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.

39 thoughts on “Upverter: It’s Like Github For Hardware

  1. So, besides the website being down, by “hardware” I believe they’re talking about “electronic schematics”. I would argue that “hardware” (in the sense of mechanical 2D and 3D CAD models) also seriously lacks the awesome revision control and distributed development tools used with software. The proprietary solutions are enterprise-grade and not very useful for small teams. Maybe that’s another unmet need for a similar startup?

    1. Agreed. It would be very cool to have a common back-end for these files (github would be fine) but front-end apps like this that facilitate collaborative and cross-platform authoring and editing.

      Seems like I’ve seen some decent browser-based 3D/CAD apps but none of them back-end to an external version control system directly (that I am aware of).

      1. You can already do this with Dropbox. It’s awexome check it out: http://www.dropbox.com/gs

        You have to make the versions, or set the number of backups and time interval (if your program supports that).

        It’s great for sharing files between friends, especially if you are collaborating on a project. You get little popups that files have changed, and you can go check them out, and make your own edits.

        You can even make files available to the general public.

      2. true, git works on all files, but not all (read nearly none) programs can be used to see the differences. The old CVS ‘text only’ dogma had the upside that most of the time you could (human) read the diffs and make sense of them. There is very little sense in diffs from a binary file if you can’t interpret those changes. This is something that should be implemented by the program you use down/upstream from your version control program.

        @brett above: really? I think you should read up on what git/svn or any other decent version control program does. It is a lot more that sharing and programmed uploads.

    1. I agree – although I use gEDA. I love the concept, but they are in trouble if they are trying to roll their own full blown EDA. They should be leveraging existing open tools like Kicad or gEDA…. The same for the mechanical design tools – electronics is probably less than half of the hardware space.
      Love the idea – but the execution is fail. No way am I going to learn a separate toolchain just so I can have a githubish environment to share my designs.

      1. Thats what we’re going for with CircuitBee. Rather than change your toolchain, we’re trying to get importers for each of the different open formats (and hopefully some of the closed ones).

        We’ve not yet added versioning support, but its high on the priority list. Do you have any suggestions for what you would find most useful?

      2. @Ben Circuitbee:

        That sound a lot more reasonable. On the other hand, I think importers is too little convenience. If you want existing user to change their ways, you will have to make their barriers to enter extremely low. An extra program outside of their favourite is still an extra step and might complicate matters in a lot of toolchains. I’d say you make a command line version/library and build plugins/extensions/integrated code for the programs your target audience uses.

      3. Thanks for all the commenters above. I was already a bit doubtful but you’ve raised good points. Basically they can pull the rug from under you at any time they choose to. A startup company that already has VC funding has to serve the shareholders interest, not the users, so somebody will have to pay sooner or later. That will not be me, thanks!

      4. @jelle : A local commandline app is certainly an approach we have considered. It would definitely ease some of the pain of importing from some applications.

        From our investigations we’ve found a lot of apps spread their symbol libraries out over individual files for each symbol, a manual upload process for these becomes horribly painful.

        A local app that can do basic storage and syncing with the cloud, ala git, would be a nice solution. Perhaps we’ll investigate this further, thanks for the suggestion!

  2. The crowd sourced parts library is promising. I doubt I’ll ever want to do my schematic capture and layout in a web browser but if you can export parts and footprints for use in another EDA tool that would be very convenient.

  3. This is exactly the reason that web-based interactive tools are a terrible idea. When I’m working on a project, I don’t want to be dependent on things like network connectivity or some startup managing to keep their servers working.

    Git, on the other hand, can continue to be used even if github is down. There’s also no lock-in because anyone can run their own git repo.

    It reminds me a bit of the early Heroku launch, where they thought a web-based development tool was a good idea.

  4. http://upverter.com/legal/terms/ contains:
    “Upverter may alter, suspend, or discontinue this website at any time and for any reason or no reason, without notice.”
    “You shall not (a) copy or distribute any part of this website (including all of the contents of the website), (b) alter or modify any part of the website, ”
    “You acknowledge and agree that the website may be provided with advertisements”
    ” Upverter may, under certain circumstances and without prior notice, immediately terminate Your ability to access the website or portions
    “This website, and the information and materials that it contains, are the property of Upverter and its licensors”
    No way, I am not going to spend one second of my time on their website – although the community clearly lacks a well organised repository/workflow. Kicad is a good way to go, but it needs to get momentum…

    1. I passed those terms on to our lawyer… Its probably just boilerplate and I’ll try to get it fixed. Honestly, we are software and hardware guys, not lawyers, and I agree it sounds pretty sketchy. I also assume its protecting us from something – but maybe we can fix it!

