Tuesday Sep 05, 2023
Tuesday Sep 05, 2023
Tuesday Sep 05, 2023
Today we have a chat with Daniel Kagerbauer, CTO and co-founder at Inmox. This is a fascinating conversation regarding Inmox's aim to change how industrial maintenance is done and, while their initial focus is on gearboxes, the implications for their software and sensor developments may be broadly applicable across the entire industrial landscape. The two talk about monitoring industrial systems, materials challenges, industry-specific applications, and much more.
If you're interested in advancements in the industrial space, this is the episode for you.
- Introduction to Daniel Kagerbauer CTO and co-founder of Inmox. Inmox is part of the Altium startup program called Launchpad
- Inmox is currently developing industry ready prototype and moving towards heavy industrial applications
- Commercial automotive and even the racing industry is a better fit for Inmox’s gearbox monitoring system
- Daniel describes in detail what their product look like, from a sensor oil screw that can monitor the vehicle’s lubrication system, installing T-tube and wiring local ethernets
- Data are being collected where the wear particles are present, and the oil screw with the lubricant have quite good access to essential stuff that needs measuring
- Smaller systems are more automative focus while bigger systems are applicable for wind energy versions such as a helicopter, moreover safety is utmost important
- Certification challenges can involve finances, redesigns and weight optimization
- How does the real-time particle analysis works?
- Daniel talks more about distinguishing between ferromagnetic, non-ferromagnetic, and the good old electro magnetism
- Inmox is currently in negotiation with potential customers and doing interviews with mentors from different industries
- Body vibration monitoring is more precise and reliable
- Inmox longterm vision is to promote extended lifespan to machines and pushing mechanical engineering in a more sustainable path
Links and Resources:
- Leap your start-up to the next level. Learn more about Altium Launchpad, a program designed to support early stage start-ups launch their product to the market, fast!
- Read related articles:
- Visit Inmox website
- Connect with Daniel Kagerbauer on LinkedIn
Tuesday Apr 11, 2023
Tuesday Apr 11, 2023
Tuesday Apr 11, 2023
Pierce Design’s Ethan Pierce will share his insight into reverse engineering with printed circuit assemblies. We will also discuss firmware reverse engineering.
- Introduction to Ethan Pierce and a quick preview of his upcoming webinar with the PCEA regarding reverse-engineering
- How to acquire reverse-engineering skill sets?
- Retrofitting a system versus creating a net new ecosystem of products
- Is reverse engineering cost-effective?
- Ethan advises designers to keep records and documentation as much as possible. “take as many pictures, take as many pictures, photos, notes.”
Links and Resources:
- Connect with Ethan Pierce on LinkedIn
- Visit Pierce Design's website
- Register for Ethan Pierce's Webinar: Reverse Engineering PCBs: How to Recreate a Lost Design
Wednesday Oct 26, 2022
Wednesday Oct 26, 2022
Wednesday Oct 26, 2022
This is a very interesting episode, especially for hardware engineers. Duncan Haldane, the CEO, and co-founder of JITX joins us to share a very interesting approach to PCB design. JITX is a way for hardware engineers to write code to design circuit boards.
I know you are excited to hear more! Watch this episode or listen on the go. Be sure to check out the show notes and additional resources below.
- Duncan talks about the Series A funding from Sequoia Capital and the general availability of JITX as an actual product.
- Duncan's path to engineering started in robotics
- How can an electrical engineer benefit from JITX? Duncan explained in detail
- JITX is very well integrated with Altium, it works natively with the existing designs and libraries
- Hardware-generated code transforms the job of an engineer a little bit so that they don't have to manually look through all of the different specs for every component that they need
- JITX is a Nexar partner and uses Octoparts data, in addition, they built a different type of database that's meant for part optimization.
- Reusable expert hardware engineering knowledge is one of JITX’s ultimate goals
- They are building full automation for boards, new kinds of routing algorithms, new kinds of placement algorithms, and checks for physical geometry
- The future is optimization
- Zach and Duncan excitedly talked about AI, and how it can be used to drive some parameters to create new designs
- Electrical engineers’ job is secure, automation can help with the shortage, but will not replace electrical engineers’ jobs
- What the future looks like for JITX
Links and Resources:
Tuesday May 24, 2022
Tuesday May 24, 2022
Tuesday May 24, 2022
Learn by doing is what Bill Kolicoski, the creator of Taste the Code Youtube Channel advises everyone who wants to jump into the electronic design. Bill is a software developer passionate about making electronics design and engineering fun.
- Bill shares how he got started with his Youtube Channel, Taste the Code
- Bill recognizes that designing and building electronics is a perfect way to understand software or coding – making the code more tangible
- Making electronic design accessible for everyone is one of Bill’s missions in creating his channel
- Jumpstart to electronics design through learning by doing
- Software and hardware coexist–a software engineer should have an understanding of how hardware works
- It’s the eureka moments that help students understand how things work
- Understanding what happens in the code and the chip to make things come to life
- Bill emphasizes improving your design skills by exploring all possibilities how you can improve your finished product
- Reference design for hardware developments and reverse engineering is a great way to make electronics and hardware more understandable
- Bill shares what drove him to pursue software vs. hardware
- Software is a lot easier to outsource
- Location/ country can be a determinant of pursuing a specific career in tech
- Having fun doing electronics
- Getting hands dirty and jumping right into the design process; this and more tips from Bill on how to get into the electronics design and how you can improve your skills
- Search for videos with a specific solution
- Invest time in building projects
- Make your work public and get feedback from the community and professionals
- Rubber Duck Debugging is a software jargon meaning explaining a challenging scenario to yourself to develop a solution
Links and Resources:
Tuesday Apr 12, 2022
Tuesday Apr 12, 2022
Tuesday Apr 12, 2022
The Hacksmith proves that everything is possible through science, one project at a time.
In this episode, Ian Hillier, the COO, and Co-founder of Hacksmith Industry, will share with us what it is like to create a fully working prototype of the coolest and most fascinating objects we see in the movies, comics, video games. He will also talk about how he transitioned from a full-time mechanical engineer to a full-time youtube content creator. Watch or listen through the end! You will hear everything, from the fun, failures, and the success of recreating futuristic, fictional objects.
- Ian talks about his mechanical engineering background and how he and his friend James Hobson founded Hacksmith Entertainment Ltd
- James has been publishing his engineering projects on his blog and videos on Youtube for 16 years and decided to do it full-time in 2015 when he reached about 70k subscribers
- Ian quit his job and joined James just six months before getting married
- The duo focused on getting more views by posting viral videos, one of which was the Captain America Shield project
- Hacksmith’s growing team
- From 70k subscribers, they immediately grew to 100k in 2016 and now 12.4 million and still growing
- Their team now consists of 24 full-time members, which includes mechatronics and electrical engineers, videographers, and the merchandise team
- From creating simple, fun projects to upscale mind-blowing lasers, Hacksmith’s bread and butter are turning fictional objects in movies and games, portrayed through special effects, into a working prototype. Some of their coolest projects are:
- Hacksmith's goal as an organization is to encourage future generations of engineers.
- How does Hacksmith operate as a team?
- Each project is assigned to a team, and they can bring additional resources as needed.
- They create and customize everything in-house; their shop is equipped with all the machines and toys they need
- Ian talks about their most extreme and powerful project, the Hoverboard
- Ian’s favorite projects include high current electronics. His personal favorite is the Rebar Crossbow–it pumps 2000 amps through the rebar until it glows red hot, and then you shoot it
- A retractable Lightsaber created with a modified oxy-propane torch
- Ian explains how designing their PCBs contributes to the success of their projects
Links and Resources:
Visit Hacksmith Youtube Channel to watch more of their mind-blowing engineering projects.
Connect with Ian Hillier on LinkedIn
Connect with Zack on LinkedIn
Full OnTrack Podcast Library
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Learn More about Altium Nexus
Tuesday Sep 14, 2021
Tuesday Sep 14, 2021
Tuesday Sep 14, 2021
Build and develop workflow in a "lightweight" way.
Kyle Dumont and Valentina Toll Villagra, the founders of AllSpice are passionate about taking hardware development to speed through the cloud. Their ultimate goal is to bring people together, bring the system together, and automate repetitive processes. Watch or listen on the go. You don't want to miss this.
- Kyle Dumont’s background in product development
- Valentina Toll Villagra background in Mechanical Engineering at Amazon -- machinery and logistics
- How Allspice got started?
- Kyle’s experience as an electrical engineer -- software principles applied to hardware
- Improve the product cycle
- Keeping up with the change in speed and expectations
- The need to build a dedicated and specific tool that will allow engineers to collaborate remotely
- Why the name ‘AllSpice’
- Software-driven Hardware Development: What do you mean??
- Hardware (HW) today is what Software (SW) was ten years ago (in-person design review)
- SW is having a growing influence on HW development
- Shared practices, tools, timelines, etc.
- Need for integrated development.
- Immediate application/solution: Component Shortages
- Replacing components takes more than updating a part number
- It’s more important than ever to validate components quickly and effectively.
