Let’s continue the thought we began with at the front of the issue, as simply saying that it’s good to have a lot of product development, even if some of it is on stuff that is a little crazy, leaves a lot to be said. How does a laundry-folding robot help humanity? Will having a toothbrush that sends me emails about the performance dynamics of my brushing prowess bring about a better world? Kinda.
This is a fantastic time to be an engineer. Hell, it’s a great time to be an intelligent creative person with even a modicum of resources, as this is a golden age of design and development. There hasn’t been a time in history where technology and tools have been more open to people. Today a person with an idea that is at least based on physical reality can take that idea and manifest it in a product with a minimum of fuss, compared to legacy situations.
This ease of entry into the development space has manifested itself in some ways as the rapidly-growing Maker movement, as interested people from all walks of life take these readily-available tools and technologies to create things that only they can see and bring them into the real world for all to enjoy (or not). The other ways this has manifested itself is less flashy, as legacy systems rapidly modernize using the new devices and abilities. But both are important.
The explosion of devices, some frivolous, moves the ball forward in important ways. First, by capturing the imagination of the public, the more whimsical devices help advance technology adoption, showing people ways advanced technology can help them. That clothes-folding machine may never hit the store shelves, but the shiny future it helped paint in the mind’s eye of the public is invaluable to an attitude of acceptance and optimism.
Another important way gadget generation helps the industry is that it provides work for the manufacturing community, from electronic design engineers to packaging specialists and advertising copyrighters. That bad-hair predicting hairbrush may have been a fad, but it kept a company alive with a novel product while they were working on that more reasonable project with the longer development cycle. That benefit cascades through the industry as the various circles of business support leverage one another into action.
The last is very important to the electronics industry, and that is the ability to expand and develop our manufacturing base and its capabilities. Things like small hi-res displays, flex circuits, improved packaging, and more sophisticated manufacturing techniques all cost a lot of money to develop and nurture, and nothing improves commercialization like volume. Every widget created increases the products moving through assembly lines, enabling volumes of scale to be applied to the latest technologies, bringing their prices down faster and speeding adoption.