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How one small business makes electrical engineering easy

Buzzing and humming filled the air at the Adafruit Industries factory in downtown Manhattan, where workers assembled kits for do-it-yourself electronics.

The kits, used by kids and adults alike, teach basic concepts of electrical engineering, with a reward at the end of each lesson: an original and functional item made by hand.

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But putting together that glowing unicorn horn or baseball cap lined with LED bulbs, for instance, takes some skill.

"People who want this kind of fashion, you can't just go to the store and pick it up for like 50 or 100 bucks. You have to learn how to do soldering, how to sew, how to put wires through fabric, how to program," said Adafruit founder and engineer Limor Fried, amid the factory din.

Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit Industries, holds up Adabot, a character in her company’s videos that teach electrical engineering concepts.
Althea Chang | CNBC
Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit Industries, holds up Adabot, a character in her company’s videos that teach electrical engineering concepts.

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Along with its kits, Adafruit produces instructional videos, including a series involving Adabot, a sort of engineering Elmo inspired by Sesame Street, Fried said in an interview.

"It's actually for adults, too. Because a lot of adults don't know, like, what is an electron or how do you measure current with a multimeter? They don't know this stuff, and so they can watch this alone, which is fine, or with somebody young that they want to, like, learn with," Fried told CNBC.

Basic kits cost around $20 and can grow more pricy as they get more complicated. Tools and accessories, which can get expensive, are sold separately.