Back in the 70s and 80s, the technology wave was hardware-driven and hardware engineering was king. Many of today’s largest companies were getting their start in an engineer’s garage or basement. Since then however, an increasing focus on exploiting the existing hardware via new software applications and enhanced connectivity has instead taken place.

In terms of driving new tech start-ups, the entrepreneurial hardware engineer once took a backseat to teenage or college-age software whizzes, but that trend has changed over the last couple of years. Thanks to open source hardware, crowd funding and corporate support, hardware engineers no longer have to ‘swim with the sharks’ to bring their new, innovative product ideas to market. This also creates new momentum for hardware engineering-driven innovations.

“Companies such as Texas Instruments, NXP and Atmel are pricing development hardware at levels DIYers can afford, with performance that professional engineers require – and it is often also open source. Screaming Circuits’ short-run production is priced at levels that are affordable to crowd-funded projects,” said Duane Benson, Screaming Circuits’ Marketing Manager.

In addition to offering a cost competitive pricing model for short run PCB assembly, Milwaukee Electronics’ Screaming Circuits business unit also has an electronics manufacturing sponsorship program for some of the most innovative DIY projects it sees.

“We look for unique ideas and ideas that help society as a whole. Projects that bridge the gap between open source and commercial are of particular interest. Our sponsorship program provides a specific allocation of labor during the course of a year for project selected into it. The entrepreneur still covers the entire cost of material and any labor costs above the allocated number of hours. We’re very selective in evaluating which projects we sponsor,” said Benson.

One of the projects Screaming Circuits has sponsored this year is called Turtle Sense, developed by Nerds Without Borders. Used to monitor egg nests with a small sensor shaped like a ping-pong ball on beaches in Outer Banks of North Carolina, their product combines networking and open source hardware.

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Currently, large stretches of beach are shut down during turtle nesting season. Turtle Sense monitors egg nests and pinpoints hatch times to within just a day or two, allowing the Park Service to minimize the time period beaches need to remain off limits. Nerds Without Borders Founder Eric Kaplan also points out this type of specificity can help encourage a greater awareness of the plight of large sea turtles, along with adding benefits to eco-tourism.

Screaming Circuits also sponsored a PCB assembly project being utilized for part of a satellite known as CSUNSat1 – which is being developed by California State University-Northridge (CSUN). Having been designed to test a new energy concept in space, CSUN will build the satellite while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is tasked with building the payload.

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The Screaming Circuits Blog is also oriented to delivering professional levels of information that may be helpful to DIY engineers. “We get many favorable comments from DIY people. Our goal is to make it easy for engineers with great ideas to build well-designed, innovative products,” said Benson.

Benson believes the next era of hardware engineer-driven innovation is underway.
“Crowd-funding sources such as Kick-starter and Indiegogo, open source products such as TI’s Beagleboard, Launchpad, and NXP/ARM’s embed – plus support from companies like Screaming Circuits are helping to remove the barriers to entry for someone with a good idea and decent skill who wants to start a company. Pent up innovation now has an outlet,” Benson added.

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