Meet Radio Shack’s New Parallax Lineup

It looks like Radio Shack is pretty serious about their new found commitment to their focus on the DIY, inventor, creator and geek demographics. [Ken Gracey], Parallax forum guru, put up a post on the Parallax stuff that will be sold at Radio Shack. Everything is priced, “below spousal approval level,” but no word on what those prices are.

Here’s the (probably not conclusive) list we gleaned from the pics: 2-axis joystick, gyroscope, GPS, compass and altimeter modules, an infrared sensor, 2×16 backlit LCD, BASIC stamp 2 board, and an XBee 2-pack that we assume would be priced above girlfriend approval levels.

We’re curious about how many (and in what quantity) of these items will be stocked at the East Nowheresville strip mall, and again there’s no mention of improving the selection of individual components.

At Hack A Day, we were thinking how amazing a Radio Shack ‘component vending machine’ would be. A modified pick and place machine that will dole out caps, resistors, other components, and has the potential to be competitive with online stores. Anyone feel like sending that suggestion in?

86 thoughts on “Meet Radio Shack’s New Parallax Lineup

  1. LOL, they misspelled gyroscope as gyrocope on their packages. At my local Radio Shack I’ve noticed a huge improvement over the past few months.

    They went from a few pins of semi-organized and barely in stock components to full stock and a bunch of other stuff too. They carry lots of different protoboards and DIP breakouts as well as copper clad now.

    Also, +1 for “spousal approval level!” I may just go out of my way to buy something extra because of that.

    1. Rest assured all typographic errors will be fixed before we send them to print. The packaging in the photos is NOT the final product. Although I wonder, what would a “Gyrocope” do?

      And I really like the vending machine idea. Small footprint in the stores and you’d help keep the hobbyists happy.

    2. LOL

      You mistyped bins as pins.

      I just had to say it. Packaging mishaps happen. We are all human…at least until I get a hold on some sweet low-cost-driven-by-high-volume modules.

  2. I’m sorry, this must be an inside joke. “below spousal approval level” …. “priced above girlfriend approval levels”. All I can say, is that if I’m the one out earning and paying the bills, I’m the one who decides if it is priced appropriately!! /rant

      1. Had a partner for ~7 years and have a 3yo daughter! It’s a shame to think that *most* (I use that lightly) women are penny pinching spend-a-holics, they give the rest a bad name! It’s a shame we don’t have Radio Shack here in the UK. (Unless you include the ‘trader’ based in Edinburgh) We’re stuck with Maplin!

    1. I should think it’d cost rather a lot to implement, though, and take quite some time to pay for itself and start turning a profit. Neat idea, and it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody at Radio Shack were keeping an eye out for exactly that kind of suggestion — but I’d have a hard time blaming them for not doing it, and especially not at first. Let people prove they’re actually willing to *go* to a well-stocked, competently run Radio Shack first, then let’s talk about spending a huge stack of money on satisfying the hobbyists. (Speaking of which, must stop into the one up the road this afternoon and see whether they’ve got anything good to sell me.)

    2. I can picture someone shaking the machine as their $30 arduino teeters on the edge of the spiral conveyor arm…

      .. then while he goes to find help, someone uses a dollar bill modified with packing tape, and gets 2 arduinos for no money.

    3. What about a machine for all the discrete components? Have it stocked with standard tape reels (do they still make them for through-hole items?) and reel out the desired number, then cut. I’m pretty sure several of us could come up with such a device with items we have in our parts bins.

  3. I needed a 9V battery clip, from my past dealings with the ‘Shack’ I didn’t expect them to have anything more than cell phones and overpriced toys but decided to give them a shot since there are no other component stores around.

    They have really improved their hobby section, almost back to where it was when I was a kid. Regarding selection, not prices. eBay and the intertubes still destroy the ‘Shack’ on prices.

    1. 9 volt battery clip?
      You mean a holder? Otherwise just take the top off of an old 9 volt battery and solder on a couple leads. I always keep a couple ‘spent’ 9v batteries around for just that.

