Meet the Electronics Zone


Introducing: “hardware hobbyist” Austin Neff. This electronics whiz kid is a crucial member at Idea Fab Labs, as he heads up the Electronics Zone. With experience in everything from robotics to LED lighting to audio processing and micro controllers, Austin is “all over the board” when it comes to his work at IFL.

By day, he’s a software engineer for a local company. At night, he can often be found at IFL overseeing his zone and creating new projects.

We recently caught up with Austin to learn more about what makes him tick.

What brought you to Santa Cruz?

I moved to Santa Cruz in 2008 to attend UC Santa Cruz, where I got into electronics and programming and majored in Network and Digital Technology.

How has your training and experience in electronics grown over the years?

Since my freshman year in 2008 to 2009, my projects have grown a bit more complex. They usually include a microcontroller or a single board computer. Now, I tend to choose projects that allow me to learn a new skill or technology.

What kinds of electronics work do you create?

One project worth mentioning took place at a robotics contest hosted at a hacker convention called Defcon which happens in Las Vegas every summer. The robot had to shoot moving targets with a laser pointer. Each target was a ping pong ball on a model train and the targets had sensors in them to detect laser hits. I had one partner, and we designed and built the bot together. We used a single board computer running Linux, a USB Web cam for video, and two servo motors to create a pan/tilt system to control the laser pointer. My main motivation was to learn about computer vision and image processing. While we didn’t take first place, we made it to the finals, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun along the way.

More recently I’ve been working on some color changing LED projects. I’ve done some custom accent lighting, I was a Christmas tree for Halloween, and I have done a few other wearable LED projects. I’ve also explored some Internet of Things (IoT) projects, and have a particular interest in IoT security.

What do you love about the Electronics Zone and what are your top three favorite features that it has?

I love the Electronics Zone because it is much better than the soldering station I had in my garage before IFL opened. My favorite feature is the oscilloscope, I didn’t have one at home and it is great for debugging and testing circuits. I also like the bench top power supply. You can easily power a breadboard with it.

What do you love about IFL?

I live by the maker and hacker ethos, so IFL is great for me. Having access to all of the equipment is amazing and helps motivate projects. Whether it is a wood working project, or an electronics project, going from an idea to a drawing to a physical final product is a great feeling.

IFL is great for making things. I also have fun. I’m in the process of designing a circuit for the purpose of teaching people how to use the oscilloscope, and another circuit for teaching people how to solder. I wouldn’t be doing any of that if it wasn’t for the Electronics Zone.