Over the years we’ve seen KiCad grow from a niche, somewhat incomplete, but Open Source PCB design suite to a full-featured extravaganza of schematics and board layouts. We’ve plumbed the depths of keys and kais and queues and quays, and KiCad just had its first conference last weekend. While we wait for the rest of the talks to be published, there’s a special treat for KiCad users everywhere. Here’s a banana for scale.
Have you ever worried your PCB was too big? Confused if you’re working in inches or millimeters? Do you just want to know the scale of your PCB? Just add this footprint to your KiCad project, and you’ll have a banana on your board view. This is immediate visual feedback, giving you all the information you need to continue on with your design. There’s a 2D view and a 3D view. It’s something no electrical engineer should be without. All of this can be yours for the low, low, cost of free because KiCad is Open Source.
If you’re wondering what official features are in the works for the EDA suite, the first two talks from the con delve into that. project leader Wayne Stambaugh’s talk covers features new to version 5.1 and plans for 6.0. There was also a developers panel that provides insight on what goes into a large project like this one.
Last weekend was KiCon, a gathering of hardware developers from all over the world who use KiCad open source EDA software. This included many of the software engineers who drive development, people who use KiCad in their business, and those who simply love it for being a professional quality tool available for anyone to use.
From hardware show-and-tell, to the lineup of talks, and the social events each evening, there was so much packed into two (plus) days. Join me after the break for a whirlwind tour of the people and the hardware found at 2019 KiCon.
Eagle and Fusion are getting all the respect for integrating electronic and mechanical design, but what about KiCad? Are there any tools out there that allow you to easily build an enclosure for your next printed circuit board? [Maurice] has one solution, and it seamlessly synchronizes KiCad and FreeCAD. KiCad will give you the board, FreeCAD will give you the enclosure, and together you have full ECAD and MCAD synchronization.
This trick comes in the form of a FreeCAD macro (on the Github, with a bunch of documentation) that loads a KiCad board and components into FreeCAD and export them as a STEP file. You can align the KiCad board in FreeCAD, convert STEPs to VRMLs, check interference and collision, and create an enclosure around a KiCad board.
KiCad has gotten some really great visualization tools over the past few years, and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it’s one of the best ways to visualize a completed circuit board before heading to production. Taking that leap from electronic CAD to mechanical CAD is still something that’s relatively rare in the KiCad ecosystem, and more tools to make this happen is always wanted.
The inaugural KiCon conference is kicking off this Friday in Chicago, and KiCad aficionados from all over the world are gathering to discuss anything and everything about the cross-platform, open-source electronic design automation platform. As you’d expect, Hackaday will have a presence at the conference, including a meet and greet after party. There’ll also be talks by a couple of our writers, including Anool Mahidharia, who’ll be taking time out of his trip to the States to drop by the Hack Chat with a preview of his talk, entitled “Fast 3D Model Creation with FreeCAD”.
Join us for the KiCad and FreeCAD Hack Chat this week with your questions about KiCad and FreeCAD. If you’ve got some expertise with electronic design tools, make sure you come by and contribute to the discussion too — we’d love to hear your insights. And as always, you can get your questions queued up by leaving a comment on the KiCad and FreeCAD Hack Chat event page and we’ll put them on the list for the Hack Chat discussion.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
It’s no surprise that we here at Hackaday are big fans of Fritzing KiCad. But to a beginner (or a seasoned veteran!) the learning curve can be cliff-like in its severity. In 2016 we published a piece linking to project by friend-of-the-Hackaday [Chris Gammell] called Contextual Electronics, his project to produce formalized KiCad training. Since then the premier “Getting to Blinky” video series has become an easy recommendation for anyone looking to get started with Libre EDA. After a bit of a hiatus [Chris] is back with bite sized videos exploring every corner of the KiCad-o-verse.
The original Getting to Blinky series is a set of 10 videos up to 30 minutes long that walks through everything from setting up the the KiCad interface through soldering together some perfect purple PCBs. They’re exhaustive in coverage and a great learning resource, but it’s mentally and logistically difficult to sit down and watch hours of content. Lately [Chris] has taken a new tack by producing shorter 5 to 10 minute snapshots of individual KiCad features and capabilities. We’ve enjoyed the ensuing wave of learning in our Youtube recommendations ever since!