    1. Parallax has two basic models, the BASIC Stamp and the Propeller. I’ve worked with the BASIC Stamp, and I prefer the Arduino hands down. It’s a lot easier to program, libraries are easily accessible, and it just seems like there’s a lot more tutorials/examples/hacks on the web to do this or that. For beginners, IMHO, it’s much easier to get to “oooo, first blinky LED!” with Arduino.

      The Propeller lets you do actual multiprocessing as you have numerous (8, I think) individual MCUs running on one chip. If you had a project where you needed more than a couple interrupts, the Propeller might be better. (That said, I know there is work on a parallel processing library for Arduino.)

      Cost wise, Arduino is generally cheaper.

      1. They should be. There’s Arduino code out there for the RFID reader and the range finder. I can’t imagine it being too hard to come up with some on your own as long as you can get the datasheet for the unit itself or the components it uses.

  4. I agree the “vending machine” would be really cool, but probably impractical.

    They used to have a special order service. You used to be able to get some parts that weren’t in their normal catalog, like NTE components. The parts would piggyback in on regular shipments, so shipping was free for you and them. You could pick them up at the local store in a week, sometimes as little as two or three days. I used it once in the 80’s. A decade later I asked about it and the salesman had no idea what I was talking about.

    Why not bring that back, and improve on it? These days, it could be much more automated. Ordering, payment, and notification when the parts are in store could all be done online. I’d expect RS would charge more than other distributors like Newark/Mouser; but without shipping charges, it could still work out in your favor *and* give RS an additional source of income.

    Oh, and I’m rather surprised that the Basic Stamp and Propeller are making it to RS rather than a *duino. Congratulations, Parallax!

  5. ” Let people prove they’re actually willing to *go* to a well-stocked, competently run Radio Shack first,” All the good Radio Shack Managers were fired when they were forced to offer Sprint long distance a few years ago.

  6. s@raidsci:

    true, but when i need a 25 ft coil cord or a 10 ft usb extension, or a mag mount wilson cell antenna with appropriate adapters, the shack is ten minutes away, while newegg takes days

  7. It would at least be nice to see something like big box stores are doing now—making the items that are impractical to stock in-store online, then providing free shipping if you pick it up at the store. In absence of a vending machine (and I can understand why filling a vending machine with semi-obscure devices and saying “here you go” might not be economically sound) I think I’d actually use this option. It’d certainly beat having to come up with several dollars’ worth of extra parts to fill out a minimum order for a small project.

    1. That would be perfect, I think, and definitely make me use radioshack. Right now my only option for a lot of things is to either buy online and pay huge amounts for shipping compared to how cheap the product is, or wait three weeks for it to come in from China.

  8. Trip to the Shack in College:
    RS: “Welcome to Radio Shack, can I help you?”
    Me: “Uhh.. yeah.. where are your TTL chips?”
    RS: “Oooo.. I’m sorry, we don’t carry that brand sir.”
    Me: “Uhh.. never mind..”

    Subsequent Trips to RatShack:
    RS: “Welcome to Radio Shack, can I help you?”
    Me: “No.. no can’t.”


    1. I just stopped at RS last week and asked if they started carrying microcontrollers yet. The nice young man said “No, the closest thing we have to that is switches.”

  9. @toojeep4u the paralax is a great board like the arduino but it has a different handle on things if you try hard enough it should be easy.

    ~I can’t add on to you comment because im doing this from my phone~

    1. @studioeng may take pride in being the “decider” who provides the discipline necessary to keep his woman from her natural gender inclination towards spendaholicism, but we do not need to hear about it.

      Thankfully sexism is dying out. Younger couples know that partnership means equality.

      1. @Veronica Connor – That’s a very wide statement which could be take many ways.

        @ScottInNH – If you really believe that ‘decider’ rubbish then you’re reading my comment wrong! I was commenting from the angle that not all female partners are inclined to have to ‘approve’ of purchases. Thanks for your support anyway.

        Give someone a stick, they’ll take both ends!

      2. My son and his new wife have run up over $10 grand of debt in less than 6 months. The are equally stupid.

        My wife and I both discuss major purchases together. She finally relented on an Icom IC-718. “Wife approval level” (or spouse approval if you want a gender-neutral term) is the amount you can spend before the other one cares. $20, who cares. $200 might raise an eyebrow, $2000 means living in the RV.

