What 3D-Printed CurveBoards Offer for Circuit Design TestingMarch 06, 2020 by Luke James
MIT has developed a software design kit that speeds up electronic device development and prototyping by creating curved breadboards with pinholes and connections mapped out automatically.
Breadboards are rectangular boards with an array of pinholes drilled into the surface, many of which feature metal connections and contact points between them. Engineers use these pinholes to plug in electronic system components—from simple circuits to entire processors—for the rapid testing, rearrangement, and re-testing of components as and when needed.
These breadboards have remained the same for decades, however, and it has become increasingly difficult to test out electronic components for various modern applications such as smart devices and wearables. This is because the rectangular construction templates used to build breadboards do not work well with curved and oddly shaped wearable smart technology.
CurveBoards can offer designers an additional prototyping method to evaluate how circuits will look and feel on the physical products that users interact with. Image used courtesy of MIT.
3D-Printed CurveBoards for Easier Testing of Circuit Designs
Currently, engineers that wish to test circuits must do so on these traditional breadboards before placing them onto a prototype. If the circuit needs to be modified in any way, the components must be returned to the breadboard for further testing. This is highly inefficient and delays what in many cases is already a prolonged prototyping and testing stage.
However, MIT has recently developed a potential solution to this problem—a way to integrate breadboards directly onto physical products.
Researchers at MIT have developed a software design kit that creates curved breadboards with pinholes and connections automatically mapped out to fit a particular design. The software “is for when you have an idea of the final object” said the paper’s primary author Juyi Zhu, a graduate student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CASIL) at MIT.
CurveBoards, 3D-printed and directly integrated into the surface of physical objects. Image used courtesy of MIT.
Building Breadboards Using Software
The curved breadboards are created with this integral software kit that automatically designs objects with distributed pinholes. These pinholes can then be filled with conductive silicone to test electronics.
Essentially, an engineer would import a 3D model of their design. The software will then automatically assign pinhole locations evenly across it. Once pinholes have been assigned, an automated or manual approach can be taken to assign connection patterns to individual and/or groups of pinholes.
To date, the MIT research team has used the software to create a range of smart devices. These include a smart bracelet with a controllable digital display and a set of headphones that have built-in speaker controls.
They even built a teapot which uses a camera to monitor watercolor. Although this sounds random, the purpose of these devices is to demonstrate the software’s capabilities—electronics don’t get more oddly-shaped than headphones, after all, and a teapot is almost perfectly spherical.
In their research paper, the MIT team was keen to point out that they do not see curved breadboards as a replacement to traditional rectangular ones. Indeed, there are many use cases where these are fine to use. Curved breadboards (CurveBoards) come into play when design engineers have an idea of the final object and wish to see how users may interact with it, for instance. It is easier to use a curved breadboard than stack many circuits on top of a physical object.