Creating A PCB In Everything: Upverter

For the last five months, I’ve been writing a series of posts describing how to build a PCB in every piece of software out there. Every post in this series takes a reference schematic and board, and recreates all the elements in a completely new PCB tool.

There are three reasons why this sort of review is valuable. First, each post in this series is effectively a review of a particular tool. Already we’ve done Fritzing (thumbs down), KiCad (thumbs up), Eagle (thumbs up), and Protel Autotrax (interesting from a historical perspective). Secondly, each post in this series is a quick getting started guide for each PCB tool. Since the reference schematic and board are sufficiently complex for 90% of common PCB design tasks, each of these posts is a quick how-to guide for a specific tool. Thirdly, this series of posts serves as a basis of comparison between different tools. For example, you can do anything you want in KiCad and most of what you want in Eagle. Fritzing is terrible, and Autotrax is the digital version of the rub-on traces you bought at Radio Shack in 1987.

With that introduction out of the way, let’s get cranking on Upverter.

A little bit about Upverter

Upverter was founded in 2010 as an entirely web-based EDA tool aimed at students, hobbyists, and Open Hardware circuit designers. This was one of the first completely web-based circuit design tools and Upverter’s relative success has been a bellwether for other completely web-based EDA tools such as circuits.io and EasyEDA.

I would like to take a second to mention Upverter is a Y Combinator company (W11), which virtually guarantees this post will make it to the top of Hacker News. Go fight for imaginary Internet points amongst yourselves.

Upverter is a business after all, so how are they making money? Most EDA suites offer a free, limited version for personal, hobbyist, and ‘maker’ projects, and Upverter is no exception. The professional tier offers a few more features including CAM export, 3D preview, an API, simulation (coming soon), BOM management, and unlimited private projects for $125 per seat per month, or $1200 per seat per year.

To give you a basis of comparison for that subscription fee, Eagle CAD’s new license scheme gives you everything – 999 schematic sheets, 16 layers, and unlimited board area – for $65 per month, or $500 per year. Altium’s CircuitStudio comes in at $1000 for a one-year license. There are more expensive EDA suites such as Altium Designer and OrCAD, but you have to call a sales guy just to get a price.

Upverter is positioning itself as a professional tool at a professional price. There are better tools out there, of course, but there are thousands of businesses out there designing products with tools that cost $500 to $1000 per seat per year. In any event, this is all academic; the Hackaday crowd gravitates towards the free end of the market, whether that means beer or speech.

A big draw for Upverter is their Parts Concierge service. You’ll never have to create a part from scratch again, so the sales copy says. Apparently, Upverter is using a combination of very slick scripts to pull part layouts off a datasheet and human intervention / sanity check to create these parts. Does it work? We’re going to find out in the review below.

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Hackaday Links: September 29, 2013

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We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that all of SparkFun’s open source hardware is now on Upverter.

Not wanting to tie up an iPad as a mini-gaming cabinet [Hartmut] hacked an Arcadi cabinet to use EUzebox instead.

Time travel happens in the bedroom as well. But only if you have your very own Tardis entrance.  [AlmostUseful] pulled this off with just a bit of word trim and a very nice paint job. [via Reddit]

[Pierre] tricks an iPhone fingerprint scanner by making a replica out of hot glue.

Some of the guys from our parent company were over in Shanghai on business. [Aleksandar Bradic] made time to visit the Shanghai hackerspace while in town and wrote about the experience over on their engineering blog.

[Gregory Charvat] is a busy guy. In fact we’ve got a juicy hack of his saved up that we still need to wrap our minds around before featuring. In the mean time check out the Intern-built coffee can radar that he took over and tested on a  multi-million dollar Spherical Near Field Range.

And finally, everyone loves coffee hacks, right? Here’s what [Manos] calls a Greek style instant coffee machine.

Open Activity Tracker Webcast

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The Upverter team loves their FitBit activity tracking devices, but wanted access to raw data. They decided to build their own Open Activity Tracker that would pump data onto an SD card or to a Bluetooth device for processing.

The device uses MPU-9150 motion tracking IC to gather information on movement. This chip combines an accelerometer, gyro, and compass. It also does on-board processing, providing useful data to your host processor over I2C. The only bad news is that it’s a LGA package, which aren’t fun to solder by hand.

The design also has a SD card, Bluetooth module, pressure sensor, and e-ink display. These are all connected to a low power ARM microcontroller.

The team has been webcasting their design sessions, and tonight [Eric Evenchick] (that’s me) will be joining them as they try to cram all of these components onto a PCB. You can watch the live webcast starting at 8:30pm Eastern.

You can watch the previous design sessions after the break.

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Y Combinator and Upverter Host Hardware Hackathon

Y Combinator + Upverter Hackathon

Startup accelerator Y Combinator and Upverter are joining forces to run a hardware hackathon. This event aims to encourage hardware hackers to get together and design new products in a twelve hour sprint. Startups including Pebble, Octopart, and Lockitron will also be participating.

It’s a free event, and the winning teams will get their design manufactured. Participants will retain the rights to their designs, get free professional Upverter accounts, and have the chance to chat with some of the Y Combinator partners. This makes it a great opportunity for people looking to create their own hardware startup.

The event takes place on February 23rd at the Y Combinator offices in Mountain View, CA. Registration is open until February 8th. If you’re in the Bay Area and do hardware, you should check this event out.

Upverter 2.0 Launches

Disclosure: I currently work at Upverter

We’ve featured Upverter here in the past. At that time, the EDA tool was capable of collaborative schematic capture. Today, Upverter is launching version 2.0 of their tool which includes many new features allowing for end-to-end electronics design.

Upverter now has a PCB editor, allowing you to manufacture your designs. They are working with PCB manufacturers to make it easy to choose a fab and submit design files. Other new features include a Spice based simulation engine allowing in-browser simulation, and product lifecycle management features to help manage your project’s bill of materials.

When we last looked at Upverter, it was just a tool for creating and sharing schematics. With today’s launch, the tool can be used for designing electronics from start to finish. Since Upverter is free for open source projects, it will be interesting to see how hackers use it.

You can check out a tour of the new features. Any thoughts on using a cloud based EDA tool? Let us know in the comments.

Upverter: it’s like Github for hardware

If there’s one thing we’ve noticed about hardware hackery and electronics project, it’s that all the resources to build a project are scattered about the Internet on forums, blogs (heh), and personal web pages. Enter Upverter. The fellows who started Upverter had the same observation, and after some Y Combinator funding, launched what they hope to be “The Github of electronics” and the “Google Docs of hardware design.”

Upverter has the features we would expect – forking, versioning, and integration with Github for a project’s code. Already there’s a few cool projects, like a PIC programmer, a TV-B-Gone, and a tiny version of Conway’s Game Of Life.

We’re not ready to wave the banner of an Upverter fanboy quite yet. There’s quite a number of components available in the schematic editor, but from our experience the component library could use some refinement both by weeding out duplicates and increasing the number of parts. We’d also like to put a zoom control for the schematic view on our wish list. Upverter doesn’t have a PCB editor either, but from this post from a VC rag, the team is working on one. While this is really just nitpicking – Upverter launched less than 24 hours ago – we’ll be happy to see the some projects roll in on the tip line that are hosted on Upverter.

EDIT: link to the Google cache, because we probably Slashdotted it. It’s up for now.