      1. Good job Zak. Its definitely legalese for protecting you from being sued for doing something (conversion/distribution etc) with the content that has been uploaded to the site.

        However, I think people are happy to keep those terms in there, as long as there are extra terms that make it clear that they still maintain all the rights to their work. Just avoid the feeling of a content-grab and you should be ok.

    2. A the joys of the T&Cs. I’m sure these guys aren’t out to grab ownership of your content.

      When we initially launched the CircuitBee alpha we posted it on the forums here and someone was helpful enough to point out similar issues in ours. We’d just taken a basic T&Cs from WordPress’s open source ones. I’m sure Upverter has fallen foul of the same issue.

      Make enough noise and I’m sure they’ll reword it quickly enough!

  5. EAGLE is going to have an XML format in version 6, i’m sure upverter and most/all CAD tools will support the import and export of XML (EAGLE, gEDA, kiCAD) and we’ll things get a lot better for everyone for collaboration. 2012 is going to be a great year.

  6. Hey Guys, Zak from Upverter. I just wanted to say we hear you all – and thanks for the comments! Just a couple things which hopefully ease some fears…

    First we are working on and will be releasing an open import/export file format by the end of the month. We will also have converters to and from altium, eagle, kicad and geda. We had originally hoped for and waited for the eagle file format, but they have been working on it longer than we have on Upverter…

    Second, I passed those terms on to our lawyer… we are software and hardware guys, not lawyers. We are gonna do everything we can to be good and protect you and your designs, and I’ll see what we can do about the legal stuff – but its probably just boilerplate.

    Third, we have had a few Amazon instance issues since launching… Which sucks but we are getting it fixed. We have been seeing huge traffic and we risked a few hours of sleep and the site went down. Sorry!

    And lastly, I just want to comment on the github + geda + kicad points raised – and let me start by saying I agree, entirely. When we started Upverter the tech was going to be a collaboration and sharing layer built ontop of geda. We were gonna take that massive and terrifying pile of decade old C and try to move it to the web, and we even tried to do it for a little while. But in the end we decided that C wasnt the right language to build an EDA tool in today, or a webapp for that matter, and that doing this meant building more from scratch. Which was a hard decision. We almost gave up at that point and pivoted. But we plugged through, and we built a much bigger product.

    Phew.. Sorry for the brain dump! Summary is that we are listening, please continue to let us know what you need and what were doing wrong!

  7. Working on it already! That being said, the lawyers have assured me its pretty common stuff…

    For example, this is extracted from Heroku’s:
    “You agree that Heroku, in its sole discretion and for any or no reason, may terminate your account or any part thereof. You agree that any termination of your access to the Heroku Services may be without prior notice, and you agree that Heroku will not be liable to you or any third party for such termination”

    And here is Github’s:
    “GitHub shall not be liable to you or to any third party for any modification, price change, suspension or discontinuance of the Service.”

  8. My previous comment may have sounded rude, and I am sorry about that. What I didn’t say out loud is that I am really glad the hw community seems to be acting toward some kind of organization, tries to achieve more sharing/commons, and I really hope upverter will contribute to this.
    That being said (and I should have said this first :), in the current form, it doesn’t fit my needs nor expectations. I am far from saying what you aim at is something easy to do.

    Maybe you just need to figure out exactly what kind of contributors/users you target, and what their requirements are. I am in no position to tell what *you* should do nor what *others* may expect from a website like yours.
    To me, a major one is some kind of support of other initiatives in open hw: licensing (OSHW anyone ?), manufacturing (this is a tough one… but are we dealing with hw that at some point has to be built somehow, or what ?), emergence of bigger projects (in size/complexity/impact ; in OSSW, most projects have one contributor, but there also are things like the linux kernel. In OSHW, we miss that kind of federating, ‘deal-changer’ project so far).
    I don’t see any of this in upverter, and although I wouldn’t bash a new project too fast because any trial has good sides to it, I feel what we mostly need as a community isn’t “yet another project/website”, but some kind of get together goal/ideal.
    I could go on for quite a long time on this topic, but I suppose I reached the TL;DR point some paragraphs ago ;)

  9. I’m starting a little home automation business, and plan to release my hardware as FLOSH. I rather use free software. I really like the business model used by the gitorius guys, charging for private accounts, and releasing the software, so you can mount your own server if you want. That’s the spirit of open source business. It would be great to see Upverter going to that kind of business model.

  10. Am I missing something with the circuit diagrams? The components are slightly misaligned and there are no part labels whatsoever, aside from pin numbers on chips.

    Tried using both Firefox and Chrome…

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