KiCad is the electronic design automation software that lives at the intersection of electronic design and open source software. It’s seen a huge push in development over the last few years which has grown the suite into a mountain of powerful tools. To help better navigate that mountain, the first ever KiCad conference, KiCon, is happening next week in Chicago and Hackaday is hosting one of the afterparties.
The two days of talks take place on April 26th and 27th covering a multitude of topics. KiCad’s project leader, Wayne Stambaugh, will discuss the state of the development effort. You’ll find talks on best practices for using the software as an individual and as a team, how to avoid common mistakes, and when you should actually try to use the auto-router. You can learn about automating your design process with programs that generate footprints, by connecting it through git, and through alternate user interfaces. KiCad has 3D modeling to make sure your boards will fit their intended enclosures and talks will cover generating models in FreeCAD and rendering designs in both Fusion360 and Blender. Dust off your dark arts with RF and microwave design tips as well as simulating KiCad circuits in SPICE. If you can do it in KiCad, you’ll learn about it at KiCon.
Of course there’s a ton of fun to be had as interesting hackers from all over the world come together in the Windy City. Hackaday’s own Anool Mahidharia and Kerry Scharfglass will be presenting talks, and Mike Szczys will be in the audience. We anticipate an excellent “lobby con” where the conversations away from the stages are as interesting as the formal talks. And of course there are afterparties!
Friday 4/26 Pumping Station: One, the popular Chicago hackerspace now celebrating its 10 year anniversary, is hosting an afterparty (details TBA)
Saturday 4/27: Hackaday is hosting an after party at Jefferson Tap from 6-8:30. We’re providing beverages and light food for all who attended the conference.
If you still don’t have a ticket to KiCon, you better get one right now. We’re told that you can count what’s left on two hands. Supplyframe (Hackaday’s parent company) is a sponsor of KiCon, and we have two extra tickets that came with that sponsorship. We like seeing a diverse community at these events and have saved these tickets for people from under-represented groups (such as for example women, LGBT+, and people of color) in the hardware world. Email us directly for the tickets, your information will remain confidential.
We’re looking forward to seeing everyone next week!
Figuring out the maximum number of peripherals which can be sensed or controlled with a minimum number of IOs is a classic optimization trap with a lot of viable solutions. The easiest might be something like an i2c IO expander, which would give you N outputs for 4 wires (SDA, SCL, Power, Ground). IO expanders are easy to interface with and not too expensive, but that ruins the fun. This is Hackaday, not optimal-cost-saving-engineer-aday! Accordingly there are myriad schemes for using high impedance modes, the directionality of diodes, analog RCs, and more to accomplish the same thing with maximum cleverness and minimum part cost. Tucoplexing is the newest variant we’ve seen, proven out by the the prolific [Micah Elizabeth Scott] (AKA [scanlime]) and not the first thing to be named after her cat Tuco.
[Micah’s] original problem was that she had a great 4 port USB switch with a crummy one button interface. Forget replacement; the hacker’s solution was to reverse and reprogram the micro to build a new interface that was easier to relocate on the workbench. Given limited IO the Tucoplex delivers 4 individually controllable LEDs and 4 buttons by mixing together a couple different concepts in a new way.
Up top we have 4 LEDs from a standard 3 wire Charlieplex setup. Instead of the remaining 2 LEDs from the 3 wire ‘plex at the bottom we have a two button Charlieplex pair plus two bonus buttons on an RC circuit. Given the scary analog circuit the scan method is pleasingly simple. By driving the R and T lines quickly the micro can check if there is a short, indicating a pressed switch. Once that’s established it can run the same scan again, this time pausing to let the cap charge before sensing. After releasing the line if there is no charge then the cap must have been shorted, meaning that switch was pressed. Else it must be the other non-cap switch. Check out the repo for hardware and firmware sources.
Last time we talked about a similar topic a bunch of readers jumped in to tell us about their favorite ways to add more devices to limited IOs. If you have more clever solutions to this problem, leave them below! If you want to see the Twitter thread with older schematics and naming of Tucoplexing look after the break.