OSHWA and Altium Live: Done.

Well it’s been a crazy few weeks since my last Upverter and CircuitMaker blog post. There’s a lot going on with the Open Source Hardware Summit at MIT in Boston, and then the very next week I had the privilege of presenting once again at the AltiumLive Summit in San Diego. As a result I’ve been kept from updating the community but… here we are!

OSH – Summit 2018

OSHWA summit was extraordinary as ever. Sponsored by several companies in the open source hardware / hacker / maker community, Octopart, Upverter and CircuitMaker brands were represented. Why do we even care about this event? Because the Open Hardware Summit and the CircuitMaker and Upverter communities share the same spirit – information wants to be free, and we can’t build and improve our electronics unless the work of those who went before us is available to build upon. For this reason, and for the social aspect, I’ve always loved attending these events – to find out what’s new in the community, promote CircuitMaker and Upverter designs, meet old friends, and discuss cool projects people are working on.

There were a lot of excellent talks about the state of OSHW and it’s future, exciting innovations that can only occur because open source collaborators band together to achieve amazing things out of sheer enthusiasm, and improvements at the community level with a new version of the open source hardware certification program.

Up-close view of the OSHWA 2018 badge.
Up-close view of the OSHWA 2018 badge.
Registration Table at OSHWA 2018 – Drew Fustini was rapidly programming everyone’s name into their badge.

Drew Fustini of OSH Park posted video recordings of the main presentations which you can catch up on over at the OSH Park blog: http://blog.oshpark.com/2018/10/07/open-hardware-summit-live-stream/

New Open Hardware Certification V2.0

So what does the new OSHWA certification process mean? It comes down to the Community Definition of what Open Source Hardware actually is. Let me explain it in my words – I’m sure you’ll relate to this story:

I got excited when I discovered “open source” single board computers were made cheaply available to makers. The first of these $30-ish single board computers most people think of in this sense is the Raspberry Pi. It’s a great tool, and the fact that it runs a useful Linux distro with Python makes it especially so. With this information, there are many websites and marketing material out there since it’s release talking about open source development and waving the “open source” flag, but the day I tried finding the schematic and PCB files so I could learn (not even copy, but learn, mind) about the PCB design of the Raspberry Pi, was they day I learned that not all the people out there marketing a product as open source are telling the whole truth. I was angered by this, as I’m sure some of you may have been as well. I’m not knocking the Raspberry Pi designers or even Broadcom for the product – we all agree it’s great – but there is an incongruence to all this which I personally find distasteful. I’m all for commercial, closed and open designs for different things, but if you call something open in your marketing, you should make it truly open.

What I love about the new Open Hardware Certification is that you can’t just slap the official logo on your design unless it does meet the true community definition of open hardware. And what that boils down to is a short list of important characteristics, my personal favorites of which are:

  • Original CAD format files are made available.
    • This has to be the most important criteria. Just putting the schematics in to a PDF or even making gerber files available for download is considered not acceptable to the community definition (I’m looking at YOU, PI clones!)
  • No restrictions on Use:
    • For an open source design to be certified, its use cannot be restricted to any people group, country, industry or business. It’s truly available and useful to all.
  • Software to operate hardware:
    • Any software needed to make the hardware carry out its function either:
      • Has to be also available under a similar open source license, or,
      • Documented enough that suitable software/firmware can be written by anyone with the skills to do it.
  • Does not restrict external hardware or software:
    • Including the requirement that external software working with it be open source. In other words, you don’t have to use KiCAD to draw your schematics, just because you want the design to be open. You can use any CAD tool you prefer.
    • This also means you can write your own custom software or firmware, or design other non-open source hardware, that interoperates WITH this open hardware product. This is an important requirement for open hardware to be able to form a legitimate play in the electronics economy. Without this, we’d not have such a great competitive environment for 3D printers, laser cutters, single board computers, and many consumer devices.

But I cannot do justice to the certification program here. I highly recommend you read about it and follow it through for your own projects as Michael Weinberg, OSHWA President, suggested in his talk at the 2018 Summit. It costs you nothing but a little extra time and attention to details, and it’s definitely worth it.