      1. Radio Shack’s statement was fine (as corporate ones usually are, since they have an army of marketing people screening this stuff). It was the HaD post and the subsequent comments in this thread are concerning.

    2. As any person in a relationship, which shares income and bills will tell you, there is a level of spending which requires consideration and approval from both partners.

      Brian has chosen his words well this time with “spousal approval”. Great job Brian. You’ll note that this is a non-sexist alternative to what we’ve seen in the past.

      We’re trying here.

    1. Glad to hear it, Ricky. Here’s one for you- the component drawers in my local Shack look like a fuel air bomb went off inside them, and the staff are clueless. That keeps me going back to online retailers, even though I’d pay more for instant gratification.

    2. Stopped into my local Shack earlier (#12902) and found a surprisingly decent selection — components, tools, enclosures, PCBs and solderless breadboards, Mims books, all sorts of good stuff including some of the Parallax sensors (though not the GPS module I’d have liked to pick up there, hint hint) — I’ll definitely be stopping in again, and I’d say y’all have made a great start!

    3. I believe I’m your target market: tinkerer/mad scientist with disposable income and a yen for instant gratification.

      Seeing the local Radio Shacks begin to carry parts again is making me happy. I’ve spent over $100 at the nearest location in the last week as I work on a small robotics project.

      Here’s my suggestion for you: avoid the peanut-butter-but-no-jelly problem. If you have five of the seven components I need, I still have to place an order online. And if I’m already having to pay shipping and wait on stuff to come in, I might as well order the whole business online, avoiding sales tax. I realize that you can never offer the variety available online, but even with the new Parallax stuff coming in, I think you’ve got some gaps that need filling. A few specific suggestions: H-bridge chips, Tamiya motors/gearboxes, pyroelectric sensors, and Hall effect sensors.

    4. I think the earlier comment “create an online store and offer free shipping if the parts are picked up from a radio shack store” is a great idea! keeps costs down for you guys and opens up the variety of your stock very easily.

      Not that you have any stores in Australia…

  10. I really hope the Radio Shack in our town takes up this idea, you can’t even buy engineer notebooks anymore or the all-in-one kits for kids. It would be refreshing if prices where “online comparable” I’ll think about buying from the Shack again if they can at least get close to real inventory.

  11. sexism? ” spousal ” can be male or female, the assumption that only guys are interested in buying this stuff would be …. um…. ‘sexism’. Anyways in this day and age, a spouse could be either gender no matter what gender you are.

    As far as a vending machine, at least if it breaks down what is in the vending machine would probably have what you need to fix it!

  12. “…2-pack that we assume would be priced above girlfriend approval levels.”

    That’s what started it, but mainly my comments were about several of the other comments in this thread.

    I’m sorry if this seems like nitpicking to people, but this stuff does matter. Assuming you want more women in technical fields, it’s a million little things like this that create an atmosphere of unwelcomeness that keeps young girls from fanning the flames of their interest. If you don’t get ’em young, you likely won’t get ’em at all.

    I’ll stop now, I’ve spoken my peace. Sorry HaD, I didn’t intend to derail the conversation. I just couldn’t let some of the stuff said here lie unchallenged.

    1. Understood. Perhaps the comment could have been “‘… future spouse approval levels.” Either way, the wording might not have been politically correct but the intent is the same.

      Many years ago I took electronics in high school. The girls stuck with their interest in electronics despite any wording differences. They understood the meaning. Connectors at that time were male and female. It was all understood in a technical sense. Now its plug and socket; however, due to the change in wording it is now actually noticed more and I hear sex related comments with this wording where I never did growing up. My teenage girl has more interest in computer and electronics than my son does, she looks at it all at a technical level. I guess it all depends on how picky people are. For my two cents, if I have to watch everything I say to be politically correct instead of just getting the meaning across then its not worth it and all joy is gone.