- Our most successful customers use an 8-step process (read the blog post)
- BOM Check
- Identifying OOS components
- Finding a replacement
- Updating the component library, and the design
- Validating the component characteristics
- Verifying component footprints
- Checking for unintended changes - this is the one that gets you
- Releasing the updated design
- Providing flexible development infrastructure
- Moving things digitally--in the cloud
- Teams are more distributed (geographically and in terms of skills)
- Faster design cycles
- What’s driving faster design cycles?
- What is the impact? (New requirements/old tools and methods)
- AllSpice Hub features that we didn’t anticipate
- Where are we going...Continuous Integration, bring people together, bring the system together, and automate repetitive processes
Links and Resources:
Tuesday Mar 05, 2019
Tuesday Mar 05, 2019
Tuesday Mar 05, 2019
In this episode of the OnTrack podcast we have as our guest; Tyler Mincey, who is the VP of Engineering for Bolt. Bolt is located in San Francisco and Boston and is a hybrid venture that is part venture capitalist and part engineering team. Bolt offers a unique model to help startups get off the ground, and get product to market.
Watch the video here.
- Tyler’s background is in product design, especially the intersection of hardware and software product development
- Worked at Apple at new product development team for 5 years
- Digital agency in New York, doing web app and mobile app development in UI/UX
- VP of Product at Pearl Automation - automotive aftermarket startup
- Bolt - Mechanical, hardware and software as well as product development
- At Bolt we are a venture capital firm and we invest in concept-stage businesses developing technology products.
- Usually there is a physical aspect. We help companies develop feature sets and get traction in the market. We help build companies while they’re growing and have full time engineering resources to support the portfolio companies.
- Startups are different: More resource constrained, and less marketing muscle after launch
- Why did Bolt adopt a model that includes engineering support?
- When you need to create a physical product, these technology products require a lot of cross functional work completed, for a startup there are a lot of needs that can’t be fulfilled.
- The things available today make it possible for companies to create things faster and on smaller budgets than ever before.
- Project Vive is a good example of a new technology company that would not have been possible before.
- Bolt has about 70 portfolio companies at the moment: B2B companies, sensor systems, wellness devices, medical devices, and direct to consumer electronics.
- Digital native protocol brands, such as flower delivery services, or baby formula and other physical goods with the same challenges in design, quality control and logistics and acquiring and retaining customers.
- Bolt Portfolio Page
- Interested in companies building out infrastructure for space.
- What are common mistakes you see? We see people falling in love with the concept of their own product. We encourage companies to test with real customers as soon as possible. The product needs to be tested and iterated upon. Try to frontload the market validation as much as possible!
- Can people succinctly communicate the value of your product? Will word-of-mouth work?
- Does it have a snappy, succinct selling point?
- Is the experience of using it so sticky they don’t want to stop using it and they want to tell all their friends about it.
- Validation and verification of just their product specs is one side. Engineering the actual technology is a separate track. Often people couple these together as one, but you can really do both in parallel.
- Why Bolt? Why Startups? There is a culture of sharing in software that hasn’t happened yet for hardware. We try to distill information here so people can tap into shared knowledge and if possible, avoid pitfalls that other people have already experienced.
- A few favorites: Core Wellness - guided meditation trainer, a consumer product with beautiful industrial design; OrbitFAB - orbital gas stations for refueling in space.
- Pitches can be submitted on Bolt’s website.
Links and Resources:
Tempo Automation - turnkey PCB fabrication
Core Wellness - guided meditation trainer
OrbitFAB - orbital gas stations
Submit Your Pitch to Bolt
Tuesday Jun 26, 2018
Tuesday Jun 26, 2018
Tuesday Jun 26, 2018
Speech Generating Devices and speech assistive devices on the market today are expensive. Insurance policies are complicated and not everyone who needs one is always covered. Meet Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, she’s changing lives by giving a voice to the voiceless with Project Vive and Voz Box. A recent biomedical engineering graduate from a family of engineers and makers, Mary and her team are inventing Speech Generation Devices in new wearable forms by working closely with the people who most need them. Listen and find out how Mary and Project Vive are using low cost sensors and changing lives by leading the development of innovative medical devices and technology.
- It was really all about the access, not just in price, but in the sensors.
- Low cost sensors that could change someone’s life. These are sensors in our cell phones that can be used, and we’re really adapting that for the disability community.
- Wearable for independent communication - worked closely with the person using the device so that the design was modified to fit real life.
- Loop of instantaneous feedback - Gave the person using device a voice and a vote.
- People with disabilities are problem solvers.
- This is about innovation that is informed by people within the disability community.
- This is a great way to break down the stigma of disabilities.
- Cisco - 100k prize
- Projectvive.com - accepts donations via fiscal sponsor
Links and Resources:
Let us know if you know anyone who needs Project Vive technology.
Or read more about Project Vive in this month’s OnTrack article.
Hey everyone this is Judy Warner with Altium's OnTrack podcast. Thank you for joining us today. If you've been listening to our podcast I would equate today's podcast with being the desert or the cherry on the sundae. It's a great story and a great woman that I look forward to sharing with you. Mary Elizabeth McCulloch who has a startup called ProjectVive. Before we get into our conversation with Mary Elizabeth please remember to connect with Altium on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and I would also love to connect with you on LinkedIn or on Twitter, I'm @AltiumJudy and also, if you prefer to watch this on YouTube rather than listening just go to Altium's YouTube channel, click on videos and you'll see all of our podcasts there. So that is all the housekeeping. So let's get into the good stuff.
So, about a week or so ago I got a message through LinkedIn - an introduction to this young lady Mary Elizabeth, and she was telling me about her company and we've since connected, had a couple conversations and I'm so excited to share what this young innovator has done. So Mary Elizabeth, welcome my dear I'm so glad to have you and thank you for taking the time to to meet with me today.
Thank you it's such an honor to be on this podcast.
Ya no, it's truly our honor. You know technology does so much for us in our lives but what you're doing is such a great human story. So tell us a little bit about your educational background and tell us about your parents and background, cuz I think that does a lot to set up your story?
Yeah, yeah awesome. So I guess educational background; I studied Biomedical Engineering at Penn State, I graduated spring 2016. I was always really interested in Science and Math in high school - what else? So my dad, he was a Physics major at Penn State, he's gone into Engineering for really his whole career. He's worked a lot with CNC controls in the milling machine industry and then my mother, she has a Biology Degree, a Mechanical Engineering degree, and some Biomedical Engineering graduate work - actually on the artificial heart at Penn State - so you know my family's background and my own.
Impressive. So you shared with me a little bit about - I had asked you: did you always know you were gonna go into engineering? So tell us a little bit about the things you and your dad used to do when you were young cuz I think it speaks to your story?
Yeah so, growing up my parents really had an interesting - or an interest in - farming and fixing things around the house and not going out and buying something new and really just trying to understand how to repair motors like rototillers, tractors, things like that and I guess my dad would also buy little chemistry kits for us to work on in the basement and yeah, we kind of had a blast with that. But also, my parents always really encouraged me to try new things, and one of those new things was to go, after I graduated high school, to Ecuador and I decided to be a Rotary Exchange Student and so I spent a year in Ecuador and outside of high school I decided that it would kind of be cool to volunteer in an orphanage, and this orphanage specifically was for children and adults with disabilities. And this is kind of one of the things that it I had never really had this like experience coming from you know a student who grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania and there I was and I really was taken aback by a woman who was in a wheelchair sitting by the window who had cerebral palsy and couldn't speak. So I started asking her yes and no questions - wasn't getting a response back and then after, a couple days of working with her saw that she had voluntary movements. If it wasn't a blink of an eye and I figured out what was a yes movement and what was a no movement, what was a tremor, um and started kind of communicating with her in this way. And I - it kind of hit me that there were a lot of other individuals not just only in this orphanage but in this country who had these type of disabilities and didn't have someone there who was asking them these yes and no questions and figuring out what they like to do, what they didn't like to do. And then really the lack of opportunity because of their disability that they had. And I was, you know, 18 years old at the time, was going back to the United States to major in Biomedical Engineering, and I really thought you know, I would really like to create something to fix this and who did I tell - I told my dad - and my dad right away, was like: you can fix it, you can - we can figure it out you know, just like these little ideas that I had growing up that dad just was - got really excited about.
Yeah I mean they're - I guess I didn't go into it a little bit, but growing up there was sometimes like when I was learning how to draw flowers and stuff he's like: we could, you know make, a milling machine that would draw these into bed boards and you can program it that way, and anyway, it just kind of was a natural thing for my father to just when that inventor side of me came out, for him to encourage that and not be some crazy idea but something that yeah would take a lot of work but I knew it was something I was really passionate about and you know I'm 26 now, and I'm still just as passionate about it and I'm really glad that my dad pressed me to move on with it.
Well I was so impressed in our conversation where I almost felt like you were set up in this life to do the work you're doing because I remember you saying that when you were answering the yes and no questions, that you could see her countenance light up and she was in a better place after being able to communicate and I don't think any of us can imagine what it would be like to live with the frustration of not being able to communicate in a fluid way. And there are speech assistive devices available to people that are mostly affluent so what's the cost of speech assistive devices, on the market for people who have the money to buy them?