To learn more, check out the OSHWA Certification Page: https://certification.oshwa.org/

More Summit Highlights

I did get to sneak in a couple of video interviews. So stay tuned for more. This first one was with Jasmine Brackett from Tindie – a maker oriented marketplace where any of us can sell hardware products we designed in Upverter or CircuitMaker!

Altium Live 2018

Old School Altium Live badges - no paperwhites or microcontrollers here!

…Then on to AltiumLive! Me, Camaryn and Christian building camaraderie by attaching lanyards to “old school” badges. Perhaps we can learn from the OSHWA crowd and get on the electronic badge bandwagon for AltiumLive next year – it would sure make prepping the badges more fun!!

Upverter Meetup Oakland – User Interviews

Hi everyone!

CM version of this blog was already posted here: https://circuitmaker.com/blog/oakland-meetup-user-interviews-oshwa-summit

It’s great to see so many new projects all the time. With almost no input from Altium to this Upverter community it speaks volumes to see the momentum here. This is in spite of some people that would cast doubt over the future of this product.

We announced earlier that CircuitMaker is going to be renamed “Upverter Desktop”. We are working to merge the communities and data together – so Altium R&D and Upverter R&D teams have become a single unit collaborating across Kiev, La Jolla, and Toronto offices. These fine factories are feverishly coding to ensure data and user accounts can be brought together without loss of fidelity. As technical folks, you’re no doubt aware this is not trivial. Naturally it will take a bit of time, but so far our R&D team tells me it’s pressing forward, and later this year or early next we’ll have our sites merged and hope to have some beta testing going on well before that.

Meanwhile Upverter is here en force, and we want to keep the ball rolling on all the cool designs and community content being produced. So keep up the great work. There’s more info coming soon, but I’ll give you a tip – we’re rolling out a user generated content incentive program this month. I’ll blog separately about that soon.

In other news, we just had our Oakland meetup event, graciously hosted by Circuit Launch by Oakland airport. These guys have a really big nice workspace for startups to come in and get some serious robotics and 3D printing done, among other things. While we were there I was privileged to get some neat interviews with a few people, working on interesting projects. Check these out below…

https://youtu.be/3kc2MztsxFk

Karlis Veilands shares his build of BlueSaab 6.1 – designed in CircuitMaker by Seth Evans – and explains the movement of “Saab addicts” who needed a solution for integrating Bluetooth audio connectivity into their 1990s-2000s Saab 93 and 95 models, replacing the old factory CD changer with this module to provide all modern conveniences of phone connectivity in the high-end audio system of these luxury vehicles. There are now quite a few BlueSaab users and a vibrant forum and community support the product. It’s for communities of collaborators like this that we wanted to make sure the open source community had access not just to PCB tools, but the most productive.

https://youtu.be/LdzsFXcNKYE

Alex Wayne is a software developer by day, and an LED kinetic sculpture artist by night. What do you need when your normal line of work is not doing hardware, but you need to do hardware efficiently for your side projects? You turn the the most productive tools with the simplest user interface that’s what! And in Alex’s case, he switched from EAGLE and KiCAD in his earlier attempts to Upverter. Now he’s designing boards for some pretty amazing APA102 LED based kinetic art sculpture work – commissioned by the city of Santa Rosa CA. See his  interview to discover more about this interesting project.

Our next meetup isn’t actually ours!! Our next meetup will be the Open Source Hardware Summit – this Thursday at MIT in Boston. We’ll be emailing the CircuitMaker and Upverter Bostonians in a day or two with more details. We would certainly love to see you there! But even if you can’t get the day off for Thursday, perhaps we could catch up Wednesday evening at a pub in Cambridge? Either way, I hope to see you there or at our next meetup which will be in the Los Angeles CA area. Keep designing cool stuff and I’ll report back here again soon!

