Recreate a PCB with a Scanner and Inkscape


[John] has managed to replace a broken turn signal PCB by scanning it and converting to Gerber format. [John] purchased a Triumph Spitfire with toggle switch wired up for turn signal control. The “official” replacement part worked better than the toggle switch, but it didn’t cancel after turning. He was able to get the original switch, only to find it had a hole completely burned through the phenolic board. This isn’t completely surprising, as Triumph used a Lucas Industries electrical system. As anyone who has owned a car with a Lucas “prince of darkness” electrical system will tell you, Lucas systems were not known for quality. A quick Google search brings up plenty of pages attesting to this.

Phenolic resin/paper was a common early PCB material.  The FR-4 fiberglass boards most commonly used today could be considered descendants of FR-1 and FR-2 phenolic. (The FR in this case stands for Fiber Reinforced). The standardization worked in [John's] favor, as his burned board was 31 mils thick, which is still a standard PCB thickness. Re-creating an odd sized board such as this isn’t a hard job. It would however mean spending quite a bit of time with a ruler and a caliper. Rather than spend all that time measuring and re-drawing, [John] scanned his PCB on a flatbed scanner. He used graph paper as a background to verify the image wasn’t being stretched or skewed.

[John] brought his scan into inkscape, and traced both the outline and copper areas. The outline and copper had to be exported as two separate files, so he added corner marks outside the board outline as fiducials.  He then used pstoedit to convert inkscape’s eps output files to gEDA pcb format. The two files were rejoined in gEDA. From there [John] exported a Gerber, and ran it on his home PCB milling machine.  The results look good. [John] plans to make another revision of the board from a professional PCB house with vias to hold the copper to the substrate.

Ask Hackaday: Does Project Ara Solve the Phonebloks’ Problems?


Our tips line is blowing up again, this time directing us to Motorola’s Project Ara: a phone with modular components that plug into a base “endoskeleton.” If you missed the news coverage strewn across the web and you are doing a double-take, that’s because Project Ara is frighteningly similar to the (presumed vaporware) Phonebloks concept from a few weeks ago. Phonebloks was the subject of our last “Ask Hackaday” article, generating hundreds of comments ranging from those defending the concept to those furiously opposed to it.

There’s a conspiracy theory circulating that suggests Motorola released the Phonebloks concept as a viral marketing scheme to generate hype before revealing the official product line. We suspect it’s a bit less conniving. As [jorde] explained on Hacker News, an Israeli startup, Modu, had developed a similar modular cell phone several years ago, and Google bought the patents in May of 2011. A few months later, Google bought something else: Motorola. It seems likely that Project Ara is merely a resurrected and revised Modu, and Motorola conveniently announced it in the wake of Phonebloks’ popularity. Regardless, Motorola has announced that they have partnered with Phonebloks’ creator Dave Hakkens .

So what’s different? Phonebloks was met with cries of “vaporware!” and fervent arguments raising concerns about unavoidable hardware limitations. Motorola claims their goal is:

to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.

Unlike Project Ara, Phonebloks didn’t consider open-source hardware (Wayback Machine link), and Motorola makes an interesting argument here: that advances in 3D printing indicate an evolving “open hardware ecosystem,” and the next era of phone development may rest in the hands of your average hacker or a small startup company. Some speculate that the Ara will be similar to the relationship between a PC and its peripherals: Motorola provides the essential guts while giving you some slots for attaching additional components. Let us know in the comments what you think about Project Ara: is it just more vaporware, or a watered-down but plausible alternative to Phonebloks?  And, perhaps most important: do you, as a hacker, want a phone that supports open hardware and lets you plug in “peripherals?” The Phonebloks website has since changed to reflect the partnership with Motorola, and includes a new video that you can watch below.

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Ask Hackaday: Can we do better than Phonebloks?


