Augment This! How AR is Changing PCB Design

May 24, 2018 Altium Designer

 young woman playing with AR

If you’ve yet to play with an AR or VR experience, you are certainly missing out. The emerging technology is quickly becoming a game changer for industries such as entertainment, healthcare, education, military, and the list goes on. Providing, quite literally, an infinite amount of potential applications, it’s no wonder that so many industries are affected by and are embracing the new tech.

While VR places the user inside an entirely manufactured environment, AR simply ‘augments’ the existing reality, adding in digital copies of whatever is desired. As an example, in the healthcare industry, nurses and doctors are using AR apps developed to locate patients’ veins quickly and without causing pain. That’s a pretty cool thing to see.

AR in Circuit Design

With all the potential applications that are sweeping industry after industry, the questions are when and in what capacity can we expect to see AR advancements made in PCB design? The short answer is like we’ve seen time and time before, any new technology introduced starts near the top of the food chain (military, medical, education), then begins to trickle its way down into peripheral after peripheral industry. 

Now that AR is creeping its way into the manufacturing arena, this means that its surrounding engineering fields (PCB design included) will arrive shortly. So what areas within PCB design should we expect to see initial benefits in? In a recent interview, David Harold, a VP at Imagination Technologies, thinks there are a few situations in which we could see value added instantly.

Giving engineers a visual roadmap of where they are, where they should be heading in the design, and the end result of what needs to be where could come in the form of visual representations of form factors, component placement parameters, and even schematic capture. This would allow for greater efficiency and higher first pass validations which would decrease the number of revisions and rework.

AR Engine repair

Augmented reality has already shown promise in a plethora of industries and is slowly trickling its way down the EE industry pipeline.

Secondly, he labels a non-distracted workflow as being hugely beneficial. Beings that Imagination Technologies is in the business of semiconductor design, Harold touches on their level of design stating, “People forget how finely detailed some of the work we do is.” With the amount of detail that is consistently required in most levels of PCB design, imagine having a virtual set of instructions always in view, never having to flip back and forth between pages. 

Perhaps you could flip between layers in a multilayered board, highlighting the areas that you are focused on. Whatever the problem, there could very easily exist a solution in the form of AR. Harold concludes by suggesting that an AR system mixed with some AI design application could result in a highly optimized board by synergistically pairing the efforts of an engineer’s intuition with the visual design assistance of AI. What a world we live.

What About Software?

As much as AR could greatly assist in the physical design domain, where will software companies begin to push efforts in the field? Not surprisingly, Altium has experimented and tested a handful of areas in which AR could bring instant value to the designer.

In previous tests, Altium played with a feature that allowed a user wearing 3D glasses to shift the perspective of the PCB in editor mode by way of facial positioning. Although this was never officially implemented due to the potential that the industry simply isn’t ready, it’s nice to see companies stepping up, throwing out experiments, and seeing what sticks.

Ben Jordan, a senior manager here at Altium, discusses the gap we have yet to fully bridge between PCB and AR stating, “It’ll take time for electronic engineers to think of ways in which AR could help them day-to-day. We’re waiting for some better technology.” Simply put, the industry just isn’t quite ready.

AR design interface

Software interfaces paired with AR could greatly optimize designs and assist design engineers throughout the system.

Suggesting early benefits in light emitting touchscreen design technology (did Tony Stark use Altium Designer to design his Ironman?), virtual training programs for engineers, and form factor and fit-check applications, Jordan hints that we might be closer to bridging the gap than we think.

Although we are still early on in our integration into AR, there are a plethora of potentials in PCB design that could, very effectively, be mitigated by the introduction of this new tech. We can additionally find assurance that once we do begin maturing in our AR efforts, companies like Imagination Technologies and Altium will be at the forefront and will be ready when the time comes. 

Taking a look under the hood, Altium Designer is already a full stack solution to all things PCB design. Imagining software capable of AR design in a matter of years could be an industry game changer. If you are interested to learn more about Altium Designer, or how Altium is pushing the envelope in AR design, talk to an Altium expert today.

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Altium Designer

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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