Yeah, so you know, a speech generating device isn't just you know, a box like a tablet, it includes things like a mount, to put it on their wheelchair. It also includes different sensors you know, if they can't do direct selection and select on a board sometimes they need a sensor and that they can control with their foot, or even with their eye movement. So if you're looking at a full speech generating device, for a low-cost one six thousand dollars, for a full one you're looking at fifteen thousand dollars and sometimes even more, so it's a thing that has you know, made some headway on getting covered by insurance. But having a communication device covered by insurance can cause issues as well. Because sometimes it's not medically necessary, and then of course, people that don't have insurance, that can be really hard to get one.
And is that kind of the disconnect you saw I mean, obviously people that are in Ecuador don't have that reach or that capacity. So is that sort of an area of compassion for you to go: they don't have access?
Yeah absolutely. It was - it really was all about the access and not just in the price but also in the type of sensors to give people access to you know, control speech generating device not just with a finger, but with eyes. And knowing that you know, there's so much technology out there and I know in the beginning we prototyped with Arduino and Raspberry Pi and these really low-cost sensors that could like change someone's life and just like you said, can you imagine not being able to communicate and connect with someone? And to think that these low-cost sensors could allow someone to make relationships, to share their dreams with and that was definitely one of those things that you know, as a freshman engineering student really gave me a passion to bring these types of sensors that we are using every day you know, in our cell phones and in all this technology all around us but really adapting that for the disability community.
So once you were in college, you have this idea, your dad's encouraging you. What was the next step for you? How did you start innovating and deciding to actually make a device?
Yeah, so I guess as soon as that, the first thing I did was decide that I was going to make a device. I think that was just like that was...
-that was a first step right?
That was the first step. The training and the business model, that kind of all came later, but I guess the first thing that I did was, I took a trash can, I carved out two sticks, put a potentiometer in the middle of them and hook that up to an Arduino Mega and basically wrote a program that allowed someone to calibrate it to say what angle, or the threshold that they needed to to make a selection. And then had these WAV files playing that basically went through menus. So for example, one was like food, the other was emotions and so if they kick the foot and they move the potentiometer for the angle that it needed, with the width of threshold that would open up the food options and then they could you know select something like: I want to eat, or I want to cook, and then yeah made that a checkmark. Then I made a glove, so that somebody who could just you know, twitch their finger also press a finger on a surface and really the whole time I was thinking about the individuals that I worked with in Ecuador you know. At one point I was like: Christina could use this..
- Ah, I love that.
-she was really - and she still is - I actually just saw her last summer, she's doing wonderful. But um really great foot control but nonverbal cerebral palsy like the things that she could do with her foot, I would give her you know my cell phone, and she could click down on a button. So I was thinking like, what is - - what are ways that I can create something that was wearable for independent communication?
Because a lot of times these people didn't have caregivers that are around them all the time to make sure that their communication device was in the right position. But then as soon as I had a working prototype you know, it was like I gotta test this you know. Let's see if this works and if what I'm doing is completely you know, not gonna work and that's where I found Arlyn. Arlyn is from Johnstown Pennsylvania, she has cerebral palsy. She's in a residency home and she also has great control of her feet - very strong legs, similar to Christina. And we used the foot sensor for her to share her poetry for the first time. And were able to really adapt our program to do that, and right away there were things you know, that didn't work. We tried an insert into a shoe, and she was like you know that doesn't feel comfortable I don't want anything in my shoes - and really just started this design process with her you know and seeing what she would be comfortable wearing and also what was working and what was efficient. And how did that integrate into her daily life and be something that she did want to use to communicate every day.
I love that you were collaborating with her, and that you gave her a voice to say, I don't like that in my shoe right. So to create this loop of instantaneous feedback, you gave her a voice, but you also gave her a vote on how she would interact with this device, how would I - that feels good, that doesn't feel good, this works for me and, by the way, for those that may be listening or watching, I will share the videos with Arlyn, they will make you tear up instantly. It's - this woman is a poet and her poetry is beautiful, and she is now sharing her poetry for the first time in her life because of Mary Elizabeth's ingenuity.
-and Arlyn you know, she - she is so smart, and really our design has so much of her in it. And I talk about this sometimes, I know I talked about it with you. With people with disabilities - just you know - being problem solvers because they have had to overcome hurdles their whole life. Like Arlyn, she sets her VCR with her foot, so many people don't even know how to set their VCRs she's doing it...
That's hilarious [laughter]
-so many people don't even - caregivers who come around, they don't know how to work this VCR and you know, to make sure that, that experience and that perspective that she has, is in this assistive technology that we're developing and I think it's a really important population that really gets overlooked in technology and innovation and especially innovation, for the disability community.
Well you have no idea how much I just love you and what you're doing. It is such an amazing thing. In just the few videos that you have Mary Elizabeth, you can see the light in her eyes and you can see the camaraderie between the two of you and the deciphering and working together on how to make this the best fit for her - it's really a beautiful thing. And so, at some point in college, you got it working right, you got a working prototype right? And did you show that to your dad at some point or how?
-Oh he was involved in this, this whole point.
Oh he was, okay.
-he you know, he had and still does - in CNC controls, so you'd have little parts that we would need to mill out so we'd be talking you know: can can you make this design for us? We didn't even have a 3d printer at the time so - we have a 3d printer now which makes rapid prototyping - but yeah, yeah he was you know really alongside of us. But also it was, taking engineers - and a lot of times you know this happened with us - was people that had all this tech skill but never interfaced with people of disability and seeing where they could apply their skills, and how much an impact that could make on a life, and on many lives. And I think really, for my father, that was you know, a really aha moment, because you know a lot of times - people with disabilities - when you meet them for the first time, and if you're not used to it - you might think that they don't have anything to contribute, and that they don't have ideas because of their communication disabilities.
And me - when my dad saw Arlyn give us design advice - he was like: oh my god you know, here is this woman in the middle of Johnstown with all these ideas. We've been working in our lab and on the bench for a year, and like we didn't come up with these things, and right away she was like: hey why don't you try it just as you know, a switch here, and place it here, move the - let's categorize the menus in a different way to make them more optimal and just all these ideas and it was really just a great way to break down the stigma of disabilities while helping people.
I love, you know obviously, I've been in this industry for a long time and I love what technology can do you know, for people's lives. And I love that you've been able to make that connection. I love that, hearing about your dad that his eyes are so wide open and I think that is something you've really made me aware of, that makes complete sense to me now, it seems like an obvious thing is people that are not speech capable would be amazing problem solvers, they would have to be and so to have those as your collaborators. What a genius idea right, plus they're gonna be the ones using it so also to have a vote in how this is. So, you continued to develop it and then did you patent it at some point?
Yeah so actually, my freshman year I filed for my first patent - provisional patent. Full application my sophomore year, which is a awesome you know. Two and a half - three years waiting to hear back from the patent examiner - but we were awarded our first patent November 2016.
Yeah it happened like two weeks before our IndieGoGo campaign went live, so there was just a lot of excitement going around that and yeah, so that was our first one down, hopefully many more to go, and we're always innovating new things around here. But yeah that was a huge, huge accomplishment for me.
Yeah not many have their first patent awarded while they're in college - that's pretty neat. So you got your patent, and tell us about - you had mentioned on the phone about - I think it was in your junior year about Penn State coming up with a Young Entrepreneur program and so you started filing for some competitions or some things that would actually give you some funding to help move you forward?
Yeah, so really in my junior years I kind of had this realization that if I was gonna make the impact that I wanted - a large social impact - I was gonna have to scale. If I was gonna scale, I would need a really sustainable business model to fuel that. So luckily right around ProjectVive's birth, Penn State and President Barron launched the Invent Penn State initiative which started Happy Valley Launchbox, which was a no-cost business accelerator downtown for students and community members so I, we applied for that - we were the first ones in - and so being the first cohort team, it was like an empty building, no one was there at the time, and yeah it was actually really cool for us 'cause we went from like being a dorm, to like having this awesome space. But then, they had, an NQ competition where we pitched ProjectVive in front of a shark tank kind of set up at our University, and it was actually aired on WPSU and we got $17,000 from that - which was huge for us at that time.
That's a lot of money yeah.
Yeah and that really just gave us validation, that what we were creating was something that was needed. It also pressed us to do a market analysis and realize that wow, there are so many people that need these type of devices that just can't afford it, or don't know that it exists. So yeah I took advantage of that in college.
So, before we go forward. Something we didn't mention, but I think it's good to insert here is - so jumping ahead for a moment - what is your plan to market the Voz Box at one, two, go to market?
Yeah, so you know I really have a passion for developing countries and also South America. So two things of how we're gonna go to market: One is - there's a lot of trade shows for people with disabilities - so there's ATIA the Assistive Technology International Association, ASHA, and where you can set up a booth and speech-language pathologists, parents, teachers and also a bit of alternative communication users, or people with disabilities that use speech generating devices will come to learn about new technologies. So that's definitely one way. We're also doing kind of grassroots - by reaching out to local disability organizations here in State College, that also have chapters all over the world, so and definitely all over the US - Easterseals, we've done a collaboration with them.
So what is your price point right now - we're projecting, I'm not - we won't hold you to this but what's your projected price point that you'd like to sell it for?
Yeah our projected price point is $500.
Yeah that's for the full communication device. And then also, we're gonna be doing a lot of open source devices that can help you and ways of creating mounting systems on your own, to even get that lower.
