Mathias's projects when he was still in high school during the 80's:
Primitive plotter: http://www.sentex.net/~mwandel/tech/plotter.html
Primitive 1-pin dot matrix printer:
Primitive Commodore 64 drum scanner:
Home made wooden Joystik:
The next step up is a current limiting stepper motor driver. These can handle more voltage and current, and have the sensing to avoid burning themselves out. You still have to provide pulses for each step. Go for at least this level. Stepper motors use considerable power when stopped, and you need current limiting on all but the tiniest motors. Otherwise you get to choose between overheating and too weak.
Next are drivers and controllers on the same board. These accept commands over USB, I2C, or a few other data paths, and take care of operating the motor. If you're not into really low level programming, this makes life simpler.
In fact, a Commodore 64 or a TRS-80 Color Computer were some of the cheapest "microcontroller development kits" at the time.
I'm kind of surprised these aren't more of a thing, for use in garages/cellars. Or for use in warehouses and other under heated work spaces.
I can imagine a big market for these devices for installing in warehouses, churches, walk in fridges/freezers, outdoor venues etc.
The total power use to keep a few people warm with a directed IR heater is far lower than the energy needed to keep an outdoor space warm!
The IR heaters could be directed to gimbals which can scan between all people in a scene rapidly (say 10 Hz), so everyone feels warm.
Multiple devices could be installed in the same building so even if you don't have line of sight of one, you still get heated by the rest.
I found that the built-in forced-air heat (and a/c) seems to show up like a sawtooth wave, with an amplitude of about 3-4 degrees.
In the room with my computer desk, I've found that by turning off the forced air heat and using a vornado heater I end up with a very comfortable space with absolutely flat temperature graphs.
I use the one with the dial, not the LED controls, and it seems to have very good air circulation with well-tuned PID temperature controls.
If you’re dealing with “free” rooftop mounting space, it’s cheaper to just throw more panels at the problem.
And you’ll get better peak power with more panels.
Or get a manually adjustable setup and manually adjust them for each season.
Your user name makes that statement hilarious though. :)
Perhaps at scale, things would be different, but I doubt it.