of hobby electronics today is as high as ever. The
old hobby electronics magazines have been
replaced by a magazine with consistently high
quality projects and articles. I feel the same sense
of excitement opening up the latest issue of Nuts
& Volts as I did back in the 1970s when I was writing articles and columns for Popular Electronics.
The sharp decline in electronics projects at science fairs and the declining enrollment in engineering courses at colleges and universities are troubling. But hope has arrived in the form of hobby
robotics. Just a few weeks ago, my daughter Sarah
participated in a high school robotics competition.
The students learned a great deal about basic electronics and mechanics from the experience.
The overall number of electronics hobbyists
was sharply reduced by the personal computer revolution they helped bring about. Yet there remain
plenty of electronics enthusiasts who still enjoy
designing and building circuits even more powerful
and versatile than those we built a decade ago.
Many hobbyists use computers to program their
projects, which these days include many highly
creative robotic devices. Others have found specialized niches for their electronics pursuits. In my
case, for example, I design and use various instruments that measure the ozone layer, haze, and
ultraviolet. Some of my inexpensive instruments
have found errors in data from four remote sensing
So while the overall number of electronics hobbyists has declined since the 1980s, there are still
plenty of fun, creative, and even scientific things
that we hobbyists can do. Thanks to mail order
suppliers like Digi-Key and Jameco, we can order
virtually any electronic parts we need. And thanks
to eBay and other web resources, we can buy high
quality test equipment at only a fraction of the
price we might have paid a decade ago. We can
build lasers, radio-controlled electric aircraft, seis-mometers, and optical fiber communication links.
As for the future, I still remember the hundreds
of excited spectators and participants who filled a
large gymnasium during the recent robotic competition in which my daughter participated. These
competitions are occurring all around the US, and
the number of students who have built radio-controlled "robots" is probably far greater than those
who built their own computers back in the 1970s.
So while hobby electronics lost many of its
enthusiasts to the computer revolution it helped
begin, there's still plenty to do for those of us who
enjoy designing, soldering, tinkering, and programming. Just imagine the possibilities. Maybe some
clever hobbyists can show the high school robotics
movement how to build remotely piloted, indoor
helicopters that score points by flying figure-8s and
dropping plastic rings onto poles. NV
About the Author Forrest M. Mims III, an active member of the Society for Amateur Scientists
( www.sas.org), develops lab kits for RadioShack when he is not doing professional science. His electronics books
have sold some 7. 5 million copies.Visit him on the web at www.forrestmims.org