 

About the Sausage Factory Project

My First “UPVERTED” Design

In my earlier post about taking the plunge and forcing myself to learn how to use Upverter, I mentioned the project I was working on was a new guitar overdrive / distortion pedal I named “Sausage Factory”.

Well, some friends got back to me and requested to see what was in it – just out of curiosity, so although my original intention was to keep this a private project, I figured it would do no harm to share and describe more about it.

Every design should begin with a design specification. Mine was very simple:

  • Marshall style high-gain front-end.
  • Fender/Vox/Marshall passive tone stack (Bass, Mid, Treble)
  • 7-band Graphic Equalizer similar to the Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC
  • Individual footswitching for the OD section and Graphic
  • Fit in a single hammond 1590BB metal box
  • As low noise as possible.

I used an opamp based graphic. I knew I could probably do all this in DSP based on Eli Hughes’ Monkey Jam, but since I’m learning Upverter at the same time I figured this design would stay in the analog realm so I could have more going on with the PCB. This will be harder and take longer to assemble my prototypes by a long way, since there’s a lot of 0603 parts in a graphic EQ!

This one was done first as a module in Upverter so that I could place this graphic EQ into any future designs very easily. I like the the physical design reuse aspects of Upverter – this is not just a device sheet or sheet symbol but a full hierarchical reuse block which includes the pre-routed PCB layout for it.

I’m specifying LM4562MAX/NOPB parts in this project because they are the best low-noise opamps right now which are affordable and useful at lower gains (such as in the EQ section where the gain may be 0dB or up to +/-12dB)

GraphicEQ_Schematichttps://upverter.com/eda/embed/#designId=1bbbd2511f352cc9,actionId=

The opamp gyrators were set to have Q factors and frequency bands similar to the MESA/Boogie Mark II head’s graphic, but there’s no way to get it exactly the same because it’s not the same circuit. The target center frequencies are 84Hz, 240Hz, 400Hz, 1KHz, 2KHz, 4KHz and 8KHz. The Boogie was designed a long time ago, before opamps were cheap enough or low noise enough to be used as gyrators, so that circuit uses tank circuits with real inductors and caps and resistors in series. There’s no end to the audible nuance in such things, but for my intents this is enough to make great tone, and finding the right inductors to use to faithfully copy the Boogie EQ circuit would render this project prohibitively expensive.

I created a new project after the GEQ7 re-usable module for the main overdrive pedal. This is the Sausage Factory – I named it this because it’s meant to be a meat-grinding face-melting distortion capable unit.

SausageFactoryPCBhttps://upverter.com/eda/embed/#designId=59034a1ef51ae755,actionId=

As with the EQ modules, I’ve used LM4562MAX/NOPB opamps throughout. I’ve used those before in other high-gain designs like the “Screamin’ Dolly” and they sound amazing, yet have extremely low noise. The Screamin’ Dolly next to a TS-808 will give the same tone but way less hiss because of these opamps. Similar to the TS-808 and TS-9 in this design I’m using an input buffer with a 2N5088 transistor configured as an emitter follower.

You can see the gain stage is followed by a higher voltage clipping circuit as used in Marshall Preamps, where they used a diode rectifier bridge, shorted with an additional rectifier (Silicon) diode between them. This provides a clipping voltage of about 1.5-2V as opposed to many overdrives using a single pair of back-to-back signal diodes which will clip hard at about 0.6V. The circuit here is better for a more natural head-like overdrive, and for driving the following passive tone stage. After the tone stack is a buffer with a small amount of additional voltage gain (6dB), a Master volume control pot, and then into the EQ.

Both sections – the preamp/overdrive and the graphic EQ, have pin-headers for ribbon cables to go off the board and be soldered to the 3-pole double-throw try bypass footswitches. I have a big bag of these footswitches from China ready to go…

I keep hearing about more and more PCB prototyping fab services, one of which is PCBWay. They seemed to be fairly low cost and promised a very fast turnaround time, so I went ahead and ordered the bare boards to be made there. I had them back in 2.5 weeks which was pretty fast for an off shore fab.

