Flux, a Google Doc-style Collaboration Tool for Hardware Design, Changes the Face of Remote Engineering
Inspired by GitHub, a new browser-based hardware development tool has recently raised $12M in funding.
Anyone who has professionally developed a hardware product knows just how painstaking the process can be. Hardware development generally requires high levels of collaboration, yet is inherently hard to iterate—at least compared to software.
One company trying to simplify this process is Flux, a group that has created a browser-based hardware development platform. This platform, founded by a team of engineers hailing from Facebook, Apple, and NASA, has quickly gained traction; this week, Flux announced that it has raised $12M in seed funding.
Flux allows team members to comment on a design in real-time. Image used courtesy of Flux
With remote work and the chip shortage slowing down the collaborative aspects of circuit design, investors have taken a keen interest in Flux's "end-to-end electronic design tool."
Hardware Development Is a Slow Process
Hardware projects are notoriously slow. Moving from initial ideation to final product can take years, consisting of countless revisions, design reviews, tests, and design for manufacturing.
Example of a hardware product development life cycle, which can take years to complete. Image used courtesy of Encata
This process is made even slower when a team of engineers must work without any collaborative software tools. Today, there is no industry-standard software for tasks like version control and collaborative development, making teamwork very cumbersome. In some cases, engineers still rely on printing and annotating schematics with pen and paper to compare design revisions—a surprising alternative in the age of GitHub and Google Docs.
"Then, there [is] the issue of getting designs ready for manufacturing," says Matthias Wagner, co-founder and CEO of Flux. "This entailed stressful days (and nights) where the whole team theorized over every change and debated whether the board would still work. You’d come to an agreement, spin up a manufacturing line, spend $1M+, and wait for 4 weeks, only to find out the board was shorted somewhere."
These hindrances not only slow down the design process; they also hike up the overall expenses of the project. Engineers are paid for the entire amount of time required to bring a product to market, raising costs for companies and prices for consumers.
Clearly, the industry needs new collaboration tools to streamline the development process, and this is where Flux comes in.
Flux Enables Real-time Collaboration for Circuit Design
Flux is a browser-based electronics development platform built to allow engineers to collaborate, edit, and simulate designs in real-time. Inspired by GitHub, Flux aims to streamline the hardware-development lifecycle among multiple professionals, including electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and firmware developers, among others.
Flux can automate part sourcing information. Image used courtesy of Flux
The service enables real-time sharing and community editing of schematics and PCB docs. Collaborative features include:
- Automated basic tasks (like wiring components)
- Automated part sourcing
- Version control
- Google Doc-style commenting
- A programmable simulator that doesn’t require a PHD
Flux will also be offering a programmable SPICE simulator to test circuitry with real parts and environments. The simulator will be hosted entirely on the browser as opposed to in the cloud and will be programmable to allow engineers to customize it.
Flux allows multiple engineering professionals to easily collaborate. Image used courtesy of Flux
Beyond professional-level product development, Flux hopes to create an online community of hardware engineers who share resources, reference designs, and parts. Like GitHub, Flux hopes to be a place where EEs can collaborate on open-source projects and share their knowledge.
When Flux is finally released, it will operate as a freemium SaaS model, allowing basic functionality to all users (and expanded functionality to premium users). The software will not require any installs or licensing.
Future Plans for Flux
Now that remote work is a day-to-day reality for many teams, real-time collaborative resources are more important than ever.
With the new seed-round funding, Flux plans to expand its R&D team to improve the software, add new features, and increase its market reach. Wagner reports that engineering teams have already tapped into Flux to develop EV motor controllers, off-grid battery management systems, satellite radio receivers, ventilators, guitar effect pedals, and more.
Flux also plans to use the funding to launch in beta.