In April 2013, I attended the Design West Conference and Exhibition, which was being held in the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif. While I was there, my chum Steve Leibson, director of strategic marketing and business planning at Xilinx, took me to visit the local TechShop, which is located only a hundred yards or so from the McEnery Convention Center.
I have to say that I was very impressed. In exchange for a monthly membership fee, TechShops (there are locations nationwide) offer their members training on -- and access to -- the most amazing collection of equipment, such as woodworking, machining, welding, sewing, and a variety of CNC fabrication capabilities (including laser cutters and water cutters).
I also noticed that they had some 3D mechanical design software. I did see several people working on electromechanical projects, including a couple of guys building a rather interesting quad-copter, but I didn’t think to ask about the availability of electronic design software.
Well, I just heard from my chum Aisha Fletcher at National Instruments (NI) that the company has just announced a partnership with TechShop. As a starting point, NI is going to outfit two TechShop electronics labs with it technology, including LabVIEW system design software and myRIO, myDAQ, and VirtualBench hardware.
NI will train TechShop instructors, who will then provide classes on these products to members. This really is a good deal for TechShop members. Take VirtualBench, for example. This is an all-in-one instrument that integrates a mixed-signal oscilloscope, a function generator, a digital multimeter, a programmable DC power supply, and a digital I/O. Users can interact with VirtualBench through software applications that run on PCs or iPads.
When I was young, a lot of folks were electronics hobbyists who enjoyed building electronics "stuff." Over the years, this hobby seemed to be fading away, which made me sad. More recently, however, we've seen a huge boom with regard to people creating things -- both hardware and software. Now there are all sorts of places -- Hackerspaces, Makerspaces, TechShops, and FabLabs -- one can visit to learn how to do things and rub shoulders with other enthusiasts.
For a long time, the "big players" in electronic design have tended to ignore hobbyists. More recently, it seems to me that the maker movement has started to make the big companies sit up and start to pay attention. I think NI's decision to provide TechShop with tools and training is a wonderful move. Hopefully the company will expand this practice to additional TechShop locations and to other maker organizations. Also, NI's involvement will hopefully make other vendors of electronic tools and components think about contributing to the cause.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting