The Comeback of Hardware in the West

The following article was reposted from the Sooke Pocket News and was published on 10-04-2015

The comeback of Hardware Innovation in the West presents opportunities for Sooke

by Michael Clouser

Photo of Arduino board (Uno), open source hardware

Hardware innovation in the West is coming back. We’ll see a surge of new products being invented, especially as the wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) markets ramp up as expected. This is an trend that will lead us to some great inventions in the future and will help make our lives better as well, not only in terms of fun but health as well. Much of the hardware innovation we see in medical devices for example, as the need is so great.

A lot of reasons are being given for this comeback including the lowering of component and chip costs, the rise of open source hardware, and the advent of open source software. The open source hardware Aurdino, for instance, that was invented in Italy, is now the rage throughout the world in terms of open source hardware. Many schools are using it to teach hardware, development, and electronics.

However, there is a major skills gap in hardware development as much of that competency, formerly at the grassroots, has been either corporatized or lost to Asia (Japan, Korea, China, and India). British Columbia is no exception as a shortage of hardware talent persists. I’ve been through government skills shortage documentation and see nothing specifically pointing to solving this problem. In fact, I doubt the hardware opportunity is even understood let alone recognized.

Thus this is an opportunity for Sooke and perhaps SD62 to differentiate and build something new: Hardware development education. However, this educational establishment will most likely needed to be taken up by an educational entrepreneur, or a new community organization such as a co-op. Teaching junior high school and high school children to build new gadgets out of hardware will be key. This will provide the children of Sooke with great career opportunities as well as an enjoyable working life. How fun is it to make stuff out of wires, plastic, chips and other electronic pieces — and get paid for it?In addition, a hardware incubator would put Sooke on the map across not only all of BC or Canada itself. Hardware incubators, following on their hackerspace /makerspace brethren, are in the nascent phase in terms of sub-industry lifecycle. In other words, now is the time to get on the ground floor. Sooke has the space to do this, as larger, well ventilated workshop areas are needed.

Hardware development — this will be a big future need. Software development as well (open source) should be supplanted in terms of learning. But essentially the hardware side is more about circuits, electricity, soldering, design, testing, chips. In sort, electronics. The stories of early hardware developers in Silicon Valley, who started tinkering with radio transistors, should be revisited. Apple computer itself started as a “Homebrew Computer Club” project by Steve Wozniak, who built this early homemade computer with his fingers a solder gun and some glue. In the stories of old from Silicon Valley, it was the hardware developers who were known to be the wildmen — the mavericks. A theme that fits in well with the history and spirit of Sooke, and I say that as a compliment.

See the article below in Fortune that is indicative of the trend. Its been about 10 years now that we’ve been talking about the come back of hardware, but just now the money is starting to flow back, starting in Silicon Valley — in this case with a former Google exec who co-founded Android.  The time to move on this hardware innovation opportunity is now from both and educational and economic development perspective.

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