This week's announcement lends additional credence to that concept. Microchip and element14 are electronics industry heavyweights, and the use of the powerful PIC18F 8-bit microcontroller adds computing strength. The MCU includes a temperature sensor, capacitive touch sensor, and potentiometer to help users develop applications using Matrix Multimedia's Flowcode graphical programming language.
"It's a well-resourced 'micro,' " says Mike McGlade, channel manager for Microchip, in reference to the PIC18F26J50. "And we designed the board to sing the features of it."
If the availability of such kits grows, it could change engineering -- subtly at first, but more as time passes.
"You might come to a point where more engineers have a straightforward graphic design approach using pre-defined blocks of functionality," Sullivan told us. "And then you'd get to a stage where you'd have a skilled software engineer do only the higher-level design."
The big question, of course, is how such trends will eventually affect the engineering profession. In previous discussions with Design News, experts have universally agreed that electrical engineering and programming jobs aren't going away, but they also note that such trends could one day bring a significant change to the design process. That's why university engineering curricula are calling on students to think more broadly, familiarizing themselves with cross-disciplinary issues. Electrical engineers and programmers will need a better handle on systems and mechanical design, they say. And mechanical engineers will need a greater understanding of sensors, programming, and circuit design.
"In some ways, our notion of what it takes to create an engineer will have to change," said Scott F. Midkiff, a professor and head of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering Department at Virginia Tech University, in a 2010 discussion with Design News. "We have to make sure that they develop a broader skill set that at least touches on all aspects of what it takes to be an electrical engineer, or a mechanical engineer, or a programmer."