Economics and creative malaise

I wanted to ask the experienced engineers and hobbyists what you think about electronics generally, as a career, as a market?

I started learning about microcontrollers about two years ago, mostly Arduino, I've had a lot of fun and of course it's been interesting, I've felt a great deal of accomplishment ( I won't say mastering ) but at least comprehending some fundamentals and abstract concepts that escaped me ( I'm 43. When I was 12 years old I just couldn't wrap my head around the third wire of a transistor ). I am a software developer by trade, so that was an advantage, but unlike software development, I'm having a hard time coming up with things that I can make that have some economic value and utility. My approach to this has been, take it as a hobby, learn, have fun, and at some point I'll have an idea, I'll make something, maybe sell it, OR use my creation indirectly in some other enterprise. But so far only one idea has earned me anything ( I built a networked PS3 controller with macro capability and automated a bug in a PS3 game with it to create 'gold' ), But beyond that Nada. Everything seems like a money sink. A lot of the things I want to make end up costing $40 in parts and who-knows-how-much labor to create something I can order for $15 off Amazon that's made in China.

So am I simply uncreative or is this a problem that plagues everyone in this field? I would want to think there is more I can do of utility than create art and toys. I'm not asking for anyone to share their ideas of course, but I'm curious how many people have found a niche, are making something and the math is working out?

For many people, it's a hobby. Much of what you mention doesn't apply to a hobbyist.

For example, woodworking hobbyist can make a chair. Sure, he can buy a chair made in China. He's not re-inventing the chair. But, the chair he made is his chair and he takes pride in that.

If you a thinking you are going invent the next technology craze and you just lack a visit from a muse... well, I admire your goals... but I want to say... most "inventors" are driven by a passion. I would recommend you find your passion and that will be the avenue the muse takes to reach you.

Take a look at what forum member Crossroads does with his passion...

Got to enjoy what you're doing 8) www.crossroadsfencing.com/BobuinoRev17/ |500x440

I will definitely take a look. I have no doubt these forums are full of great ideas, fun ideas, but I get stuck on the economics, and how much is my time worth? I want to do something useful. I am not out to invent a better iPhone or anything fantastic, I'm thinking small scope, practical, do-able.

What bounces around in my head is more along the lines of : Can I make a robot that maintains a garden, or helps landscape a yard? You know, there are things of some intrinsic value that require a lot of human effort, I kinda like the idea of growing food organically but I'm not interested in being a farmer perse. And I like the idea of developing property, leveling, and turning soil, but also with automation. I just want to solve real world problems. The whole point of electronics IMO is that it offers control and logic to activities we'd otherwise be doing by hand.

EDIT : I know that sounds contradictory btw, "small in scope" and yet I'm wondering how I can plant a vegetable haha.

Crossroads, Just amazing work!

A lot of the things I want to make end up costing $40 in parts and who-knows-how-much labor to create something I can order for $15 off Amazon that's made in China.

Yes it will do. You are buying components at retail in very small numbers, which is a lot more expensive than the bulk prices you can get when you make thousands or even millions of a unit. I used to work in consumer electronics ( set top boxes ) and those sold in the millions. When you are buying that many parts you can move the decimal point in the price at least two places to the left.

What you need is to develop something for a small niche market, this is called vertical marketing.

I later moved into industrial electronics where the component prices were much higher. One of the things we made was RFID readers. The sales people were always asking if I could develop a cheaper reader. But even with much more expensive components it was costing £10 to make a reader. The problem for the sales people was that the company had set the price of these readers to about £350, but we could sell them at that price because we sold the whole package of an access control system.

Thanks Mithra. I have fun creating the stuff, and some of it has even proven popular. And I get to do designs for other folks too. Unless you can buy in bulk, it is not the least expensive route to go. I try and buy for 10 or 20 cards, and I end up sitting on material for a while before a batch of cards completely sell off.
A lot of what you describes requires motion and visual recognition, etc. You need more processing power than a simple 8-bit processor for that. Maybe multiple processors, all coordinated, and motor drives, and a chassis to hold it all together. Way more complicated than I could manage nights & weekends while working around other commitments.

Mithra: but I get stuck on the economics, and how much is my time worth?

I don't think that is the right starting point.

I reckon people who have come up with brilliant ideas did so because the idea was interesting regardless of the economics.

Another important factor IMHO is being in an environment where the subject you are interested in is near the leading edge. Or at least where you can be aware of the leading edge ideas. For example artist painters get inspiration from other painters - but it is probably easier to keep up with painting styles etc than it is to keep up with technology because so much of technology development happens in large businesses with big budgets.

