Hobbyists and you

I was talking to an engineer at a small company the other day and they were facing a pretty interesting project; I won’t go into specifics but they had a few things which made it a lot more interesting: They had 5 weeks, they were to make ~200, the system had to work reliably, the system was one that one couldn’t source off shelf and the system had to be delivered for sub grand a piece.

Ouch, I really did not envy them in having to deliver that sort of product, I’d love to tackle the problem but not with those sort of restrictions. I started thinking: “Oo I think I saw something like this on x blog” and “this might be a good application for _ sort of technology”, basically I knew somewhere on the internet, someone would have already started solving this problem: almost certainly not a complete solution but ideas and systems to get it started.
So I asked: “Do you ever look at hobbyist projects when you are faced with something like this?” Answer: “Not really, no”. I’m not sure how I would go about this sort of thing half as effectively without having picked up masses of random, and often useless, projects from the web: all made and carefully documented by skilled professionals or kids in their spare time.

Not only do they provide ideas but the solutions are under really good constraints: Most hobbyists don’t have access to massive amounts of fancy fab equipment, they are shooting for low quantity, easy to manufacture. They have basically *no* R&D costs and often not much time. Maybe not a perfect match for your desired end product, but I’m sure you can see where the similarities lie. The problem is that firms don’t document failures and experiments, of course they don’t, there is no reason why they would.

And that is exactly the problem, firms find solutions to problems and discard them for various random reasons, hobbyists too and there is very little communication between the two sides. What I’d like is a world just a little bit more integrated, where smarter designs came about from everyone keeping their eyes and development just a little more open.

–Disclaimer: sorry for the awful title–

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