Though my children already take this sort of thing for granted, it still is striking to me how easy it has become—just within the last few years—to make things. Here’s a few capabilities that I really appreciate, all of which of course rely heavily on personal computers, the Internet, and increasingly integrated electronic components:
- Software that makes it easy to design circuit boards, enclosures, and embedded software
- Online forums of people who share design advice (and common mistakes)
- Factories and component distributors around the world which take orders over the web
- Desktop prototyping tools such as computer-controlled milling equipment and miniature circuit board soldering ovens
- Inexpensive and tiny chips that handle processing, sensing, and networking
- Practically ubiquitous wireless networking (WiFi and cellular)
Guys who were born circa 1950-1955 (Gates, Joy, etc) did okay for themselves as part of the vanguard who brought to market the base technologies in this list. But some really neat times are still to come, as new products begin to be created by an exponentially larger group of people around the world, and our standards for “what makes a good product” continue to be refined.