It's incredible. Like I see that as such a, I mean, lowering the barrier to entry to almost anyone right. Because I wanted to mention the price point before we move ahead - and so you won the $17,000 then you entered a couple other competitions tell us about those?
Yeah, so we applied for the ALS Association and Prize for Life Assistive Technology Challenge, where we were one of five out of 87 teams, it was an international competition, and we were flown out to Ireland where they brought in...
-Yeah, and they brought in ALS patients from all over the world to try out our technology which was a really important thing for me. I've had two uncles who have passed away with ALS and even though I had a lot of work with people with children and adults with cerebral palsy ALS is a terrible disease and 75% of people with ALS will lose their voice. You have two to five years to live after diagnosis, and to see our devices, that I had created you know, thinking of specifically people in this orphanage but then realizing that people like my uncles could also use these devices. We had someone from Iceland, another person from Japan. We've developed also these little blink detector glasses that you can basically blink to select, and he used those and he loved them, and he was able to spell out a word and just to see someone from Japan, to meet us in Ireland try out our devices, and realize that so many people around the world - not only with cerebral palsy - but with ALS and Rett Syndrome, it just really opened my eyes to the impact that this could have. And also getting this support from the ALS Association was really awesome.
That's an incredible story. You have a video on that also right Elizabeth? Okay, so we're going to share that one as well in the show notes. And the last award that I think you mentioned to me had to do with Cisco right? So tell us about that one. Well I'll let you tell the story, but because I know you had an IndieGoGo campaign too, and a patent, you had lots going on. So spell it out however - how you know - I may be getting these things out of order so.
Actually you're not.
So then - this is actually last summer - we applied for the Cisco Global Problem Solvers, a challenge which was inaugural, it was also the first Global Problem Solver Challenge that they've had. Some recent projects these days are the guinea pig for everything. But yeah, so we applied for that , and I really could talk about my mission, and working with you know, people in Ecuador, and just the low price point and how this - this wasn't just for people in the US, for people in Ecuador, but also we did a little work with a professor in communication disorders, who was in Sri Lanka, we sent a device out to to her where she used it with a boy who was 17 years old , with cerebral palsy. And it's just so many places in the world, don't have access to this type of technology. And in schools and education also, in just adult community life. So we applied for that, made a video for it, and they had this People's Choice Award. So the main award was for $100,000, and the People's Choice was for 10k. And I got everyone to vote for us, you know I sent out to my professors, 'vote for us'! you know ProjectVive, all my friends and family and all of Arlyn's friends and family too. Then that - the day that they were gonna announce it, I kept on refreshing the People's Choice page and all of a sudden I realized that you know this team from Costa Rica won, and I was like, oh man you know, we didn't get the people's choice! And then I checked my email, and it said: 'Congratulations Grand Prize Winner Cisco - - $100,000.'
Oh my gosh, you won a hundred grand!
I know, and I was like, what's going on? That's not 10k, and that I mean, I'm still - I still can't believe it. And you know this - it's been a couple months now - but that just really pumped into our research and development and got us to where we are right now in creating our final product. And yeah, we're just really, really thankful for that support.
That's amazing. I gotta say I'm not surprised, but it's the best story ever. And then so lastly, tell us about the IndieGoGo campaign and - and your Road to Ten Voices that ended up being more than ten voices?
Yeah so we did an IndieGoGo campaign: Journey to Ten Voices and we - I was actually in Ireland for like the end of it - but we raised enough for 14 voices actually, so that was really exciting. And really yeah - that's really allowed us to reach out to the community. For instance, a recipient of one of our Journey to Ten - well 14 Voices - was a 16 year-old, who lives an hour outside of State College and he's doing great. And we also helped him out with a wheelchair gas pedal so he not only is using his speech generating device with an e-sensor, but is also able to independently move around which has been so cool and he's just learning so much from having a device that really wasn't reliable before we helped him. And then you know, just learning from another person, so it's been really cool.
That's something else, we have pictures so when Mary Elizabeth introduced herself to me on LinkedIn she sent me a screenshot of him getting his Voz, and you've never seen a kid smile this big in your life you know. I thought he was gonna rip his ears off with a smile - he was just so happy and it just makes - you can see me also, I got this smile-grin talking to you this whole time. It's just a beautiful story. So now you have seed money right? And so tell us where you are now, and kind of what the next year or so holds as you forge forward?
Yeah - so really, it was a great thing that this whole time we've been working with users, also talking with you know doctors, and teachers that we did the I-Corps Program, where we interviewed 50 people from all over the world. Parents, speech-language pathologists, doctors, teachers, augmentative alternative communication users themselves, and really took one - you know, the user testing that we did, our feedback, what we've learned, the market analysis that we've done - and then also these interviews, to test our assumptions and make our final product. So really what we're developing now - it's the next thing of our beta product and creating something that we believe is going to be able to scale, that we can bring to places like Ecuador and Sri Lanka, and that we're gonna be able to make a sustainable business model on because I know I talked to you about this. We really want to make sure that once we give a voice that we don't take it away, and I think that it's been a great thing that during college I've been able to experiment and test and really have this quick feedback loop and creating something that will make a long lasting impact so that's what we're doing now.
I think that really shows so much a vision on your part actually Mary Elizabeth, because I can't imagine - again I can't imagine giving someone a voice and then having to take it away right, that would be so devastating, and that you've had the foresight to make sure that it's sustainable and and that you're looking at it, not only from an engineering and visionary, but a very practical standpoint to make sure that you're gonna build a solid business. So I really appreciate that about you.
Yeah there's got to be someone there to answer the phones when something goes wrong.
Right, right so I love that you're actually building a sound company and and having good mentors and, and helping you along, and that you have a really solid vision on this. Well what else do we need to talk about? So you're heading towards a scalable product. I think I'll insert here that I got to meet Mary Elizabeth's and project Phoebe's CTO, Trip what's Trip's last name?
Miller, I got to meet Trip Miller and we had a call, so one of the roadblocks that they ran into, is that they were using basically a free design tool that got them this far but they they needed something farther and God bless Altium. They were able to sponsor Mary Elizabeth and ProjectVive, and give them a license of Altium Designer, so they've been having a lot of fun trips - being like a kid in a candy store...
I know, we really have, I mean the trouble that we have gone through and also just working with other collaborators and not being able to get the right schematics for them and and having to basically transfer, not only our Altium files or - I don't want to say that exact names -
Yeah I know, I was trying to avoid that too. Some companies' schematic...
But we've just been able to very quickly start up and I know that it took us about you know four hours to start up our other PCB programs and with Altium, like within an hour, we were creating traces, which was just awesome. So we are so excited and just being able, it's - it's accelerated our development and we're very thankful for it.
We feel lucky, we feel like we get to remove - we get to have the privilege of removing a roadblock for you and just let you charge ahead my dear, so good good for you and Trip. And I'm really glad that we really have the privilege, to do that for you. So we are gonna list in the show notes everything about ProjectVive, the Voz Box, your - like anything you want us to share, let's share it because it's a beautiful story and all of us that love technology, love to see kind of the social aspect of doing good. Doing good in the world, through use of innovation and technology and you're kind of like a STEM-girl poster child which is really fun for me as a woman in tech to see how you came up, and your parents, how they inspired you, and this is really great. What else should we share with the listeners? Have I skipped anything - what else can we talk about, have we missed anything?
Um you know, if you really do feel moved by ProjectVive's story, we do have a fiscal sponsor, so we accept tax-deductible donations and if you go to Projectvive.com - you can hit the donate button or just support us, like us on social media and share our story, and if you have any family members that would be interested in our technology, let us know and we would love to help.
Great - well thank you this has been the highlight of my day and we will also be sharing Mary Elizabeth's story - I've interviewed her already and she will be also in the OnTrack newsletter, coming up in June, and so keep your eyes open for that. If you do not subscribe to the OnTrack newsletter, you can go to our resource hub and subscribe - there's a newsletter tab there, and you can subscribe. So if you're not already subscribed, you can subscribe there and again in the newsletter we'll include all these links in that because we certainly want to put her on the Altium platform, and celebrate all this young innovator's doing. So Mary Elizabeth, you are the best, thank you so much for spending your time today I know you're a busy woman and we'll stay in touch and thank you again for all you're doing, we just think you're wonderful.
Thank you so much Judy, and thank you so much to Altium, and we're just very blessed, thank you so much.
Thank you. Again, this has been Judy Warner with the OnTrack podcast with Mary Elizabeth McCulloch of ProjectVive, we look forward to hanging out with you again on this podcast. Until then, remember to always stay OnTrack.
Tuesday Jun 19, 2018
Tuesday Jun 19, 2018
Bil Herd shares stories and design wisdom from years of experience as a hardware engineer, most famously at Commodore. Starting out self-taught, Bil found his way to working around brilliance and some of it rubbed off a little. Learn about his interesting journey from TV repair to Commodore, Hackaday and beyond. Today, Bil is self-employed and focused on networks, high-level architecture consulting and hardware projects.
- I never forgot how to do hardware design. It’s fun to be able to do that. I’m working on an Altium project right now.
