Heathkit, the storied purveyor of high-quality DIY electronics kits that inspired a generation of enthusiasts and launched the careers of many engineers, has returned from the dead. We think. At least it seems that way from this build log by [Spritle], an early adopter of the rebooted company’s first offering. But if [Spritle]’s experience is any indication, Heathkit has a long way to go to recreating its glory days. Continue reading “Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?”
There is no company that has earned more goodwill from electronic tinkering hobbyists than Heathkit. For more than fifty years, Heathkit has been the measure all other electronic kit manufacturers have been compared to. Kits for everything – from televisions to radios to computer terminals – were all sold by Heathkit, and even now, nearly a quarter century since the last kit left the warehouse, there is still a desire for this manufacturer to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Heathkit lives once more, and this time it might be for real.
In recent years, Heathkit has had a confusing, if not troubled business plan. The company started manufacturing its signature products – electronic kits of every kind – in 1947. Production of these kits ended in 1992, and the company went on for another few years manufacturing educational materials and lighting controls. In 2011, Heathkit said they were back in the kit business, before shutting down a year later.
In 2013, an official Heathkit Facebook page was launched, a reddit AMA was held, and a mysterious stranger in the Hackaday comments section found a geocache placed by someone at Heathkit in a Brooklyn park. Absolutely nothing happened in 2014, or at least no one cared enough to hire a PI, which brings us to today’s announcement: Heathkit lives yet again.
This morning, the president of Heathkit sent a message to the ‘Heathkit Insiders’ email group explaining the goings on and new happenings:
We’ve designed and developed a wide range of entirely new kit products. We authored the manuals for these kits, complete with the beautiful line art you rely on, preserving and respecting our iconic historic Heathkit style. We developed many new inventions and filed patents on them. We relocated Heathkit, and set up a factory, and a warehouse, and offices, in Santa Cruz, California, near Silicon Valley. We built the back office infrastructure, vendor and supply chain relationships, systems, procedures, operations methods, and well-thought-out corporate structure that a manufacturing company needs to support its customers, to allow us to scale instantly the day we resume major kit sales. All this effort enables us to introduce a fleet of new kits and helps ensure Heathkit can grow, prosper, and continue to bring you great new products for a very long time.
The new Heathkit shop features their newest product, the Explorer Jr. AM Radio Receiver kit, a small kit radio available for $150. It’s actually a rather interesting kit with a nice design and an air variable cap for tuning, just like radios from a century ago. Whether anyone will pay $150 for an AM receiver in this century is another question entirely. The 21st century rebirth of Heathkit doesn’t just mean kits; they’re making apps now, with the first release being a crystal design tool for Android.
Virtually everyone in this little corner of the Internet, from Adafruit to Sparkfun, to Make magazine to everyone with a 3D printer owes a debt to Heathkit. This is the company that first turned DIY electronics into a successful business. Heathkit was the first, and they deserve to be recognized as the pioneers of the field.
The Donner Party were pioneers, too; just because you’re breaking new ground doesn’t mean you’re successful. The Heathkit of the 90s shuttered its doors for a reason. The factors behind the 1992 closing – cheap stuff from China, and the fact that not many people want to build their own electronics – are still with us. Still, the market for DIY electronics may be big enough, and Heathkit’s back catalog may be diverse enough that I won’t have to write another ‘Heathkit dies yet again’ post in a year or so. We can only hope.
Heathkit is a company that requires no introduction. From the mid-40s until the 90s, Heathkit was the brand for electronic kits ranging from test equipment, HiFis, amateur radio equipment, computers, to freakin’ robots. Their departure was a tragic loss for generations of engineers, electronic tinkerers and hobbyists who grew up with these excellent and useful kits.
Although Heathkit is dead, 2013 brought an announcement that Heathkit was back in the biz. A Facebook page was launched, a Reddit AMA was held, and the news was that Heathkit would rise from the dead in the first half of 2014. It’s now Christmas, 2014, and there’s no sign of Heathkit anywhere. Adafruit has been keeping a watchful eye on the on the (lack of) developments, and the only surprising thing to report is that there is nothing to report. There has been no new announcement, there are no new products, the “official” Heathkit website hasn’t been updated in a year, and no one knows what’s going on.
Adafruit has decided to dig into the matter, and while they’ve come up with a few items of note, there’s not much to report. A trademark for ‘HEATHKIT’ was filed October 27, 2014 – two months ago. An email was sent to the attorney of record and there has been no response.
This trademark was granted to Heathkit Company, Inc., incorporated in Delaware. Searching for any companies in Delaware using the Heathkit name returns exactly two results: Heathkit Company, Inc., and Heathkit Holdings, Inc.. Adafruit is probably going to pay the $20 to the Delaware Department of State to get the detailed information that includes Heathkit’s tax assessment and tax filing history.
The last bit of information comes from a whois on the heathkit.com domain. The relevant contacts have been emailed, and there are no further details. The Heathkit virtual museum was contacted for information, as was the news editor for ARRL.org. Nobody knows anything, or at least nobody is telling anybody anything.
To date, the only physical evidence of Heathkit’s rebirth is a geocache that was left at Brooklyn Bridge Park, announced during the Reddit AMA. This geocache was recovered by reddit user IFoundTheHeathKit, a throwaway account that had no posts before or since finding the cache. We have no idea what was in that geocache, what the ‘secret passphrase’ or set of instructions was, or if anything ever came of the promise to send one of the first new kits.
