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Harwin Test Points EETimes Europe July 15.qxd:Layo Does open source hardware design have a future? By Max Clemons When thinking of open source, hardware isn’t the first thing to come to mind SMT Test Points - Eliminates PCB damage - Minimises installation costs - Fully auto-placeable - Provides a target for test engineers probes and hooks P I C K & P L A C E R E A D Y B Y D E S I G N For technical specifications go to: www.harwin.com/test-points for most people. In a landscape dominated by open source software, hardware has struggled to gain the same amount of attention. The open hardware community has always been there, but hasn’t found a design tool that satisfies the need for a centralized platform that can support and distribute open hardware projects and does not sacrifice functionality. Altium is aiming to change this. With the release of the CircuitMaker open beta in May 2015, we’re beginning to see just how powerful open source hardware can be. The focus of this PCB design tool is what will make or break it: the community. That community starts with each individual project that is contributed by electronics designers all over the world. Exploring the community pot Browsing through projects in the CircuitMaker community vault, I ran across a 4-digit, 7-segment LED display design that incorporated an SPI bus to reduce pin count. What stood out was that this project was created as a connectable shield, and perfectly fit the Arduino form factor and connector locations. Ben Jordan, the designer of this project, probably just imported a DXF for the outline and manually placed those connectors, right? Or maybe he searched online and downloaded an existing shield template design. In the past, this has been the standard approach for open source hardware: Fig. 1: CircuitMaker allows template projects like the ProtoWuino (left) to be forked into new designs with new functionality, like Ben Jordan’s LED Display SPI design (right). Find a design or template online somewhere, open it in whatever design tool it is available for, and start building off of that. Before I even had a chance to investigate the project and find out, I noticed a link right below the project name with the text “forked from ProtoWuino”. Clicking that link let me trace the design’s lineage back to the ProtoWuino project, which turned out to be the original shield template. This is a markedly different approach to open source hardware, an approach where the design tool supports the community. The ProtoWuino shield template was forked off into a new design, and Ben was able to add his new circuitry to integrate new functionality into a familiar and useful format. Form meets function Forking a project creates a copy of the original, allowing designers to use existing technology as a starting point for a new design. Ben’s project is a good example of how designs can be forked in practice, and there are a few different types of designs you’ll start to see in CircuitMaker as reference content is added. Just like the ProtoWuino, these base designs are made specifically to ensure that forked designs meet certain form factor or functionality requirements. Most of these templates are provided by manufacturers, but having them available immediately when starting a new project in CircuitMaker saves valuable time otherwise spent Max Clemons is Application Engineer at Altium - www.altium.com www.electronics-eetimes.com Electronic Engineering Times Europe July-August 2015 31


EETE JULAUG 2015
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