- You get to be imaginative for a couple days, and then you spend the next couple months paying for it looking at every single line item, every footprint and trying to catch where your brain was wrong.
- Commodore Hardware lab, splitting bus for video and hired to lead the team shortly after.
- Going after a swag bag offered by Adafruit from an MIT Open hardware conference resulted in a video series with Hackaday.
- Almost all the errors I’ve made in CAD systems were related to parts I’ve made. For parts and footprints - you need to have someone check your work.
- To start a new CAD system - make a trash board, force yourself through.
- Process to start learning a new CAD system: Open CAD > Get Overwhelmed > DRINK
- Making a board on a new CAD tool. First I make a trash board knowing I won’t use it. Then make a real board, using all the rules.
Links and Resources:
See all show notes and video here.
Hey everyone, this is Judy Warner with Altium's OnTrack Podcast.
Our audience continues to grow and we thank you for joining us again, and I want to give a shout out to Steven Newberry from LGS innovations who took away always marking his diodes with a K, and so many of you have chimed in and help driving actually who we have on the show and the topics we discuss. So thanks so much for joining. If you would please connect with me on LinkedIn or @AltiumJudy on Twitter and Altium is also on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and remember we're always on YouTube as well as on your favorite podcast apps.
So thanks again for joining and hold onto your hats because we're gonna have a little bit of a history lesson tied in with today's best practices. So today our guest is Bill Herd, who is actually a figure of history and he has a Wikipedia page that you will have to take a look at. So for those of you that are probably, I don't know 40s and above, might remember the Commodore personal computer. It was one of the first, I'll let Bill fill you in all the details, but I remember vividly when I was in my early 20s, my dad coming home with a Commodore 64 and it was all the rage and he thought the world is forever changed and I'll never ever use all the 64k that I possibly have.
So Bill, welcome and we're so glad to have you and can't wait. We're gonna tell some stories, you're gonna give us some design wisdom, so thanks so much for joining us.
My pleasure. Actually I do describe myself as a recovering Commodore Engineer the active recovery never stops you've just gotta keep trying to get better.
Well, I'm sorry but based on the background behind you I'm not sure about your recovery.
Okay - I've relapsed a little [laughter]
So, briefly tell us what you're - are you working now as a Consultant, you know like your own entity I forgot to clarify that with you?
Yeah actually I'm self-employed so to speak, I owned an ISP for about 15 years and had 16 people and we did all that and then it ran its course as ISPs do, and so I do a lot of networking and high-level architecture consultation, but I never forgot how to do hardware design. So actually you caught me in the middle of doing an Altium project right now, where we're going to a limited quantity but I just went through all the steps - all the dirty little details getting a PC board out, so it was kind of fun to still be able to do that.
I love the way you put it, 'the dirty little details' there's a lot of those right?
You get to be imaginative for a couple days and then you spend the next couple months paying for it by looking at each and every line item and every footprint and trying to catch where your brain was wrong you know, way back in the beginning.
Yeah well, so I also noticed you have - as I've gotten to get acquainted with you a little bit - back in the days of Commodore and the early days actually of the personal computer business the words nerds and hackers weren't really around but seeing you sit there in a Hackaday shirt with that lab behind you, I would say you are the quintessential original geek or nerd what do you have to say about that?
Well, one - we did call it home computers, back then the PC hadn't been invented yet, and I also mention I've never been to school for any of this. I was a - basically a high school dropout - and ended up in the service, and went back and almost got my degree. I own like a library book for the money $3.42; for a library book, in English class where me and the teacher just couldn't make it work.
So about three years later they sent home my diploma with my sister just going: here you'll need this someday. I used to say I was self-taught but what really happened, self-taught got me into a couple good places and then the education really started; working around really smart, really brilliant people, that's where I got the education that made it so I could do a product from beginning to end. So I was fixing TVs, got my TV Repairman License at the age of 17, in Indiana. You know and sometimes they'd answer the door and didn't want to let me in, because I got long hair and I'm carrying tube caddies and they're like: who are you? I'm like, van out front, TV repair, and people fed me cookies when they saw me fix their TV sets.
Right well we will share Bill's Wikipedia page and there are some awesome pictures of this long haired hippie, with this cut off denims...
Hey don't tease me about the shorts, it was 1980.
Hey I'm sorry, but I wore shorts just like that so yeah, so we will share that because there's a lot of history and fun and great pictures that I think you'll enjoy hearing. So tell us a little bit about how you got into the whole Commodore thing and then we're gonna dig in and give our listeners some really practical advice on those nitty gritty details you talked about, and then we'll wrap up with some more fun stories. So just briefly give us an overview of Commodore and Hackaday?
Okay if I back up just a little bit - I started at a digital scale company in Pennsylvania making instrumentation, so there I learned to do very accurate stuff with very good grounding. I understood analog and RF spectrum and all that, and it was all hand taped right. Well a guy named Terry Fisher who I just got through working with again, so after 35 years, we're still doing it and he was on Altium this time. So when I got to Commodore I had the background for how to make something expensive work. And then you just take that and you just shake it and it comes out of your head cuz now you've got to make it cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.
And people are mad at me these days because they say: oh I have a 30 year old Commodore and it just failed! I'm like: it was designed to last five years. You should have put a switching supply... what? To put a dime more into it I'd have been fired if I did! So I got my job almost by accident at Commodore. I mean, there's a whole story here and I'm going to - let's just say I blew the interview like three times and still got hired. You know what, not even taking in my resume you know? But so I got there, and they didn't know what to do with me, and I read in a book that I was actually hired as a Technician. They just knew they could use people like me and then they sat me down, the guy was named Benny Prudent, and he said: well here, study all these software manuals. So now I was gonna be right for a programmer - I could do 6502 programming.
But for a disk drive - I'm like: that sounds like the most boring thing in the world, but sure. And then I walked into the hardware lab and I saw what they were doing - they were splitting the BUS for the video - which back then I was doing it at home - and that's why I said: I just built something at home where I actually don't wait till the vertical retrace time to ramp and two weeks later I was in charge of the project. The guy was leaving, they didn't have anybody else, so now I'm a Project Leader at Commodore within a couple weeks.
Oh my gosh, it was like the Wild West was it not?
Oh absolutely and I loved it and I brought a certain 'animal house' to that, because we had lost a lot of talent. I mean there was people like Chuck Peddle who designed the 6502, he's gone, but his cigar's burning in the ashtray. The chair's still warm right. So you knew that these people had been there, but they're gone - and there's these kind of older, stogier guys and me. And pretty soon it became an environment where shoes became optional, so we definitely made it into what we wanted to and you have to do that when you work 20 hour days.
That's crazy so you're sleeping in the office or not sleeping?
My record was 11 days without leaving. I had an air mattress, I would actually hot bunk with the technician so I would get something designed like 2:00 in the morning, check the air mattress out and they would build it for me and I'd go catch an hour to sleep and then they'd come back and kick the air mattress and say: it's built, and just taking showers out of the sink - things like that.
Well we'll talk more about some of your fun Commodore stories because I know we'll really want to dig into those a little bit more. But tell us also about your involvement with Hackaday?
Yeah it's actually interesting, that I used to watch Adafruit's Little Saturday Night Show right and they would do this thing where they'd give something away and usually it was a product and I didn't go for that as much because I could just - their products are so cheap I could just buy one. But one time they had been to the Open Hardware Venue - a conference - and it was actually at MIT I think - and they asked a question and I went right to a web page, found the answer because they were giving away the swag bag, so I said, that I'll go for! So in the swag bag was some cool things but one of them was a - it was like an Octopart - only it was somebody else's version of it. Well they're owned by the people that owned Pacada.
So I start talking with them, I ended up a Beta Tester, and the guy realized I just never shut up, that I'm always telling stories right? And so pretty soon he puts me in touch with Mike the head editor at Hackaday, and I'm doing the same to him only in emails, and finally he's like: all right that's it, write stuff or shut up, and so we came up with the video format because it just - it works for me - it works for my personality and I am a high school dropout which means my English ain't so good anyway, so the video works better for me.
Yeah well we will also share those for listeners here - I've seen a few of them and he is perfectly suited for that. So I'll share that as well for you wannabe hackers. So let's dig into some immediate content that I hope will help engineers and PCB designers that are listening to us. You have told me - how many EDA tools have you used over a year period?
Yeah I made it all up, hardly any at all [laughter]. No it had to be like seven, eight, or nine, depending on how you count them and to what degree. But going back to the 1980s when a workstation cost fifty thousand or a hundred thousand dollars and you couldn't get them as a home user or even as a small business and so, we started it. We started with hand tape and the cool thing with that is, if you can do good hand tape, you can use a tool like a CAD and do more. But you still have to be good to begin with right? You have to understand the principles and nowadays it's more common for engineers to do their own PCB layout but I'm still of that school that: do what you do really well, and use somebody when possible that does what he does as good as you, that's why I use a guy like I said, Terry Fisher.