The quality seems good, though my silkscreen coudn’t easily be edited to show all the graphic EQ reference designators properly – so I’m just going to have to use Upverter interactively while I put these prototypes together, as a “living” assembly drawing.

20180726_153156

The boards were vacuum packed well, and I ordered their minimum prototype run of 5. I also ordered the stainless steel solder paste stencil – I’ll do another post and video when I use it to show how to use a stencil and desktop reflow oven for soldering the parts onto the boards.

20180726_153435

So, this is an honest quirk of Upverter when you use re-usable modules like I did for this EQ section – it prefixes each module reference designator with the hierarchical parent designator of the module instance. So all these reference designators begin with GQ: that’s not a bad way to handle this hierarchy. However I was not able to move the silkscreen texts in the main board, so many of them ended up cropped by the solder mask openings…

Oh well, one more thing we will improve with Upverter I guess!

Stay tuned for more posts when I put these together and do some testing.

CircuitMaker and Upverter Meet at OSH Park Headquarters

Originally posted on the CircuitMaker Blog, August 3rd 2018.

Just a quick update – we had our latest “Upverter and CircuitMaker Tour” meetup on August 2nd at OSH Park Headquarters in Portland OR. Special thanks to Laen and the OSH Park crew for hosting us! It was really great to meet a bunch (about 22) of CircuitMaker and Upverter users there and hear from you all first hand where you need this to go.

In between discussing Perfect Purple PCBs and projects as diverse as custom guitar pickups and multi-Gigahertz RF boards, Zak and I were able to get candid and direct feedback about where Altium’s going with this whole Upverter + CircuitMaker merge thing.

Upshots:

  • Module based design is where this needs to go if hobbyists, artists, scientists and others are going to be able to do hardware design.
  • Modular design has a whole host of big boulders to lift, like power supplies, voltage signal levels compatibility, serial and bus interfaces, routing, PCB layer stack compatibility and so on.
  • NRE costs are a big barrier. Today, the reason shared panel services like OSH Park are so popular is that they can spread the panel cost among many designers. This will continue, and we need to work with manufacturers to bring this concept to full assembly without exploding the costs to the end user who just wants to get their project working.
  • Routing automation needs to be better out of the box, so it “just works” for non-PCB designers.

Needless to say, there’s a lot we need to do to make our future vision a reality. But nothing great ever happened without aiming high!

What do you think? What issues do you believe will be the “big boulders” for us to move if we’re going to make this work for anyone who wants to try turning their idea into a real electronic device?

Please comment!

Perspective

Hi Everyone, Ben Jordan here.

Remember me? I did a whole raft of videos about Altium Designer “design secrets”, ran tech support for a while, and then was the whole business owner for “CircuitMaker” for it’s first two years of life.

I’ve been playing around in Upverter for a few months now, because we (Altium) acquired Upverter and I was asked to work with these guys.

At first, I had some apprehension. I’m shooting you straight here. It came from about 2 years ago when I did some competitive analysis between Upverter and CircuitMaker for the live collaboration capabilities. At that time, Upverter felt so restrictive to me because from the ground up the user interface is designed to have one (and only one) way to perform each task in the design process, whereas Altium software (Altium Designer, CircuitMaker etc.) typically offer a much more featured and flexible approach. That’s not always better, by the way – it depends who you are and what you want to acheive.

So, taking a deep breath, I forced myself to go through a complete project from front to back, to make myself learn how to use Upverter and to see what the philosophy really was behind it from inception.

And you know what?

I’m a believer.

I don’t say this lightly.

Upverter as a startup since 2011 put all their effort into doing things differently than the “old EDA” guard. The user experience philosophy was strongly typed to not just make a schematic and PCB tool in the cloud, but to make it do the bidding of designers in the simplest way possible. And initially, I’m not gonna lie, to someone who spent literally years learning a “mainstream” power tool for board level electronics design (ie. me) Upverter at first seemed overly simple. But scratching the surface by forcing myself to use Upverter for a *real project* has totally given me a new perspective.