Our tips line is on fire with suggestions for us to cover the modular cell phone concept named Phonebloks. The phone’s designer states the problem as follows:

A phone only lasts a couple of years before it breaks or becomes obsolete. Although it’s often just one part which killed it we throw everything away since it’s almost impossible to repair or upgrade.

His solution is the above pictured phone, with modular components for each feature: wifi, camera, battery, etc. Rather than upgrade your entire phone, upgrade just the parts you need. A wave of followers have thrown their support behind this concept, and perhaps their hearts are in the right place hoping to reduce waste and cost. Behind the scenes here at Hackaday, however, the response has been a unanimous facepalm. The primary objection (other than design implausibilities) should be obvious: dividing the phone into exchangeable bits does not inherently reduce waste. Those bits have to go somewhere.

Now, don’t rush to the comments section to identify additional problems; there’s a juicy Reddit thread for that. Instead, we want to take the high road: Can we do better? Can we make a phone for the future that is less wasteful to produce, more easily recycled, and possibly upgradable? What would be included in its features, and how would we do it? Check out a video of the concept phone and tell us your alternatives after the break.

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Importing PCB layout into Google Sketchup

If you’ve been spending hours with the digital calipers while designing enclosures for your circuit boards there may be a better way. [Phil] tipped us off about a new software package that will let you import PCB layout files into Google Sketchup. This way you can start working on the enclosure in CAD before you’ve populated your first board. Of course this adds to the pain of realizing there’s an error in your layout, but what are you going to do?

The free software was developed by RS Components, a European component distributor. It takes IDF files, which can be exported from most PCB design software, and converts them to a format compatible with Sketchup, Google’s 3D design software. For those who enjoy a very dry demonstration video you won’t want to skip seeing what we’ve embedded after the jump.

We’re kind of surprised that this hasn’t already been done. If it has, leave a link in the comments.

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Celebrating the design principles behind cellphones

Want to improve the finished look of your projects? There’s a lot you can learn by looking at the choices made in consumer electronics. [Bill Hammack] explores what is perhaps the most refined electronic device out there, the cell phone. Specifically, he discusses the seven design constraints that face every cellphone maker. They are: compactness versus usability, consumer preference, availability of energy, economic resources and available infrastructure, knowledge of materials, societal needs, and cultural constraints.

Anyone who’s whipped out their hacked-together project in a public space understands cultural constraints. Especially when forgetting your backpack in a public place can put the bomb squad of full alert these days. But aside from the anecdotal issues, [Bill's] look at now-and-then cellphones really shows off the smart design that we enjoy thanks to the evolutionary process that went into what has become the wristwatch of the 21st century. See what he has to say in the video after the break.

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A Briefing on Integrated Circuits

Although technology is constantly racing to faster / smaller / more, so many of the fundamentals of how it is made remains similar, if not the same. This interesting 30 minute video clip [thanks to The Computer History Museum] was made in 1967 by Fairchild Semiconductor as a briefing on integrated circuits, and shows the different steps to produce ICs including:

Design, making the photo masks, manufacturing the silicon ingots, preparing the wafers, building of the circuit and its components (like transistors, resistors, and capacitors), testing, and final packaging. Add in some other cool items of interest such as a 1960′s pick n place machine, wave soldering, an automatic wirewrap machine, and toss in some retro computer action and it’s surely a video worth watching, with something for everyone.

So join us after the break, kick back and enjoy the show!

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Renesas RX Design Contest: $110K+ of Cash and Prizes

It seems that we have caught Design Contest Fever here at Hackaday. After covering some other design contests, and asking readers to send in more, we heard from a couple tippers about Renesas’ challenge. Like many of the other contests, entrants can submit their ideas, and possibly receive a free development board to get them started. Unlike the other contests though, Renesas board (possibly) free development board is everything but the kitchen sink. Designed with RTOS’s in mind, rather than the normal microcontroller tasks, this board has an astounding number of capabilities.

On top of the excellent development kit, the contest is also offering books, software, and cash prizes to the winners. So get out there, design something amazing, and make Hackaday proud.