He's as good and he knows when to ask me questions and I know when to shut up right so we have a good relationship for that kind of thing. And we started on Mentors, which actually we designed chips with, but he started on a system called a side card, and it was a card that plugged into the backs. Well when he'd start moving parts on the PC board everybody's computer slowed down right. These chip designers and stuff because it's on the VMBus, it's taking the cycles directly, so they give Terry his so - he actually he goes by Fish. They gave Fish his own VAX so now he's got a three hundred and fifty thousand dollar CAD system to lay out pc boards and so that's the 1980s, and in the Mentor, we - I hadn't really even seen a real mouse like we use until Sun's came out. It had a scratch pad so I actually grew my fingernail into a point so that I had a built-in stylus on my index finger - so yeah just genetically modified kind of you know... [laughter].
That's funny - so with all of those changing of tools which most people that I know, that are designers, once they get proficient on a tool they'd rather die than change tools because it can be such a painful process. So tell us about changing tools. If you have to do it, what is the least painful path?
Well management will always want you to do that right in the middle of a project right and that's - it's pretty key to not try and - we actually moved our hardware labs right in the middle of a project one time too. Just kind of in the same... But if you're going to change programs, realize that they're just tools, and after you've changed a couple times you start to go: okay I know how this play goes and and you do a couple of the same things and you sometimes learn and really appreciate your old tool and sometimes you learn that hey, the new tool's better. But they're no two the same, especially in CAD where there's so many complex things. So I think people picking up tools - I saw it a lot with EAGLE - what they did, and they did an amazing thing for the maker industry and the home users - even though I hate the program.
if you're a professional, you just go: what, I have to drag the trace off the screen to hit the menu? this is like somebody put a GUI on a command line program. Well guess what? EAGLE's were GUI on the command line program back in the old days. So you know the false attractiveness of something like EAGLE was, it did have huge libraries right, and especially for boards because I mean these, Arduino boards - I can't deal with the mechanics of them, they're not on the center's, I'm used to all that - but what you really have to come down to when you do a CAD system is, realize you've got to make your own parts at one time or another, so you might as well get proficient at it. And if you're using libraries you might just be using somebody else's problems.
So even if you do use somebody else's library - it's like you've gotta still vet the part. Right, so just realize that you're going to have to make your own parts. And then there's things like BSDL importing and stuff like, if you're doing a 250 pin FPGA, you don't want to hand-do that either, so there are tools to help you avoid the mistakes. But almost all the errors I've ever made in CAD systems are related to the parts I've made where - I actually have data books here not data sheets - a guy said: yeah you use the word book don't you? And while you're looking at the book, making the part, I've done simple things that I'll never catch myself - by having like D7 to D0, instead of D0 to D7. When I see what I think I want to see, and that's it, the mistake is in there until somebody else catches it. So we used to always have somebody else check our parts you know, in footprints or the same way I still think.
So that's the first thing, is realize you’ve got to make your parts and then I recommend you just sit down and trash a board - try not to ruin your library in the process - because you could screw up libraries right. But then throw that board away and start again. This time trying to obey every rule you know how, and actually even if you don't produce the board actually obey all the rules, look up every command you don't know that you actually need, and that's kind of how I started a new CAD system.
So for our audience, Bill sent me a few notes for the point of our conversation here, here is a note that he wrote: Starting a new CAD, do a couple of projects early on - sort of what he's talking about right now - his first line is, 'open CAD - get overwhelmed - drink' [laughter].
Yes, it can be overwhelming! It's like my drill sergeant said when I went through basics: 'we know it hurts gentlemen, you don't have to tell us' and we're like, oh I'll keep my pain to myself. It's the same thing: I'm supposed to be overwhelmed, okay let's you know. So you open it again, and you start looking for what you know. So there are some things you need to learn the quirks of upfront. Like how do you do a BUS? Everybody does it slightly different, that nomenclature, whether it's curly braces, brackets, whatever. And an 8 10 dot dot 8 zero - it might be low to high, it might be either way, but you got to learn those things. And interconnects, how to make sure that a part's really hooked up. One CAD system I was on, was called Ulti Board by National Instruments, and the DRC wasn't catching the fact that parts looked like they were hooked up, and they weren't. Well, how do you catch that?
Well yeah, how do you catch that?
Yeah so you've got to - you go around jiggling your parts and it's stupid you know, so do a good DRC and you know, Ben, when he looked over my shoulder to check my router - from Hackaday, Ben Jordan. He gave me an - actually a compliment that I took, which was: oh it's nice to see you have all your DRC errors fixed. Well I'm old enough, I don't remember fixing them, but I'm old enough that I know I would have fixed them. Cause that's it, that's your last chance to catch that you have a net floating, even though you don't know it. Whether it's a misspelling, even capitalization change, something like that. So yeah, you got to learn all those dirty deeds and details.
I was just talking to John Watson on this podcast about a week ago, we talked a lot about libraries and the same subject. It's like a theme that most headaches seem like they begin and end with the parts libraries and even having a data sheet that's correct or hasn't changed in the last five minutes. How do you address that?
I still have data books [laughter] - no, it's still like going over it, and over it, a couple of times and having somebody else look as well. I'll still take a highlighter to a schematic sometimes just if I feel I'm getting confused, out comes the highlighter to help me get more confused.
-at the end hopefully I get it.
That's funny! Okay (I keep bumping things sorry about that) so okay.
Let's talk about hidden nets...
I hate them [laughter] hidden nets are where somebody thought let's show up DIP package or something and we know we are hooking it up to +5 and grounds so there's no point in cluttering the schematic with it. Well my attitude is how do you know it hooked up to +5 and ground? Nowadays it's 9 +5 and ground is +3.3, 1.2, 1.0 - - so yeah whoever came up with that, they need to have something I don't want to say something bad happen... [laughter] They need to miss a CES deadline or something themself.
So it's the invitation for failure is what you're saying?
Yeah you can't check it, you make assumptions and that's where problems start so yeah.
Would you say that making assumptions is one of those easy pitfalls for designers to fall into?
Yeah, thinking SOIC is a size. It's not you know, there could be white body, skinny bodies, and it's like: oh but the picture looks like - no. You better learn to have - one thing is you have to learn with new CAD packages, is how to measure things. And you need to do that, and then look to see oh it's .43 inches or ... and I - one time I almost missed the fact that the the lead pitch was 0.5 instead of 0.75. That wouldn't have fit!
That would have meant instant failure. You made a comment about assembly drawings being readable what did you mean by that?
You know as parts got smaller the silkscreen no longer - it's not as important because of assembly techniques but if you still want to measure - you can't get that little silkscreen anywhere near the part sometimes, so you end up with an assembly drawing where you had to like put all these silk screens where you now want them inside the outlines and all that so it's like you can't use the silkscreen for an assembly drawing like the old days. You have to do a whole new one if you want to be able to find the part. But now these days what I do - but I'm working on a really dense... or troubleshooting, I actually keep the CAD open and I do the - jump to component - and find it that way it really is faster to use technology sometimes...
Sometimes, at least I don't hand etch my boards anymore.
Remember that, the seventies?
I always say, because I was in the bare board industry for years, sales and marketing-wise and we would take people, walk through and do surveys, plus I actually worked on a shop floor for a short period of time like, I'm gonna die of heavy metal exposure man, the chemicals we had in there. I remember walking into a planing room at the first board shop I worked and my skin just burning, yes burning, just poor ventilation and there was sulphuric acid in there.
I'm told you can't have plating or PC board manufacture in New Jersey, that they've just kind of made it so you can't do that.
Well there's that - there's a little bit of toxicity going on in the chemicals.
Right, and at Commodore we made the ultimate printed wiring board printed circuit board right which is a chip - it's just really, really small, and we polluted the groundwater and you can look this up, but we had to buy dedicated lines for like 11 neighbors, and then we had those golf course sprinklers in the back aerating the ground water. Well my first day there I mean they're just literally spraying it in the air hoping the VOCs evaporate right.
Oh my gosh!
I parked too close my first day there and I come out and my car's covered with this sticky stuff right and not only that, I had parked under a tree so now the leaves are stuck to my windshield with this and to try and peel them off - they just break - and they're like: oh yeah dude, don't park there man, that's in the water.
Like I said, it was the Wild West days I mean.
Still a Superfund site I'm told.
I bet, like it's frightening - it's frightening and I'm glad we've gotten our act together a little bit environmentally oh my gosh because literally we could all die from those toxic...
Yeah I remember the day my dad brought home mercury to play with you know.
I remember my neighbor was an engineer - he brought home mercury to play with and we'd watch you know, roll it around on our hand or whatever, crazy! Forget about playing with it - you know putting it in your teeth we would like, oh here, pour it in my hand, let's roll it around, isn't that cool?
Yeah and you put it back in the jar and it's never quite as full as you started right because you're leaving a certain amount on the floor...
Good memories but we might die young, just saying...
[laughter] So when you start a new CAD program, do you just jump in and start designing? How do you take that on if you're gonna take on a new CAD, what's the way you approach it?
Well as I said, I kind of I go in knowing I'm going to do a trash board, it's all about just hooking some stuff up knowing that you're making mistakes and then I try and do something more real and try and really obey the rules and that's where it starts - that's how you're learning from page to page cuz every CAD system's slightly different, but it's kind of like how you think. You drop a part, you try and put a wire on it and the kind of mistakes you'll make is not having a clear way knowing how you want to do all the resistor values in the world right. Do you make a part for each resistor value, or do you use a generic part and assign the values? And those are things you just have to figure out yourself on each CAD system I think.
