The Process of Hardware Prototyping – From Its Inception To Implementation

The Process of Hardware Prototyping – From Its Inception To Implementation

I frequently come across enthusiastic engineers with brilliant ideas and I see their excitement fizzle away when they contemplate the complexities involved in hardware prototyping. Hence, I am forced to write this article and help them take care of this problem and turn it into a fun task.

Hardware prototyping involves a massive skill set. And adding to this, the knowledge you need comes to you the hard way and if you don’t know where to look it can lead you astray. Most of the skills you need to learn will only come with experience. Hence, take the plunge, diving head-first is the only way to overcome the initial complexities.

So, let us look at the step-by-step guide that will help you master the art of hardware prototyping.

Firstly, we will learn how to figure out the perfect board for your project. This bears a great deal of significance because it is the heart of your project.

How Do I Decide
Which Board Is Appropriate?

Arduino

If you want to build a basic piece of hardware that can read a couple of sensors, then Arduino is the right option for you. It is known for its simplicity and easy learning. Therefore, I strongly recommend you in case you wish to build simple prototypes.For general prototyping, you can get away with Uno board. However, if the prototype is complex and demands powerful chips then you will need a shield along with it.If the number of components that needs to be mounted is more then with the help of Mega (Arduino Microcontroller) you can plug in more components. You can also use Gemma microcontroller in case you are planning to build wearables.Along with these facilities, Arduino provides simple and powerful IDE (Integrated Development Environment) software. It comes with tons of code samples that will provide you with seamless reference to coding.

Raspberry Pi 

If your prototype demands web integration and graphics processing, then I suggest you to go with Raspberry Pi.

These tiny fragments of silicon chips can clock in at 1.2GHz and 1GHz backed up with 1GB of RAM.

Right now, these are the hottest chips available in the market equipped with ARM chips and clocks that are similar to your phone.

With a considerable amount of RAM and more pins than Arduino, Raspberry makes it as one of the most high-end chips. Some of the Raspberry chips also have WiFi and Bluetooth – they are tailormade for IoT projects.

Along with this, also check SparqEE cell, Adafruit Fona and Skywire shield. With proper implementation of these boards, you can get the right base to build some of the finest hardware prototypes on.

Now that you have the clarity about which board is appropriate for your prototype, we shall now move towards the second step. That is, the right sensors to make your prototype work.

What Sensors Should I Choose?

It is essential to have insightful knowledge of sensors. Clubbing the knowledge of prototype boards with sensors, you will be able to make a mental map of your prototype. This will make your job easier.

Let us look at some of the sensors that are commonly used and highly preferred by engineers.

  1. Razor IMU Accelerometer – It incorporates 3 sensors – a triple-axis gyro, accelerator and magnetometer. This will give you 9 degrees of inertial measurement.

The outputs of these sensors are processed by onboard mega microcontroller and directed through a serial stream.

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Image credits – Rhydolabs

The sensor works at 3.3 VDC. The output header is designed to connect with basic breakout board which makes it easier to connect the board to a computer’s USB port, Bluetooth or an XBee explorer.

With dimensions, as compact as 28 x 41 mm it makes it convenient to fit on the circuit board.

2. Fingerprint scanner – Fingerprint scanners were not quite reliable years ago. But with great advancements in technology, fingerprint scanners have managed to operate flawlessly.

The fingerprint module from ADH-Tech is known for seamless communication over TTL Serial which makes it easier to embed it to your next project.

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Image Credits – Spark Fun Electronics

The module does all the heavy operations such as reading and identifying the fingerprints fetched by an on-board optical sensor.

All you need to do is register all the fingerprints by sending a corresponding command and pressing the finger thrice against the sensor.

The module is small and it can be easily assembled using two mounting tabs adjacent to the sensor.

3. RGB and Gestures – This is the SparkFun RGB and gesture sensor. It has a built-in APDS-9960 sensor that senses ambient light, detects and measures color, senses touchless gestures and proximity.

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Image Credit – SparkFun

This sensor has its beauty. With it you can remotely control your computer, robot or microcontroller by merely swiping your hand.

This sensor is used by Samsung Galaxy S5 for proximity and gesture detection. It is undeniably one of the best gesture sensors available in the market for its price.

4. Temperature Sensors TMP36 – This is a low voltage and highly accurate temperature sensor. Its voltage output increases linearly with the increase in temperature and works likewise when the temperature falls.

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Image Credits – SparkFun

The voltage output spans from OV at -50°C to 1.75V at 125°C.

With incredible ease, you can convert the voltage calibrations into temperature with the help of scale factor of 10 mV/°C.

In case your project demands acute temperature sensing, then this sensor is the right device for you.

These sensors (mentioned above) cover almost all the common requirements of hardware prototypes and help you build a high-end model. Now that you have insightful knowledge about the boards and sensors, you can map the circuit paths with appropriate sensors.

Now comes the most important part, the component soldering. This step demands great precision and I have carefully plotted down the steps that will give you crystal clarity about this process.

The Process Of Components Soldering

If you wish to master the art of component soldering, I would suggest starting with through-hole components. Then proceed towards surface mount components when you are ready.

The video is the perfect guide that will help you to learn the dos and don’ts of soldering.

Conclusion

If you follow these guidelines thoroughly you can master the skill of hardware prototyping.

Most importantly, you must find comfort in skepticism. Be skeptical of everything you read online. Follow these guidelines mentioned above and learn from the experience.