      I’m not a crude talker and “try” to treat all with respect but we all make mistakes and I would hate it if a simple mistake would discourage them to following their interests…

      That being said, I do not fault your expressing your feelings, I just wish we all could take things less literal at times and see things for what they are and not read into things too much. Life ‘B’ too short…

  13. this is great news and congrats to parallax, for people who love open source hardware this is also a huge milestone some/many of the products that will hit the shelves in radioshack will bee open source hardware and it will be indicated on the packaging that it’s open source hardware too.

    many people get their electronics online, but there are also people who rely on retail places like radioshack for purchases, discovery or just convenience.

    adafruit (my other job) doesn’t have a retail store, so soon we’ll be able to point people to the local radioshack when they need an xbee or something on sunday STAT.

    no matter what you think about radioshack, getting electronics in more places in always a great thing, let’s encourage every radioshack to stock all of this stuff (and more, for other vendors too!)

  14. Here’s my free suggestion to RadioShack:

    Partner with Monoprice. Stock every store with every sort of cable you could need, in various lengths and colors. And then sell them at just above monoprice’s prices. Then advertise the heck out of it. Make Best Buy look absolutely silly selling HDMI cables for $40 when you’re selling them for $4.99. Make it well-known that you stock all the cables people need AND have knowledable staff that can help anyone hook up anything to anything.

    That will drive people back to the stores and when your staff is actually helpful and knowledgable, they just might come back to buy that TV, even if you are selling it for close to what Best Buy does. And you can sell the accessories. Someone comes in to buy a cable to hook up a TV to a Receiver and they walk out with a cable and that Boxee you had on display playing YouTube videos…

    And the geeks will come pouring in when we need a cable and we need it now and don’t want to wait 3-5 days for it. And they’ll see the new hobby electronics…

  15. This is great to hear, but I’m afraid that us Canadians will be left out of the loop, what with all the Radio Shack locations around here having been sold off to Circuit City and turned into The Source.

    1. The USA isn’t much better…I think the closest radio shack that hasn’t been closed must be at least 10 miles from my house…and I live in the city.

      I still see a very serious issue…selection is never going to be anywhere close to online selection. Even a site like Sparkfun can easily stock more stuff that Radioshack is going to stock. Worse, they don’t seem to be going for cross-purpose parts…like that display; it is a fixed color unit with a color that most people won’t want. For a few cents more they could have offered a version with an RGB backlight…that would have been like stocking units in all the backlight colors plus some that are only on RGB displays…but instead they went with the old green and black displays from the early 1980’s…and I’ll keep getting my displays online.

  16. I don’t mind paying a little extra for convenience.
    Hopefully the selection of components will improve…and it sure would be nice if the project boxes had pcb mounts that match the perf board they sell.

  17. Holy cow! A good idea I never thought of … a vending machine that dispenses any combination of single components, any size, any value, from a machine. You go online, place the order, visit the machine, swipe your card, and get a bag full of the parts you want. I wish I had the money to develop a really good machine.

  18. Unless that vending machine takes $100-bills, I don’t see how it will work. I recently purchased a few of these Parallax parts on CLEARANCE at Radio Shack, and even at clearance prices they were a bit pricey. I noticed the accelerometers (not on clearance) were over $30, as was the ultrasonic distance gizmo.

    I’m sorry, that’s not a fair profit. That’s just gouging. Christ, accelerometers are under $4 from the manufacturer.

  19. Upon reading this I went and visited a local Radio Shack. Not only they were out of the Parallax modules they used to carry (PIR and Ultrasonic), they didn’t even know if anything new will be arriving or not. They had two employees, one was hunting down a replacement battery for a what seems to be a wireless phone from 1980s and the other one was hunting down an adapter of some sort for an old cell phone. That went for about 15 minutes until I lost my patience and decided not to buy the components I picked up. That’s the reality of Radio Shack though, it is no longer a place for a hacker to go pick some components and tools, It is a place to go to find batteries for your old electronics, and if they cannot find you a replacement battery, they’ll sell you a new cell phone right on the spot and perhaps a remote controlled car. It’ll take a lot more effort than promising to carry more Parallax stuff in RS’s account to change that image now.

  20. My last trip to radio shack.

    clerk:”Can I help you?”
    me:”yea, I’m looking for a couple of servos”
    clerk:”umm, whats a servo?”
    me:”ahh, it’s like a little motor.”
    clerk:”ohh, well whats it for?”
    me:”a pumpkin.”
    clerk:”I’m sorry we don’t have any pumpkin motors”

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