The Great Global Semiconductor Shortage — for makers and artists

Monday 9th August, 2021 - Bruce Sterling

Much has been written about how the Great Global Semiconductor Shortage has affected automakers, game console manufacturers, and other companies making commercial products. But tinkerers, prototypers, artists, and students making their own projects are also getting hit hard.

Technology often filters into the maker scene by way of manufacturers that cater to hobbyists—they do the hard work of putting new chips with new capabilities onto easy-to-interface breakout boards; developing drivers and libraries that work with existing programing ecosystems like that around Arduino microcontrollers or Raspberry Pi single board computers; and writing documentation and tutorials so that folks don’t have to try parsing enigmatic datasheets by themselves.

In turn, ideas from the maker community bubble back up into industrial settings, often via engineers seeking quick or inexpensive solutions to problems—consequently both the Raspberry Pi and Arduino lines now feature pro products designed for commercial embedded systems.

But over the last few months it seemed that manufacturers catering to makers were offering fewer and fewer new products in addition to posting a lot of “out of stock” notices on existing ones, with a knock-on effect on the maker scene as a whole. As the editor responsible for IEEE Spectrum’s Hands On DIY section, it’s taken longer and longer each month to find projects incorporating interesting new capabilities…