by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
With the recent rise in global competition for technology and manufacturing
jobs, professional associations, labor
organizations, and political groups in the
United States have begun to emphasize the
need for innovation as a means of retaining
and even expanding the domestic
workforce. While many universities offer
courses on innovation, it’s not an ability
that can be acquired by passively attending
a lecture, reading a book, or surfing the
Web. Furthermore, innovators aren’t born.
They develop their talents through active,
directed, hands-on experience.
There is no one correct path to
becoming an innovator. However, I’ve
found experimenting with electronics,
robotics, and microprocessors invaluable in
developing the requisite skills, regardless of
the areas in which innovation is eventually
applied. Designing a QRP transmitter, building a PID controller for a robot drive mechanism, and creating a smart appliance with
a BASIC Stamp all involve creative problem
solving, adherence to the scientific method,
as well as time and resource management.
Not only is experimenting with electronics
an enjoyable avocation, but the fundamentals learned at the workbench can provide
you with the foundation for innovation at
work, school, and in your other pursuits.
Consider, for example, that there’s no
escaping the scientific method in the
process of correctly diagnosing a circuit.
Working systematically, you make a
hypothesis about the functionality of a
component, run tests to prove or disprove
the hypothesis, and then, if necessary,
move on to the next component or circuit.
Like every good scientist or researcher,
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you make notes about the process and
your findings so that you’ll be better able
to recognize and address similar problems
in the future. With experience, you’ll
become more proficient at diagnosis, and
the process will become intuitive —
integrated in your subconscious thinking.
By mastering experimental fundamentals, you’ll be in a better position to
innovate. In this regard, innovation is a
combination of logic and creativity — left
and right brain activities that are normally
at odds with each other. Intentionally
shifting the balance between the logic
and creativity will enable you to develop
new circuits and devices in a controlled
manner. Although it’s possible to stumble
upon a valuable discovery through random trial and error, relying on serendipity
is at best a frustrating, inefficient, and low-yield alternative to directed innovation.
In the following pages are contributions from innovators spanning the fields
of amateur radio, robotics, circuit design,
microcontrollers, and fundamental
electronics. As you read through the articles, you’ll invariably encounter projects
that either address a problem that you’re
facing or that simply peak your interest.
Some articles will be more appealing to
you than others, but they all provide
building blocks upon which you can
develop and practice innovation.
Whether your immediate goal is to
explore the application of an electronic
component, build test equipment that you
otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, learn
to program a new microcontroller, or provide your family with the added safety and
convenience of a home automation project,
you can make the most of the information
provided by our authors by actively improving on it. Don’t feel locked in to the descriptions or applications, but consider improving on the designs by making a calculated
substitution here or a modification there so
that the end result better suits your needs.
That is, innovate, don’t simply duplicate.
Now, turn to the article that most
interests you, pick up your keyboard or
soldering iron, and start innovating. NV