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Transforming Electronics Lab Work

Liam Cadigan

Speed up Your Electronics Lab with a New Age Tool

inspectAR puts a mini, intelligent view port right in your lab through your mobile phone, or an external web camera connected to your desktop. The intelligent part of our system is the computer vision algorithms we use to produce augmented reality overlays on top of your board. Adding an intelligent tool like inspectAR to your lab can help you realize some serious efficiency savings once your boards come back from manufacturing. We're 30% from our current customers who use inspectAR to test, measure, rework, and debug their PCB's. From our customers who use inspectAR for hand assembly we've seen time savings of up to 50%!

But it wasn't always this way! inspectAR stands on the shoulders of decades of work from electronics professionals who are used to doing things the hard way. Here is what that used to look like:

Common microscope setup with optional digital camera


Electronics Lab View Ports Prior to 2020:

Previous electronics professionals would be familiar with both analog and video microscopes as their traditional view port into the board they are working on. While there is definitely a lot of optics in microscopes and electronics in the latter, nobody has ever figured out how to connect the human using the microscope into the work they are doing. Enter inspectAR.



Using pen paper schematics to debug modern electronics designs is down right impossible


Electronics Lab Working Aids Before the Laptop

Many experienced engineers will be familiar with the encumbrances working in the lab before technology had advanced enough to make screens portable. We surveyed a number of engineers throughout the time we have built inspectAR - debugging in the old days was incredibly difficult. Engineers would assemble huge dossiers of documents to make work more efficient. The dossiers might include:

  • Printing off every single layer onto an 11”x17” piece of paper (no zooming in on a trace back then)
  • Collecting data sheets and other documentation for every single component, putting it in an accordion file and indexing it per BOM line number.
  • Another file folder for your schematics.
  • Any simulations you might want.
  • Floppy disks for firmware programming?? (no they did not use punch cards)

Electronics Work with a Laptop

This is what will feel familiar to most engineers from the past two decades. You have a laptop which can store a practically unlimited amount of data sheets and schematics, in addition to the design software you designed your board. Now you finally have a fighting chance of debugging that issue. It’s almost impossible to forget something when you can just search it in your computer's file system or message a colleague for help. And if there’s a simulation you forgot to run you might even be able to do that right from your lab, no need to leave the room; although you can no longer prevent the problem. Even with all that technology at your fingertips there are still several weaknesses and pain points with this approach:

Your eyes only point in one direction

As much as you might try you are going to have to remember what your board looks like on your laptop and then spatially morph that image when you look at the board.

I’m really not kidding here, all things aside the fact that people can identify a specific pin based on a drawing they have seen moments before is a testament to the ability of people who debug circuit boards.

In this regard you aren’t much better off then when you only had drawings.

The LimeSDR USB is available as a free project on inspectAR

What component am I looking at??

It is not always obvious which silkscreen label belongs to which component, or if a silkscreen label exists.

We love to show off the LimeSDR Mini USB under inspectAR. It is an intricate, well thought out 12 layer design. However, as you can see below the silkscreen is tough to use and requires a lot of inference since the silkscreen for parts of the top of the board is on the bottom.

The above statement, but for test points!!

All of the gold dots in this image are test points which can be used to measure signals coming out of the IC on another side of the board. Without your EDA tool open in another window or a very detailed assembly drawing you wouldn't have a hope of knowing which signal to probe.

Probing this connector from the back of the board is extremely difficult

Is this pin 2? Or pin 58!?

We’ve all felt this when you have to look at the top of the board to see the pinout on the data sheet, but then probe from the bottom of the board.

Mentally mirroring the board in your head can be frustrating, fortunately most of the modern CAD tools have made this feature pretty accessible.

Select any net, component or layer and see it superimposed onto the board with AR 


Electronics Work with inspectAR

inspectAR puts all the design information you would normally get from your EDA directly into a live video feed of your board. Never again will you forget what you are looking at in the lab.

Find components intuitively

inspectAR is always trying to tell you what component you are looking at. Hover over any component and a tool tip with the reference designator will appear. If you want to know even more, just click on the component and your info pane will become filled with information about the component.


Get your test points fast

Filter down any net to just pads on a single layer so that you can get the test point you need.

Component reference designators and test point locations jump right out at you

Board flipping is a Breeze

When you flip your board we track the other side and invert all your layers automatically - there’s no more imagining where pin 2 is. 

Best part, No AR glasses required

That’s right, inspectAR runs on your mobile device, or desktop with the help of a suitable web camera.

So kit out your lab with inspectAR - you can be up and running on your smartphone in minutes if you want to try it out on your own boards. There are also a number of free projects available to download if you have boards from popular families like Arduino, SparkFun, LimeSDR’s, and BeagleBone.


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