Upverter_Board

This tool is efficient because it’s elegent. Elegence in software and UX design is actually extremely hard to do. The more progress you make on a product design – hardware or software – the more ideas enter into the mix, and the more tempting it is to add those features. This is called feature creep in traditional software circles, but more commonly referred to as “bloat” these days.

At first, working with Upverter felt a little too tight and restrictive for me, but it wasn’t long before I realized that the design was getting done faster than I had expected, and it was because of a few things that would be easy to take for granted if you’d been using Upverter for a while:

  • Obvious control menu structure.
  • Selection Filters.
  • Automatic synchronization.
  • Every numerical field is a calculator.

There are quite a few others too – but I’m still learning Upverter and these were the first few UI/UX items that stood out as productivity gains to me. My favorite is perhaps the last one – that in any object properties dialogue you can type a mathematical formula into the field and Upverter will just calculate the result for you. This saves so much time especially when creating footprints for new components. It’s a thing you’d expect any tool to have, and I can say that Altium Designer users have been asking for this for many years and still don’t have it. (They have other cool stuff BTW, but still…)

UPV_Calculator

That may seem like a small thing. It’s HUGE. This alone saved me LOTs of time doing the design you see above (my next Guitar Pedal Design – I’m calling it the “Sausage Factory” – stay tuned for a video demoing the prototype!!)

There’s a lot more to say, but a blog shouldn’t be too long – but as I learned a long time ago, the best way to learn something is to have to teach it to someone else. So to that end, look forward to future blogs and videos from me about how to actually do cool designs and use these productivity accelerators in Upverter.

My hat’s off to Zak, Mike and Steve for doing the hard work of being a startup, and taking on the hard problems of hardware. I’m personally excited that together we can make hardware less hard – even more, make it so you can take your ideas and turn them into working devices, regardless of who you are. Whether you’re a student, hobbyist, hacker, or professional engineer it does not matter. Together we’re making Upverter into the platform that will make it easy to get to a working “thing”.

Tour Update – June 12th and 14th.

So June 12th and 14th we travelled to New York and Boston to meet local users of Upverter and Circuitmaker, east some great BBQ, and connect on the merge and how it’s all going. 

Connecting in person, meeting some new friends, and some old ones, is always good!

Overall, we have so far had a good response, with most people coming to the events having used Upverter mainly, CircuitMaker a little, and it was great to be able to share plans.

The cool thing is the people who came out confirmed what we believed: that designers of the future are not necessarily electrical engineers, and that we need to bring Upverter and Circuitmaker together to create a system that’s easy to use but powerful enough to allow people of any skill or discipline to get their ideas working.

20180612_194156

In Brooklyn, NY, JF Brandon brought along a BotFactory SV2 PCB printer – this baby is in pre-production and soon to be released so it was great having a sneak preview. Who knows, maybe he’ll let me borrow one for a while and do some vlogging with it – fingers crossed 😉

20180612_192433
We also got to catch up with friends from PCB:NG – experts at rapid low-cost turnkey prototyping. Glad to hear the future about what we’re doing.

Myself, Zak and Mike then got the train up to Boston for the meetup on June 14th.

20180614_191505

We picked the Cambridge district to be close to MIT and Harvard. We already knew from Google Analytics that there are a bunch of CircuitMaker and Upverter users there. On of the local hacker spaces sent a couple of representatives along too, and there were a few post-grad researchers from MIT too. Talking to these fine people again confirmed that many Upverter and CircuitMaker users have some electronics knowledge but are not Electrical Engineers in their core job, research or discipline. They asked some great questions about the future of the platform, such as:

  • How does Altium propose to make electronics deisgn  more accessible?
  • What operating systems will we support in future versions of the CAD desktop?
  • How can we improve automation so anyone can quickly route the PCB or place components?
  • Which brand will remain – Upverter or CircuitMaker?
  • …and many more.

