May 23, 2015

GOOD: New Electronics Kit-Makers Aim to Awaken the Next Generation of Engineers.

For years I’ve been profiling great engineers—Nobel Prize holders, IEEE Medal of Honor winners. And so very often they tell me that their first involvement in anything electronic was building a Heathkit project.

Heathkits, they tell me, were magical—they were simple enough to put together and well enough explained that just about anyone could succeed. And the projects were things that kids wanted and would use—mostly radios, amplifiers, and other equipment for listening to music that for millennials have been supplanted by iPods and Pandora.

Heathkit closed down its kit business in the early 90s; kids interested in technology at the time wanted to code, not build things. New electronic building toys did emerge, like Lego Mindstorms and SnapCircuits. But none have dominated like Heathkit.

So there’s still room for the next Heathkit—lots of startups are vying for that title. And there’s still a general sense that these kinds of toys are important—to interest boys and girls in STEM careers early.

My nephew likes both SnapCircuits and Mindstorms. He’s big on Arduino now.

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