So I mean, I honestly don't know how it's done. I have lots of compassion for my engineering friends who are also laying out boards who really got no serious, formal training in PCB design, but alas they are laying out boards and then they get thrown a new tool like... So do you just hop on it and jump in and swim?
Remember, it's a tool too and they have some really great tools like things that'll help you plot RF noise on the ground plane or thermal or something but you know, at the end of the day that's not necessarily real life. It's a tool you know, so it's an opinion, and it might be a faster, better, more colorful opinion than we used to get with an old thermal probe. But you just got to kind of try it and if you work around people who can look over your shoulder they'll save you a lot of time - especially hot keys and stuff like that. And that's probably one of my pet peeves is I don't like having to rely on hot keys and that was even before I lost a finger, so now some of the hot key combinations are literally beyond this old man's ability to do without using my nose and stuff it's...
How did you lose a finger?
I tore it off!
Dare I ask?
I just caught my ring on something and I stepped eight inches off something - it stripped it off the bone, we have pictures on the web of that also. But I used to work at a trauma department and I've flown with a 103rd combat medics, I've been captain of a rescue squad. So I look down and I just go: I know where I'm going today - I didn't even tell my wife right. I figured she's away at a quilting bee, having a good day, the next day I was: Hi, uh, lost a finger and she got mad at me for not telling her.
I would get mad at you too... just saying like: oh Chee how's the quilt work? Good what did you do? I just lost my finger.
Yeah, yeah well my son actually looked at it and we took pictures - by the way I had to wait half an hour for an ambulance and being a former ambulance guy that was just like - that was an insult on top of injury literally. But I wanted him to think of it clinically and not be freaked out by it so we took pictures and stuff like that and then I told him, I said: well I'm going to - don't tell your mother - but I'm gonna leave with these ambulance people now and I'll be home probably tomorrow, because I know how things work, and he comes running to the door and he goes: dad, dad what's the key to unlock the Xbox? I'm like: okay you're gonna be fine by yourself. First time he was by himself, he's thinking about the Xbox so, all right!
Oh my gosh you crack me up. What else do you want to talk about relative to CAD tools? I'm looking at my notes here - you were talking about something - you talked about the buses, nomenclature and index based even that you'd said you hate those. So what else did we not cover?
I think the main thing is just how productive can you be? How well is it designed? And I was impressed by early CAD, which came out at like $4.99 in the 80s and we were like: whoa! I mean it's like that old monochrome purse, now there's PCs right - late 80s and the things you can do where if you copy a bunch of address lines, you can tell it when to paste it, auto-increment all those address lines as if I was continuing to do them. So if I grab a 0 to 7 and I paste it, now 8 to 15 is done for me. Well you can fly, when somebody has thought of things like that to do, you can go rogue. And it has to be controllable - sometimes you go, no I really wanted a zero to seven and - but there's tools like that, that can really make it. So, just the ability to double click and there's a new segment just like the one above it, tools like that are real important to me where I've just spent too many hours drawing in each line by hand.
Right, yeah I love when - well since I've been here at Altium, one of my fun parts of my job has been to help connect our developers with hard-working designers where they can say: do it this way, we don't work that way you know, it's really nice when CAD tools will actually get together with the guys that are watching and just watch 'em work and go: oh - because again it's easy for developers even if they've laid out boards - to make assumptions right. So I really love it when tool manufacturers actually take that into consideration and I love that we're doing that more and more these days. BOM distributor integration?
Uh it's probably the one thing we didn't have in the old days BOM integration where, and even picking the footprints, we had a three-ring binder of IPC footprints and that was always a step where errors could occur. I'm thinking this way, PCB designer's thinking that way, wrong footprint gets in there. But then even now, we can with Altium, for example, you see the part as it's a digi-key or arrow and you can make an attempt to select a part. Now; sounds great, but you end up getting into trouble when you go: oh wow, now I have to redo it for real, for the auto, for - I still call it auto insertion - for the pick and place. You know or, guess what? The stock status isn't quite what you thought it is, there's a delay in there and so now you're stalled, so you still have to, I think in my world, I still do a final BOM as a spreadsheet literally. But I get a lot closer in the tool. In the old days we were using microfiche if you didn't have the data book right? So nowadays it's integrated so it - again you have to be careful - it's a tool, it won't do your work for you and that's the thing.
I was just going to say - I've worked with also like hiCAD and now KiCAD... however they pronounce it.
I know, I never know how to say it either.
Yeah and it was good in that you could add modules to it. It was bad in that you could add modules to it. I kind of wanted already the 3d viewer working - ready to play with it and stuff like that. I'm really impressed with Proteus instead of EAGLE for that low-end market, not up here where Altium is, but that's when I was shooting little two inch by two inch boards for Hackaday and I'm doing a complete design every month and doing a video, and so I design it and it gets a minute of video time right. Then I throw it away to start on the next one. So it's called ARES and unfortunately the other one is ISIS, (nobody likes that name anymore), but that's the product name and they have an amazing auto router in there that'll get you a good completion, whereas if you've ever tried EAGLE it's like why do I even try the auto router you know? So that turns out to be in, and they singled out the maker market by including Arduino in issuing 80 mega parts in simulation and firmware simulation so now you can simulate it as if you've written the code. You don't even need to build the board to see if it works. And that's a cool feature. And we didn't talk about simulation - almost all CAD tools these days do include SPICE of some sort or a SPICE portal or something like that, and that's useful if you're down in the analog stuff especially. Again still just a tool. I've seen SPICE lie horribly to you, and you think it's going to work and it's really an artifact of zero volts or something like that.
Well there's a lot of talk these days about - because so many really capable designers like you, and like many people I know have learned this over a lifetime right - so if you're a new designer where are you gonna on board that outside of just one-on-one mentoring? Like any clues?
There's some good YouTubes out there, but I haven't found where you can - one, I don't have the attention span to watch somebody else work for five hours to pick up a couple tips right. So it's in the YouTubes showing you what they want to show you, but the best way is literally to be near somebody that's really good at it that's - unfortunately that's the best way - it's almost always like people almost pair off in engineering where one guy's learning from another even if they swap roles later that day because he's better at something else. That's just kind of the way it ends up going.
Yup, so I think what you're saying is find a mentor if you're not really good at it.
Right yeah and vice versa and mentor others. So I was talking about the wire, on each and every C128 board.
Okay, oh yeah actually Ben Jordan snuck that to me. So let's go into war stories a little bit and let's talk about 'the wire' also I'll get a screenshot of this I think Ben or do you have it? [Bill reaches over to show C128 board]
That's so cool okay for - oh my gosh okay, so for those of you that are listening to this on the straight-up podcast you need to go to this portion and look at the YouTube just to see this giant board that he's pulling out of the Commodore 128 and look at the keyboard.
This is what we call a 'barn door stop' it's too big to be a regular doorstop and that keyboard I designed by looking down at my BT 220 and I said, hey it works for me it'll work for future users too. I'll hold it up to the microphone for users at home right
But there is a wire on each and every... we made 5.7 million of these.
Oh okay. Wait before you go into the wire story, give us the stats on Commodore 64 going towards it and compare that to the Apple because I thought it was really interesting.
Yeah the - and actually I narrated a video by a company called Junk Food about the - called the 8-Bit Generation, and I learned some things - our version of history wasn't quite as clean-cut as to who was the first and the best computer company out there so I'll give a little props there. But we often said, Apple's just using our parts, because we made the 6502. Well that's the processor they used, but we made the chip.
So in our minds Apple did come out and they were first to get a floppy drive and some color early on, but then we come whooshing by them with the Commodore 64 whereas they sold 5 million of the Apple 2 that you're always seeing on every show about the 80s right. You see a show about Silicon Valley: 'we created the home computer' I don't agree, sorry I'm from Commodore I am a competitor and we made 27 million Commodore 64's we had all 64K, we had these cool color chips and sound chips that they didn't have and we could do animation because we have these things called Sprites, except Sprite was trademarked by Texas Instruments so we had to call 'em movable object blocks, but everybody called them Sprites, so you could write a game right and the blocks are moving themselves around, you're not having to rewrite that whole screen and everything so it was an amazing computer and we called it the 'Apple killer' because we actually stopped talking about Apple.
Yeah then my boss wanted to kill Sinclair, remember the Timex Sinclairs?
They're little tiny door stops now - I actually did use one of those for a doorstop and then the marketing department saw that and so suddenly every door in marketing has a Sinclair holding it open...
That's so funny I don't even remember that one which I'm kind of surprised. I was kind of tuned in at that time but not that tuned in I guess.
It was a $50 computer and actually, when the basic ran, the screen would go to crap because it couldn't share the BUS, remember I talked about that earlier, and then they came out with a color one and and it was cheap. I mean the Commodore 64 was $299 - by the way the Apple 2 was like $1500, $1700 and we're $299 - and then we did something like we lowered the price to $100 if you send us your old computer. So people were buying Sinclair's for $49, sending them to us to save $50 and that's of course 50 1980-dollars so this was - if you can see it through the microphone here - this was the one of the family that we called Ted and this was basically the Raspberry Pie of the day, it's all in there. The one chip does the video and the sound, and there's a processor.