To these, we answer – we want to build a system for design that let’s users essentially start with a feature spec, bring in the “modules” they need, configure, tweak, customize, and build. This is hard to do. But we think with Upverter and CircuitMaker we have the technology, DNA, and investment capital to make this real. As to OSes – that’s the beauty of cloud – any device with a browser can run Upverter. For the desktop, true cross-platform (Windows, Mac and mainstream Linux) is on the roadmap but will take a little time. Automation is an interesting one – we definitely need to beef this up if we’re going to make design accessible, and machine learning will play a significant role.

And as to the branding question?…

Upverter.

 

EE’s Dilemma – Design Parts or Boards

Most engineers would rather design PCBs than libraries. But how can you trust a library with other contributors?

Whenever I talk to electronics designers about what they dislike the most when it comes to creating electronics the answer is almost always the same. Part creation. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to an experienced designer who’s been doing it for years or to a beginner whose been at it for 3 months, people don’t like “wasting” their time creating their components. Why is that?

There seems to be three basic reasons as to why people don’t like create their own components:

  1. Footprint, Symbol, 3D model Styles
  2. Trust
  3. Time

What if there was a way to solve all these issues and create a centralized database that we can all trust, agree on styling, AND not spend time creating? It may sound like a dream but I don’t think so, I think this is something completely within our grasp. Come with me and I will take you to the promised land.

Footprint & Symbol Styles

The first thing we need to do is to figure out how to solve the problem of style. We all have our preferred way of doing things, a way we like to view our schematics and boards. I propose we do the same thing that schools and the military do, uniforms. We take away the personalization of part creation and create a standard.

Now this isn’t a new radical idea, in fact its an old stale one but somehow it seems to be forgotten.  Way back in 1975 IEEE created the standard IEEE 315. This standard was made to fix this exact issue of how schematic symbols should look. I’m not sure exactly what happened but somewhere along the way people went their separate ways. It could be a new generation of designers or maybe people just didn’t want to change, either way that’s not the point. This standard was made for a reason and it should be followed.

The IEEE 315 standard is extremely comprehensive, so much so it includes schematic symbol elements allowing you to symbolize parts that haven’t even been invented yet. Let me explain. IEEE 315 gives a standard to construct any symbol, every line, dot, and feature has a meaning. With these tools available, one is able to construct any symbol for any possible component that does or does not exist.

IGBT Symbol Meaning

The next thing that we as designers need to come together on is the footprints / land patterns / decals for components. Just like with schematic symbols we don’t have a standard that we all are using despite there being a standard out there available to us. That standard is IPC-7351. IPC-7351 provides information on land pattern geometries used for the surface attachment of electronic components. This includes things like sizing and tolerance to insure there is sufficient area for all the appropriate solder fillets.

Caliper and CPU

So far we’ve taken a look schematic symbol and PCB footprint standards but there’s still one thing missing and that’s a standard for creating the 3D STEP model. And yes there is a standard for that as well, isn’t that great!? The standard for that is the JEDEC Publication No. 95. JEDEC 95 describes the dimensional and geometrical characteristics of “standard” component packages.

JEDEC_MO-012

Trust

Okay, so we’ve talked about how to standardize on schematic symbols, PCB footprints, and also 3D models. But what about the trust and time issue. We solve the trust issue by applying these standards. Once everyone or most people apply these standards to part creation as they should, we can all have a higher confidence that we’ve all done things correctly.

Of course nothing a person does is without error all the time. This is why we need an online database with everyone uploading their component models. And to be sure all components are up to standard we can crawl and verify each component as they’re uploaded. In addition to software verification, having users review and use components will give everyone a solid indication of which part is good and which is not.

Time

As you probably have guessed having this online database where users and professionals can upload their component symbols and models will save time, for everyone. It may surprise you but this isn’t a fantasy, well not completely. EE Concierge is a service that will create a complete component for you including schematic symbol, PCB footprint, and also a 3D model. The EE Concierge component making process follows the above industry standards so you know what you’re getting is correct and transferable to anyone. As for an online database filled with components, that’s where Octopart comes in. Octopart is a search engine for electronic components and industrial products. It includes things like a BOM scrubber, pricing and a bunch  more. It’s definitely worth checking out.