobile in the same way but with the hashtag #DockerCon. After the crane operator (Chuck) moved a paper cutout of a shipping container from Gordon’s table and onto the back of the MobyMobile, the container was shipped—again, triggered by a wireless bit. Moby and the container would then roll across the deep blue sea and run into a pair of roller switches.

A strand of city lights that we purchased at Burning Man’s favorite supplier of fully addressable LEDs, Cool Neon Lighting in Oakland, was attached to the windows of the cardboard city; one of the roller switches lit up the cityscape. The other switch launched an applause-o-meter constructed by brothers Shaun and Craig Mulligan from Resin.

Chuck, being a veteran of live television productions, wisely built in a couple of fail-safes: a manual override for the tweet-o-meter in case of wifi issues and pre-built—and ready to roll—bitMobiles under the table. During the live event we relied on both! Not only was the wifi struggling to accommodate 1,500+ mobile devices, but also the MobyMobile was incorrectly assembled. We referred to the pre-built vehicles as soufflés, as in a cooking show that magically pulls out a perfectly cooked dish from the oven, which is precisely what we needed to keep the show on track.

Here is a link to a video of the event. Sadly, this was in Europe only a few days after the Parisian terror attacks of November 13th, 2015, so the event opened with a moment of silence.

The littleBits happening is from approximately 00:07:00 to 00:13:22:


The MakerLab

Additionally, Docker envisioned a MakerLab in the expo space, where sponsors exhibited their wares. Attendees, encouraged by a contest, would invent and create projects using littleBits. Kenwood Experiences contacted Iva Pérez, the littleBits Barcelona Chapter Leader so she would be present with her business partner, Astrid Baldissera. The three of us become littleBits’ dreamTeam as we encouraged and helped attendees understand the complexity and scope of the cloudBit  and Arduino bit.

Docker purchased hundreds Arduino, cloudBit, and Gizmos and Gadgets kits in order for the attendees to join a fun contest intended to awaken their creativity and ingenuity. The contest rules encouraged collaboration (teams of 2–5), so our MakerLab was a convivial space in the expo hall. By the end of day one of the conference, our tables where a chaotic mess, we had helped a dozen teams form and get started. We were happily blown by their passion and creative ideas.



The contestants signed up to show their projects at the mini-stage within the expo hall toward the end of day two. A few teams dropped out and a few showed up as ring-ins. The three judges—a littleBits dreamTeam member, Chuck from Kenwood Experiences, and a representative from Docker—scored each project on technical complexity, originality/innovation, and presentation skills. It was a tight race Team Apcera barely edging out a collaboration between a Citrix senior manager and a New Relic senior developer. The Apcera team used the cloudBit API to actually launch a Docker container, which gave their project a slight advantage. Plus, they repurposed the strand of city lights from Cool Neon to light up their logo. Honorable mention goes out to the Giant Swarm Evangelist, Kord Campbell, who spent many hours at the MakerLab dedicated to creating a party on wheels.


Next Time

In retrospect, we (littleBits Chapter Leaders of Oakland and Barcelona) would have enquired with the conference organizers about selling kits to the 1,600 DockerCon attendees. Numerous people asked to buy a Gizmos & Gadgets Kit for their children. One chap had an infant at home and wanted to create the rotating light for her room.

It was such a pleasure to schmooze with all the people’s lovely accents:  British, Polish, French, Spanish, and sundry others. Next time I would have a laptop open and dedicated to the littleBits international chapters page so people could sign up for their local chapters and visually experience the connections we are making around the planet through our shared passion for open source electronics.

The contest’s hero, Adam Larson of New Relic, embodied littleBit’s spirit of sharing knowledge for the sake of innovation and creativity. In addition to collaborating with a senior manager from Citrix, whom he had not met before stumbling upon each other in the MakerLab, our paragon of open source collaboration helped his top competitor code Team Apcera’s cloudBit & Docker integration. Long live generosity of mind, heart, and hardware.


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