Oh and the video sound chip runs all the D-RAM and does all the crazy interfaces to the keyboard. So it's literally like very close to a single chip board even though there was nine in the original - nine chips - yeah you cracked open an IBM PC and there was 280 something like that. That's crazy and even the 128, as big as that was, had a couple couple tens of chips in there. So and then Jack Turmel unfortunately left Commodore and this product I was showing, this Ted thing. Without him there to drive the vision, that product kind of failed and we even had a talking version. We had snagged the guys from TI Speak and Spell, which was a big thing in the 80s and we had them working at Commodore, so we had a talking version of a computer with a desktop that Apple tell you later they invented the desktop. Well no. The guys at PARC invented it but we had one, it was just our founder left and it floundered without the founder.
Crazy, okay show us the wire.
Okay, so then the 128. What happened was I had gone to a CES show and by the way CES shows drove everything for us, Consumer Electronics Shows, mostly cuz if you ask them if they'll move it a day so you can hit your schedule they'll say no, so the CES show is - this is a scheduled date you cannot miss - you can't miss it by five minutes, you can't miss it by a day and so we decided - and by we I mean the engineers, we didn't even really tell management about the C128 till it was too late and then we would do things to it. Like I added a z80 processor so it became - it's Commodore 64 compatible - so suddenly nobody's going to complain at me because there's no software, can run all the old software, but then turns out the z80 cartridge didn't work very well on the Commodore 64, so I just put the z80 right in the board and after the PC board Rev was done I said: oh by the way I added the z80, they knew they couldn't tell me to take it out now or we'll miss CES.
So then pretty soon the guy would be: I had a great idea to leave the z80 in there you're like, cool go tell marketing, take a doorstop with you right. So one of the things we did is, even as we're getting ready for the CES show - it was January 6th that year I think - we're already getting ready for FCC, so we're working on the final production and that's all in five months. I started this near August and we had six - five or six customized C's that needed to be done and so again that was our wheelhouse - this is custom, this is custom, this is custom, that - one of the other ones in here - and we're going like the wind right. Well right near the end, the z80 stopped working reliably. It wouldn't boot CPM 20% of the time, and me and my boss were fighting. It's bound to happen right, he'd already gotten his bonus I think to let me go around barefooted was like wearing thin right. But the - - oh, I lost my train of thought that almost never happens when you get old… [laughter]
Oh I was fighting with the boss and he said: fine, I'll give it to somebody else to fix that problem! I said: fine, I'll take a shower and go home and get a nap! Right, so for a week, I mean I had a great week. I caught up on my hygiene, (I won't tell you some of the other things you do when you're full of testosterone when you're young). But he comes to my office Friday, and in my mind he puffed on his cigar (you could still smoke in the office back then). I don't know if he had a cigar that day, but that's my memory and he goes: fix it or you're fired. I'm, oh sure I can do that, you're ready now for me to rejoin the workforce?
Absolutely, I'm clean, I get along with people, and I just happen to luck out where I'm - the oscilloscopes of the day weren't like the Tektronix MSO scopes - like I got back there, I had to turn it up real bright, and then I would stare at it and then turn and look at a wall and I would see the reverse image and I go: there's a glitch right there - I'm pointing at it so someone can see it because he hasn't burned his retinas staring into the light - and they think I'm nuts, and I was right. There was a glitch on this A10 line, when the z80 was the processor, but when the 6502 was the processor there's no glitch. I mean it's right around when the D Rams were doing something and so it comes down to understanding how a signal propagates down and this is part of PC board layout right.
And I liken it to when the 6502 was driving the length of the line that drove it all the way to the end, like playing a flute correctly, but when the z80 drove it from an extension down the line it was like blowing into one of the holes on the flute and it's kind of not - and so I got a standing wave, where the wave’s going back and forth and bouncing into itself and it just happened to do it on A10 at the wrong time and I caught it on the scope in an hour. Of course nobody believes me right, so and the way I made it work, was I took that wire that I showed you that's redundant. There's already a trace on the PC board, I just soldered this again so now it's actually a loop right it can't bounce - -
Ah it had a return path, okay.
Yeah or propagates like this, but either way it's not a standing wave anymore at a certain spot, and it just happened to be that spot was the multiplexer for the D-RAMs and they think I'm nuts right because not only do I fix it an hour, I fixed it with a wire! So we ran 10,000 units to prove that Herd's gone off the deep end and we got a hundred percent pass rate on it. It actually fixed the problem. So now the wire drives me nuts because there's 5.7 million wires out there and people said: why didn't you just change the PC board? It's like: because actually I found it this time, if there were no tools to do anything, if I change the PC board I might have moved a glitch to somewhere I can't find right. So the devil you know - and that's how it ended up going out.
That's crazy - and from by the way - having a background in EMS. For an EMS provider, to have to put a wire on five million boards, that's crazy nobody would do that today but it's cool!
We called it post solder assembly and it's horribly expensive that's five point seven million dollars. It probably cost $1, the wire was a penny and 99 cents to put it on there, so we just did that. There was one other fun issue with the schedule of the 128.
At one point - and see we didn't have real deep analyzers and stuff - so when the processor goes flying off the tracks because the memory is corrupted you'd go, well when in the last two minutes or two million cycles did the corruption occur? Because the analyzer's not going to catch it, unless you're so lucky right. So one of the things I noticed is, it would corrupt in the video memory and the video's memory is being scanned 15,000 times, 60 cycles a second and so I took a light pin and I put it on this spot on the screen right where the corruption would occur and I sent my analyzer, so soon as the spot on the screen occurred the light pen triggered my analyzer. And it's actually a commodore light pin - I still have it - was actually plugged into the joystick port of the system on troubleshooting and it turns out - it was called ground lift, and you're probably familiar with that. There was a stub of a little over an eighth of an inch on the ground pin of a DRAM multiplexer, and it's inductance mixed with the capacitance meant it would come off of ground when you went to switch a whole bunch of zeros to a one - except for one - that other one became a one also it just dragged everything with it.
Oh, got it.
Yeah and I also took - literally another little piece of wire - fixed it and then I yelled at Fish to fix. That one I made him fix but the only way we could catch it in that case, is I used a light pin to catch this little 1/8 inch piece of trace that was just playing with me.
Well you know what I love about these stories Bill, is that I think it's lovely to tell them and show people what a Wild West it was and how we solved, but people like you solved things really simply because now we sit on all these really complex tools and really we stand on the shoulders of people like you right, who were innovating back in the day where we did not have the complexity of tools or things and it's easy to take those things for granted now because so much can just run in the background and you so I think it's fascinating to hear these really - like these MacGyver ways that you figured out how to fix it - you're like the original PCB design MacGyver dude.
So one other quick story and it goes right to that - about the tools and the software simulations and things and it's the day I knew I was working in the right place. And this isn't my story - this actually is the chip designer stories for the Ted, for that thing I showed you. They had design roll checks when they laid out an ICs that told him if two things got too close to each other, but they didn't have an electrical rule check to tell 'em if it's supposed to be shorted together or not, so they turned a corner. They had like A7, A8 and A9 cut right across the other to address lines and it shorted 'em out, and they had no way to check that - unless they hand looked at every plot of every layer of what made up an integrated circuit. Well they - meanwhile cost a quarter million dollars to do another run. So what they did - I'm in the hardware lab, and the guy goes: okay turn on that - turn on the microscope light. Okay turn it off - good we're in NTSC mode. And I turn and I look and I'm like: did you just flip the status of a register with photons while looking at it under the microscope? And he goes: yeah uh huh, and I'm like: AH I'm in the right place, this is where I wanna be!
Yeah and they didn't have the tools that told them if what was on the schematics, what made it onto the chip. So yeah and they would spend five months, with a ruler actually called a scale, checking the plot. That's the only way they could do it.
That's amazing well thank you for sharing this - unfortunately we're running out of time. But thank you so much for sharing your history and your ingenuity and the stories of Commodore and giving our listeners really some practical ways of just jumping into a new tool, if they have to right, nobody likes change but I'm sure you would attest to that overall has probably helped you become a better designer to go ahead and jump in and you could probably jump into a new tool easily now it probably doesn't freak you out as much as it used to.
If you know you're going to be overwhelmed, then you're right on schedule when you get overwhelmed - and then you just go back into it and you know, how do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time - same thing.
Just acceptance that it's going to be frustrating and this is the cycle.
Yeah that you'll screw it up and then fix it, just don't ruin your libraries in the process.
Okay, well some good, good wisdom. So thank you again Bill for your time, it's been a delight to hear about everything and I just by the way - best background - those of you listening, you really need to go look at the YouTube version of this, because his lab looks like you'd all want to go live in it man it looks like there's everything in there it's awesome. What's up with the penguin by the way? There's a penguin, that looks like it's standing on your shoulders?
On the telly, it used to be on top of the oscilloscope but now it's just with you so that's that's a Monty Python penguin, that's from our era right?
Totally, that is so funny!
Okay, well thank you again for joining myself and Bill Herd today on Altium's OnTrack podcast. I'll make sure to share all of his colorful links and Wikipedia and videos from Hackaday and thanks for joining us again. We'll see you next time - until then remember to always stay on track.