The microcontroller based electronics design. A staple of modern engineering solutions. A small slice of highly lithographed silicon, glued into a plastic fixture and connected to its pins with ultrasonically welded wires the size of your hair. Far too often do we go through our day without giving these guys the credit they deserve. You only have to look as far as the mega processor project to begin to understand the mind-numbing complexity contained within a single integrated circuit.
Hardware engineers take multiple devices like this and integrate them together on Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) in order to produce the electronics that we use every day. That includes your computer, your watch, your oven, and multiple components in your car. We use electronics to automate so many parts of our lives that it is hard to keep track of.
Designing a PCB isn't easy
Often the engineers who design these circuit boards do not have it easy. A design can have hundreds to thousands of individual 'nets' or connections between components. During the initial phases of design, the designer will often have to physically interact with these connections in order to make sure that the system is functioning correctly. This can involve programming chips, verifying signal integrity, and checking for manufacturing defects.
In order to build such complex systems, engineers use specialist software called an electronic design assistant or EDA. EDA's do a great job of organizing the design, any feature which the designer wants to look at is easily accessible to them. Want to look at a specific pin on a specific IC? Not a problem, search it on your EDA. Want to visualize a trace on an inner layer? Also not a problem, within the EDA you can toggle any overlapping features to see the trace clearly.
Time to head into the lab
When you go into the lab to verify your board's design, you better have a laptop with your EDA nearby. Because finding the pins you need to program without your design files is non-obvious. And visualizing the clock signal you are trying to verify in order to see what could be corrupting it is impossible without your EDA if it is on an inner layer. Worse still, sending a photo to your colleague in order to illustrate the problem is not an option unless you want to get in to photo editing.
Is there a better way?
Here at Nuclei, we are developing software to help visualize the information you need to reduce inefficiencies and problems encountered while working on your board using Augmented Reality.