A Century of Avnet Technology

To coincide with Retro Tech Month here at Hackster, we're bringing you a history of Avnet's coolest tech from the past 100 years.

Cameron Coward
17 days agoRetro Tech / Music

Hackster's parent company, Avnet, celebrated 100 years of business last year. In that century, Avnet had a hand in many interesting technologies. To coincide with Retro Tech Month here at Hackster, we're bringing you a history of Avnet's coolest technologies from the past 100 years.

The Golden Age of radio

When a company's name contains the letters "net," people tend to assume said company originated sometime after the 1980s and that it does something related to networks. But in this case, the company takes its name from founder Charles Avnet. A Russian-Jewish immigrant in the United States, Charles Avnet began selling radio parts to the public in 1921 on Lower Manhattan's Radio Row in New York City.

Avnet's decision to enter the radio market wasn't arbitrary. In 1918, the US government lifted a ban on amateur radio stations—a ban enacted for national security during World War I, building on the Radio Act of 1912 that Congress passed after the sinking of the Titanic.

In 1921, radio technology was still in its infancy and very much a novelty to the general public. Interest and demand developed quickly. The public wanted to listen to radio, broadcasters wanted to cater to that public (with a few ads to pay the bills, of course), and amateur radio operators wanted to communicate with each other. Avnet supplied parts to build and repair that equipment.

It was only natural that radios would make their way into cars. In 1929, the first Motorola car radio hit the market. Avnet began selling automobile antenna assembly kits and then, during the Great Depression, transitioned in a wholesale business model instead of retail.

Supplying the war effort

As the world went to war again, Avnet manufactured antennas to supply to the US military. Radio technology was integral to wartime communications and the military required a great deal of equipment—much of which went unused.

After World War II ended, Avnet purchased surplus military electronics hardware and supplied it to civilian manufacturers. The company put particular focus into the connector market, which was growing in importance as streamlined electronics manufacturing and repair processes emerged.

Rock and roll

As the world flew into the digital age, Avnet began an era of acquisition. The first major purchase was of British Industries Corporation, an American importer of high-end British audio equipment, occurred in 1960. Under Avnet's leadership, BIC produced its own turntables and loudspeakers in the 1970s.

Avnet's relationship with the music industry grew through the '60s. The company purchased record label Liberty Records and its subsidiary Blue Note in 1962. At the time, Willie Nelson released his first record with the label.

In 1965, Avnet purchased Guild Musical Instruments, a manufacturer of acoustic folk and blues guitars. That same year, an Avnet/Guild vice president presented a Guild Starfire 12 guitar to John Lennon and George Harrison of a small band from Liverpool called The Beatles.

The digital age

Music was cool, but it was clear that transistors were the future. In 1973, Avnet became Intel's very first distributor. During this period Avnet acquired numerous companies in the semiconductor and IC (integrated circuit) industries.

Throughout the digital age, "Avnet" was rarely a name that consumers saw. Their shiny new computers didn't bear Avnet branding, but they were full of components supplied by or even manufactured by Avnet.

One example was the TeleVideo Model TS-1603 personal computer, introduced in 1983. That was a CP/M and MS-DOS 2.0-compatible PC built around the famous Intel 8088 microprocessor and it included 128KB of RAM, an integrated monitor and keyboard, and a built-in modem.

For the next few decades, Avnet continued to focus on domestic and overseas supply and distribution behind the scenes.

The maker movement

The maker movement didn't just change the hobbyist market, it also changed the way professional engineers approach development. That coincided with the rise of the internet and the information access it provided.

In 2016, Avnet acquired Hackster — the website you are looking at right now. The same year, Avnet purchased Premier Farnell and its element14 community. Both Hackster and element14 gave Avnet a valuable relationship with engineers and makers.

Through partnerships with manufacturers like Microchip, STMicroelectronics, AMD-Xilinx, and many others, Avnet helped to bring development boards, evaluation kits, sensors, MEMS, and other hardware to the engineering community.

Today

In addition to supply and distribution, Avnet provides design services, IoT solutions services with their robust IoTConnect platform, even creates its own off-the-shelf development kits for a wide range of applications, complete with documentation and training materials. Some examples that Hackster readers will find interesting include the MicroZed, MiniZed, PicoZed, UltraZed, RZBoard V2L, AVT9152, Monarch GO, Ultra96-V2, and MaaXBoards.

All of the boards in the Zed lineup facilitate AMD-Xilinx Zynq development. The Zynq SoC (System-on-Chip) family combines ARM processors with FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays).

The RZBoard V2L is an affordable single-board computer (SBC) for AI-accelerated vision applications. It shares a form factor with the popular Raspberry Pi Model B series of SBCs, but incorporates more powerful hardware intended specifically for AI vision.

In a similar vein, the popular Ultra96-V2 is a powerful development board perfect for machine learning tasks. It's based on the powerful AMD-Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC (MultiProcessor System-on-Chip). If you've seen one of Mario Bergeron's awesome computer vision tutorials here on Hackster, it probably used an Ultra96-V2 board.

The MaaXBoard line of SBCs includes the MaaXBoard, MaaXBoard 8ULP, MaaXboard RT, MaaXBoard Mini, and MaaXBoard Nano. Compatible with peripherals that utilize the Raspberry Pi 40-pin GPIO header, these boards take advantage of NXP's i.MX 8M family of applications processors. Avnet's team has posted a library of getting started tutorials on Hackster.

Avnet resources

Through their various divisions around the globe, Avnet also has a wide range of solutions that can help both startups and established companies through every stage of development journey - be it design, supply chain or logistics.

And whether you see the name or not, you can be sure that Avnet helped bring you many of the devices you use in your day-to-day life.

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