123D Circuits: Autodesk’s free design tool


Arduino fanatics rejoice: Autodesk and Circuits.io have jointly released a new electronics design tool with some unique features: 123D Circuits. Anyone familiar with Autodesk knows they have a bit of a habit of taking over the world, but you can relax knowing this is a (pretty much) free product that’s filed under their Free 3D tools—though we’re not quite sure what is “3D” about a circuits layout program.

123D is web-based software, and using it requires account creation on the circuits.io website. Anything you design sits on the cloud: you can collaborate with others and even embed your circuit (with functioning simulation) straight into a webpage. Unfortunately, your work is public and therefore accessible by anyone unless you fork over $12 or $25 monthly: the former only gives you 5 private circuits. Dollar signs pop up again when you hit “finish circuit;” they offer to sell you PCBs in multiples of three.

Some features of the free account, however, may tempt the Arduino veteran away from a go-to program like Fritzing. Plopping in a virtual Arduino lets you edit its code on the fly in another window, which you can then simulate. If you’re new to circuit design or want some guidance for using 123D Circuits, they have provided an extensive list of applicable Instructables. Check out their promotional video below.

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Advent Calendar of Circuits

We missed 60% of it already, but luckily you can easily watch the back catalog of [Alan Yates'] 2011 Advent Calendar of Circuits. As with traditional Advent Calendars he’s got a treat for every day in December leading up to Christmas. Instead of chocolate, the treat is a video about a different electronic circuit.

We didn’t find a playlist link, but you can just head over to his YouTube channel as each day is clearly labelled in the video titles. He starts off with a current limiting voltage regulator. A couple of days later he busts out a metal detector that will be fun to play with. Day 7 brings an AM transmitter/receiver pair, and Day 12 illustrates a burnt-out Christmas light detecting tool which we’ve embedded after the break.

The sheer volume of projects he’s putting out every day is remarkable and delightful. He doesn’t even limit himself to one video a day, but has posted several ‘extra’ editions with quick, circuit demos. [Read more...]

A ham radio receiver, Manhattan Style


If you’ve never heard of “Manhattan Style” circuit construction, you’re not alone. Popular in ham radio circles, the process looks nicer than straight dead bug style circuit building, but not as involved as etching your own PCB – consider it a nice middle of the road solution.

This type of construction is often used to build circuits inside enclosures that are made of copper clad, which is a somewhat common practice among ham radio operators. Manhattan Style circuits are built using glued-on metal pads to which components are mounted. One might think that the large pads you see in the image above would limit you to through-hole components, but that’s definitely not the case. A wide array of SMD pads are available in common pin configurations as well, allowing you to use pretty much any type of component you prefer.

While it might not be appropriate for every project you work on, Manhattan Style circuits and copper clad boxes definitely add a nice touch to certain items, like the Wheatstone Bridge Regenerative Receiver you see above.

[via Make]

New conductive ink allows circuit prototyping with a pen and paper


Why spend time etching circuit boards and applying solder masks when all you really need is a rollerball pen and some paper? That’s what University of Illinois professors [Jennifer Lewis and Jennifer Bernhard] were asking when they set off to research the possibility of putting conductive ink into a standard rollerball pen.

The product of their research is a silver nanoparticle-based ink that remains liquid while inside a pen, but dries on contact once it is applied to a porous surface such as paper. Once dry, the ink can be used to conduct electricity just like a copper trace on a circuit board, making on the fly circuit building a breeze.

Previous ink-based circuit construction was typically done using inkjet printers or airbrushing, so removing the extra hardware from the process is a huge step forward. The team even has some news for those people that think the writable ink won’t hold up in the long run. The ink is surprisingly quite resilient to physical manipulation, and they found that it took folding the paper substrate several thousand times before their ink pathways started to fail.

While we know this is no substitute for a nicely etched board, it would be pretty cool to prototype a simple circuit just by drawing out the connections on a piece of paper – we can’t wait to see this come to market.

Hacking cakes with LEDs


A large part of science is making mistakes and learning from them in order to make each subsequent design that much better. When your experimentation involves hacking cakes, each failure is an exercise in deliciousness.

[Craig] and his group of research partners often bake electronics-related cakes whenever part of the team departs in search of other opportunities. Over the years, farewell parties have seen renditions of anything from multimeters to quantum computers. This time around, he wanted to make something that contained actual electronics parts, while still remaining edible.

He settled on making an LED matrix inside of a cake, using silver foil wrapped licorice for wires. In the end however, he found the silver foil to be incredibly difficult to work with, and the matrix ended up being little more than a few randomly blinking LEDs.

Even though things didn’t work out quite how he planned, he is not discouraged. The cake was still quite tasty, and through this process he has discovered edible silver paint, which will undoubtedly make it into the next farewell cake.

Squishy circuits for tiny tinkerers


Getting kids interested in electronics at a young age is a great idea. Feeding their developing minds via creative projects and problem solving is not only rewarding for the child, it helps prepare the next generation of engineers and scientists. University of St. Thomas professor [AnnMarie Thomas] along with one of her student [Samuel Johnson] have put together a winning recipe for getting kids started in electronics tinkering at a very young age.

While some 5-year-olds can wrangle a soldering iron just fine, some cannot – and younger kids should probably stay away from such tools. This is where the the team from St. Thomas comes in.

They scoured the Internet looking for Play Dough recipe clones, testing the resistance and useability of each before settling on two formulas. The first formula incorporates salt, and has a very low resistance. The second contains sugar and has about 150 times the resistance of the first formula. If you use them together, you have very simple conductor and insulator substrates that can be manipulated safely by tiny hands.

As seen in the demo video below, a small battery pack can be wired to the conductive putty easily lighting LEDs, turning small motors, and more. We can only imagine the delightful smile that would emerge from a child’s face when they power on their putty circuit for the first time.

While only two different types of putty have been made so far, we would be interested to see what other materials could be integrated – how about homemade peizo crystals?

[Thanks, Spence]

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Circuit building with a hammer and nails


[Collin Cunningham] over at Make recently wrapped up another edition of “Collin’s Lab” - this time around, the subject is breadboards. He starts off by discussing a common solderless breadboard, something you are no doubt familiar with. What you might not know however is how breadboards got their name.

Way back when, before there was a RadioShack in every strip mall across the country, fancy prototyping supplies like your solderless breadboard did not exist. Amateur radio operators would prototype circuits on wooden boards, often using whatever was around as a substrate. Many times, this meant that the family’s cutting board ended up as a makeshift prototyping station.

One popular method of building circuits was to drive small nails into the breadboard, using wire wrapping to connect things together. [Collin] demonstrates this technique in the video, constructing a simple LED flasher circuit.

He says that the process works decently enough, and was kind of fun to do. He does mention however that building any sort of circuit requiring an IC would likely be out of the question.

If you have a few minutes to spare, check out the video embedded below – [Collin's] take on technology is quirky and entertaining as always.

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