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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


Michael Parks, P.E. is the owner of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and technology consultancy located in Southern Maryland. He produces the S.T.E.A.M. Power podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.


It's The Little Things: Searching for the Home Automation “Killer App” Mike Parks
Our pursuit of modern home automation can be readily observed if one looks at the archives from the various World Fairs dating as far back as the 1930s. While tantalizing possibilities have captured our imaginations, in practice the mass adoption of home automation technologies has yet to really take-off. Costs and lack of a common, interconnected protocol are often attributed as the root cause for the failure of home automation to launch. Perhaps though, home automation just hasn’t found it’s “killer app” yet. What might be needed is one must-have product that, while it stands alone in its first iteration, will drive people to adopt then demand more devices that interact with each other.

A Tale of Two Automation Strategies Mike Parks
Much has been written about the trials and tribulations associated with the adoption of home automation technologies. The lack of mass consumer appeal is often attributed to high costs and lack of a simple, universal protocol. For the technically savvy, the idea of giving in to “vendor lock” by adopting a single company's product line has been too much to bear. However, for more affluent consumers this idea is not a problem as most of the time they rely on 3rd party installers to install and maintain their systems. This has left the DIY crowd to resort to more “hackable,” although way more complicated solutions, such as X10 products. In the end we have grown an ecosystem unsuitable for mass adoption. The niche market of affluent consumers is just lucrative enough for companies to continue to peddle proprietary solutions. The equally niche Maker- and DIY-market has been strong enough to attract those with the skills to homebrew a custom solution. Neither are good enough for the mass market.

Watch the Feedback: An Introduction to Operational Amplifiers Mike Parks
Operational amplifiers (op amps for short) are one of the workhorse components of circuit design. They can be used in wonderfully simple but also incredibly complex ways, including audio pre-amplifiers, small signal sensor amplification, filters, and digital-to-analog converters (DAC) to name a few. Notice that these are all analog signal examples, not digital signals (i.e., not a stream of 0s and 1s.) analog signals are real-world, continuous signals that have, theoretically an infinite resolution.

Tesla PowerWall: A Backdoor for the Mass Adoption of Home Automation? Mike Parks
On April 30, 2015, Elon Musk announced to the world the Tesla PowerWall. In its first week alone, Tesla brought in $800 million dollars for their new PowerWall. Powerwall is a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack that will store energy for when you need it, or to use as a backup power supply during an outage. Unlike a generator, it doesn’t require fuel and creates no noise. What’s interesting is that the backlog of customer orders is already winding itself well into the second half of 2016. This is a sign that demonstrates there is a market demand for rethinking how we power our homes both from the perspective of lead-shifting and backup power. With a little speculation, it is also a product that just might serve as a backdoor to the mass adoption of smarter, more automated homes.

5 Tips for Getting Started In Electronics Mike Parks
Electronics is an amazing profession and hobby. The notion that one can harness the forces of nature and bend them to one’s whim is immensely satisfying. With the resurgence of the DIY spirit and the evolution of the Maker Movement, getting started in electronics has never been easier. Embedded open source platforms such as Arduino and BeagleBone provide a fantastic jumping in point for learning electronics and software. I could only have dreamt of the resources we have today when I was first starting out. With that in mind, here are my five tips for getting started in electronics based on what I’ve learned over the last 20 years.

Memristors: The Circle is Now Complete Mike Parks
Charles Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at the turn of the 20th-century was once misquoted as saying, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Thanks to an intrepid librarian it was later discovered that Duell actually stated, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.”

Why Open Source Hardware Creators Win Mike Parks
For many makers finding a product idea that is feasible to manufacture, as well as desirable by would-be consumers, is a lesson in design by trial-and-error. That means a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time (and money) invested in a project that many hopes are poured into. So if you’re using open hardware/software and hoping to transform your side project into a commercial product, how do you protect your product from being ripped off by a competitor?

Amateur Space Exploration: CubeSats Mike Parks
When Sputnik launched in 1957, it contained four antennas that transmitted a very simple radio signal that allowed the satellite to be tracked. Fast forward through the years and space exploration has become increasingly sophisticated. We have since expanded to manned spaceflight, space stations, landing on the moon, sending rovers to distant planets, and satellites of all types. In the beginning, human space exploration has required the resources that only governments could afford. Today that is changing, thanks to companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation. Still, short of weather balloon experiments, space exploration by ordinary people seems a remote dream for most.

Chip To Chip: Tips For Using I2C Mike Parks
Many integrated circuit-based sensors and output devices offer an interface protocol called Inter-integrated Circuit, commonly abbreviated as I2C. There is tremendous value in using I2C-based components in a microcontroller-based solution that can result in a much more streamlined and robust product, especially if you need to interface with multiple external I/O devices. I2C allows you to share a common data and clock bus amongst multiple devices, thus reducing the I/O pin count and the number of interconnecting wires required to get everything communicating. This blog is an attempt to provide some practical tips on integrating I2C into your next application.

What Might The Future of “Personal” Computing Look Like? Mike Parks
Predicting the future of technology is a perpetual exercise in futility. But it’s fun. The evolution of personal computing is something that futurists and tech pundits like to try to predict every few years (or months). Like forecasting the weather, you are never completely right or wrong.

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