Quite a few years have passed since I sat in a physics class. It was one of my favourite subjects at school but, just like most things we learn in formal education, formulas, symbols, laws and facts tend to slip away.
Upverter certainly gave me the refresher class I needed. It’s an online CAD app (Computer Aided Design) geared towards designing electrical items, or at least the schematics for them. My limited knowledge could only stretch so far in terms of design. In fact I’m sure some of the contraptions I came up with would be fire hazards. But to an electrical engineer or Arduino enthusiast, this could very well be a new tool in the arsenal.
It’s extremely easy to use and best of all, for the home user it’s completely free. But it’s not just a run-of-the-mill schematic spin on MS Paint. It has a few aces hidden up its sleeves.
After the quick sign-up procedure I decided to go straight for the kill. I wanted to get designing some kind of mind boggling electrical contraption – the kind of which the world has never seen. Starting a new project brings you onto the dashboard, half of which is taken up by what appears to be the schematic editor. After some frustrating clicking around however I discovered it was only a viewer – the editor lying beyond the big blue button reading ‘Open in Editor’. Go figure.
The editor itself is childsplay. Down the left hand side there are some basic tools to insert wiring, components and flags along with the normal selection and move tools. Wiring up a barebones skeleton is as easy as plotting a route on Google Maps. Wiring can be placed at any angle which is an improvement on other online designers which allow only horizontal and vertical.
The next part really impressed me – the addition of components. I expected a simple list of textbook resistors, LEDs and PSUs. What I got was an expansive catalogue of actual real-world parts from major manufacturers such as Nokia, Texas Instruments, Panasonic and Motorola. These are complete with model numbers and actual specifications such as voltage capabilities and pin identifiors. They’re also ‘interactive’ to a certain extent. For example, a Nokia 5110 LCD screen 8 different labeled connectors, all of which need to be hooked up as you can see in my pitiful attempt above. That thing is going to explode.
Never the less I was impressed beyond belief. Anyone designing from home need not worry about finding components and then drawing them up in CAD. Upverter does both for you!
Most projects in Upverter are open to the community meaning others can view your work. This is an advantage (unless you’re designing Iranian cruise missiles or something) because everyone’s work contributes to the open-source community including the addition of new components. You can also ‘fork’ a project which means taking someone else’s design and using it as a base for your own project.
The community itself is alive with tutorials for making PCBs, CNC mills or simple circuits. It’s like Instructables condensed into an engineering textbook.
When you’re done designing your robot or ray gun you can click ‘Bill of Materials’ along the top of the page. This will present you with a fully features list of all the materials you used in your designing including manufacturer and part number – ready for order.
Upverter also offer services such as checking over a schematic for mistakes or weaknesses ($19) and shipping you your order as a printed circuit board for $50.
Design and Usability
Overall I really liked the design of Upverter. If you think about it, they could have made the editor ten times as complex as they did – especially to attract those unversed in electrical components. A button for resistors, a button for meters, a button for LEDs etc… Thankfully they havn’t, Chances are if you’re using Upverter you know what you’re doing so don’t need your hand held.
The components are very sharp and the designs look professional and easy to read. The only suggestions I have is to use either a desktop with a large screen, or hook a monitor up to your laptop. It’s perfectly fine to use on a normal 17 inch laptop I guess but if you’re working on a big design, for the sake of your own sanity, go big.
Overall I loved Upverter and I struggle to find anything negative to say about it. I’m no professional, and I encourage any reader that is to try it out and let me know what they think in the comments. But from my point of view it’s has everything you could possibly need.
Pricing, as I said starts off at a free level which would be more than enough for the home user. If you make a living from this kind of thing then private projects and multiple ones at that will require a payment. For $19 per month the ‘Hobbyist’ allows 3 private personal projects. At the time of writing they’re running a promotion whereby the ‘Early Adopter’ level is also $19 which allows five private projects. It also allows both public and private collaboration. Finally, the professional package at $100 allows for 100 private projects as well as public/private collaborations. All levels feature an unlimited amount of public projects – thus keeping the open source nature of Upverter very much so alive.
If I really had to nitpick I’d say the limitations on private projects as you move up the pay scale could be annoying. Overall though, it’s a fantastic tool for designers engineers and inventors. Upverter has a fantastic database of tutorials and a helpful community. Definitely the CAD app for DIYers.