Debugging PCBs in Mixed Reality

The bring-up and debug of modern high-density electronic boards can be very challenging. Components are small and hard to find and only a small fraction of the interconnects are visible. Debugging a design often requires multitasking as well as many tests and experiments. The complete validation of a new design often requires several days — if not weeks — of painstaking work.

The reason this is such a daunting job has to do with the complexity of modern electronic designs. Electronic boards are like icebergs: all you can see are the components and the traces on the top and bottom layers. High-density boards have over 8 layers of copper interconnects and require the validation engineer to consult schematic, layouts and the BOM to figure out where components are, and how they connect to each other. All this going back and forth between the bench and the PC makes the validation and debug of electronic boards a lot slower and painful that it needs to be.

This image shows all information available in the layout file of the Arduino UNO board. Even for such a simple board (it only has two layers of copper) engineers still need to consult the schematic and layout to do a proper validation.

This image shows all information available in the layout file of the Arduino UNO board. Even for such a simple board (it only has two layers of copper) engineers still need to consult the schematic and layout to do a proper validation.

A few colleagues and I created a proof of concept App to solve this problem for Microsoft's 2017 Hackathon. Boardtalks is a Microsoft HoloLens App that improves PCB validation and rework experience by overlaying holograms with useful information on top of electronic boards.

Boardtalks can overlay copper layers to PCBs, highlight components on the board and display useful information

Boardtalks can overlay copper layers to PCBs, highlight components on the board and display useful information

Boardtalks can overlay any of the interconnect layers, highlight the position of components, and even provide useful information from the schematic and BOM.

The proof-of-concept video below shows the potential that an App like Boardtalks has to reduce the “pain” suffered by millions of validation engineers every day.

Proof-of-Concept of Boardtalks App