If you want to make money buy and sell property or cars or whatever (i.e. do stuff with money) (but don't blame me if you lose).

...R

You guys are right of course.

I would guess most professions are not straight-forwardly profitable, and without business savvy, relationships and fortuitous circumstance, you know you're not going to simply fall into an obvious product niche that isn't already being addressed, to saturation, cheaply in foreign markets.

I was discussing this with my girlfriend, she's a dental hygienist, and what makes that lucrative is the fact you MUST have a person there, working in someone's mouth. The service is simply not outsourceable. As a software developer, my situation isn't much different than that of a circuit designer - my work can be done anywhere in the world, packaged, mailed or emailed.

Anyway. I really want to build something that can be used to make money as an accessory to some other enterprise, but not necessarily sell the electronic thing I build directly. I'll keep thinking. Thanks for the feedback!

I really want to build something that can be used to make money

A friend of mine did this, unfortunately the money was a tenth of an inch too big. ;)

Mithra: Anyway. I really want to build something that can be used to make money as an accessory to some other enterprise, but not necessarily sell the electronic thing I build directly. I'll keep thinking. Thanks for the feedback!

I wonder if it has escaped your notice that the Arduino system is OpenSource and all of the people who contribute code and advice here do it for free.

I am writing this comment on a PC using OpenSource Linux and the free Firefox browser.

Maybe Microsoft has a Forum for making money.

...R

Robin2: I wonder if it has escaped your notice that the Arduino system is OpenSource and all of the people who contribute code and advice here do it for free.

I am writing this comment on a PC using OpenSource Linux and the free Firefox browser.

Maybe Microsoft has a Forum for making money.

...R

God forbid I disagree with someone who has made 23,000 posts, but 1) I don't think it's inappropriate to consider whether electronics is a viable profession and have a conversation about that in General. I didn't ask about how to build and sell Arduinos. 2) last time I checked microcontrollers aren't free and neither are parts, so you can't abstract away the economic considerations, regardless of whether you want to pay for a web browser, or whether in fact out in the real world electronic engineers have to actually eat.

Mithra: I don't think it's inappropriate to consider whether electronics is a viable profession and have a conversation about that in General.

You are quite right.

But I think there is a difference between electronics (or programming) as a profession and invention or entrepreneurship.

...R

Mithra: I was discussing this with my girlfriend, she's a dental hygienist, and what makes that lucrative is the fact you MUST have a person there, working in someone's mouth. The service is simply not outsourceable.

Actually - I feel that the role of a dental hygienist (and those of hair styling) could be "outsourced" - with robotics.

We're not quite there yet, but I would imagine in 10 to 25 years there will be such robotic dental hygiene and hair stylist systems available.

They will probably look something like the Da Vinci surgical system, but completely automated, and will likely have compliant arms, etc. You'll get in the chair, a technician will hand you a button (kill switch), and the system will do everything automatically.

For dental work, it will scan your teeth to make a movement map, it will measure gum depths, it will do the cleaning and polishing (likely with similar tools as currently exist), it will floss, it will probe and check areas - and it will likely be able to do it better than a human can.

For hair styling, it will scan your head, and then shave and trim as needed.

Some of the technology for the latter is already available (they use it for shearing sheep, for instance - generally with better results than human shearers).

The real difficulty, as always, will be in selling the technology to the people it is to be used on; I will admit that the idea of something like the Da Vinci system - whether in my gut, in my mouth, or around my head - would give me pause. Such systems inherently have a dangerous, foreboding look about them (fortunately, in the case of the Da Vinci system, the patient likely never sees the system working on them). They look alien, they elicit a bit of "body horror" - even if they are more accurate and precise than a human would be.

I'm not sure how one would get around that marketing limitation...

:)

Hiya Mithra,

I work with Arduinos both as a profession and as a hobby. As a professional, I'm the lab manager for a college that teaches Arduino, so I buy, maintain and design experiments using Arduino beginner kits. It's a marginal duty, but a necessity if we are to keep our engineering program competitive - the kids want Arduino content.

As a hobbyist, I can just do whatever I want. Mostly it's build clocks, or other electronic devices that have little commercial value. I don't care - it's the joy of building them that I like. In fact, the longer something takes, and the more problems to solve, the better I like it.

If, later, there turns out to be a use for something I've made, fine with me. But that is not my goal. This is leisure activity.