So there ‘ya go. A lot of words but no information. If you have any info, the Adafruit crew would like to have a word with you.
The person who found the Heathkit geocache has been found:
The full comment referred to below is,
Hey, person who found the Heathkit geocache here. The secret passcode was an Einstein quote about radio vs wired communication (invisible cats), and they said they’d send me something in early 2014. Never had any communication except through FB, and they haven’t replied to any of my recent messages.
IFoundTheHeathKit might want to email Adafruit with a copy of all the emails.
One of [Bob’s] most treasured possessions is a Heathkit alarm clock he put together as a kid. Over the years he’s noticed a few problems with his clock. There isn’t a battery backup, so it resets when the power goes out. Setting the time and alarm is also a forward only affair – so stepping the clock back an hour for daylight savings time means holding down the buttons while the clock scrolls through 23 hours. [Bob] decided to modify his clock with a few modern parts. While the easiest method may have been to gut the clock, that wouldn’t preserve all those classic Heathkit parts. What [Bob] did in essence is to add a PIC32 co-processor to the system.
Like many clocks in the 70’s and 80’s, the Heathkit alarm clock was based upon the National Semiconductor MM5316 Digital Alarm Clock chip. The MM5316 operates at 8 – 22 volts, so it couldn’t directly interface with the 3.3V (5V tolerant) PIC32 I/O pins. On PIC’s the input side, [Bob] used a couple of analog multiplexer chips. The PIC can scan the individual elements of the clock’s display. On the PIC’s output side, he used a couple of analog switches to control the ‘Fast’, ‘Slow’, and ‘Display Alarm/Time’ buttons.
Around 1960, [Aaron]’s grandfather decided to try his hand at a new career in electronics repair. It didn’t pan out, but before he gave up he built a beautiful Heathkit oscilloscope, a model OR-1. Grandpa’s electronics career never took off, but years later it would serve as the impetus for [Aaron]’s own career in electronics. Now [Aaron] has too many oscilloscopes, but still wanted a way to preserve his grandfather’s legacy. An oscilloclock was just the project to do that.
Of course to turn an oscilloscope into a clock requires some interesting control circuitry, and [Aaron] didn’t skimp on his build. He created a custom control board that is able to draw any shape on the CRT screen using just circles; squashing circles to draw a line, and cutting the beam entirely to slice a circle in half.
This isn’t [Aaron]’s first oscilloclock by a long shot. He previously created this amazing clock completely from scratch. Still, using Grandpa’s old tools is a great way to make this oscilloscope useful again, even if [Aaron] is already up to his gills in test equipment.
Older readers, and those who really know their hobby electronic history, will know the name Heathkit. Many readers tipped us off about their triumphant return. We’re not sure what form this reincarnation will take, but you can help shape it by participating in the survey.
Dust off that MSP430 launchpad and turn it into a composite video Pong console.
Here’s a way to use your Android phone as a computer mouse.
We’re not quite sure what this is, but turn your volume down before watching the video about a modular sythesizer hack.
Strap an Arduino and an Electric Imp to your arm (and everyone else’s) and it’ll remember everyone you meet. You know, kind of like Google Glass but with geeky arm-wear instead of geeky headgear?
Hey, it’s the 43rd anniversary of men first walking on the moon. Here’s some stuff we found to celebrate that. Fun trivia: for Apollo 11, [Neil] and [Buzz] didn’t go more than 200 feet from the LEM.
This is so incredibly sad
Remember Heathkit? A lot of cool kit-based electronics came from them. They’re out of business, but you can get all the Heathkit swag you can imagine from the repo man. A ton of stuff from the old Heathkit headquarters is being auctioned off in Byron Center, Michigan this Tuesday, July 24. Notable lots include a HE-Robot and a nice pair of o’scopes. If someone wants to pick up one of the catalog lots for us, we’d be thankful.
Troll Physics: ‘What is with this guy’ edition
We’ve seen [Fredzislaw]’s LED trickery before. The first time was a crazy 3 LED circuit, the reveal of which showed two AC power supplies in a battery connector. This time, [Fred] has two switches and an LED. Turn one switch on, the LED lights up. Turn that switch off and flip the other one, the LED still lights up. Turn both switches on, the LED goes off. Your guess is as good as ours.
Prototyping with a key fob remote
[Gary] wrote in to tell us about the dev board he’s been working on. It has either a PIC or AVR on the back side, broken out into 0.1 inch headers on the front. There’s a small solderless breadboard and an on-board RF link that uses a five-button key fob remote. Seems very useful, no matter what side of the PIC/AVR holy war you’re on.
Consumer Alerts: Software defined radio
Over on the RTLSDR subreddit, [photoscotty] bought this TV tuner dongle from Deal Extreme and received the inferior EZTV645 tuner. Unsurprisingly, Chinese manufacturers will just grab whatever is available, put it in an envelope, and ship it off on a slow boat from China. [photoscotty] is trying to return his dongle to DX, but until Sparkfun or Adafruit start selling these things (yes, there’s a market now get on it) you’ll have to be careful out there.
Wouldn’t this feel terrible against your skin all day?
[Colin] printed a watch band on his Makerbot. Apparently Shenzhen humidity didn’t play nicely with his nylon strap, so [Colin] made his own out of plastic. It’s flexible and has a neat looking clasp, as well as an awesome demo for what a 3D printer can actually do. Thingiverse files here.