In a previous post, we covered online IDEs for embedded software development. In order to run embedded programs you need to, well, embed them in something, so we also included a paragraph on Upverter, a tool for collaboratively editing and sharing circuit schematics. Hardware design is an area that’s still relatively untouched by the web application revolution, and we always love to see new innovation.
More recently, we ran across CircuitLab, an alternative schematic tool with some unique features. On the surface, the site seems extremely similar to Upverter: fire up an online editor, create your circuit in the browser, then save it to your account. At any point in this process, you can share a link to your circuit to let others view it and collaborate.
There are a few key differences with CircuitLab when compared to its YC-backed brethren. While Upverter aims to be a GitHub for hardware, with full permissions, multiple user editing, and version control, CircuitLab’s sharing is less nuanced. You can share a link to your schematic so that others can view it and leave notes, but multiple users can’t edit the same project. If they save your circuit, CircuitLab will save a separate copy to their account (a bit like forking using version control, but without any advantages of being able to merge changes later).
CircuitLab’s killer app is the fact that it allows real-time circuit simulation using models similar to SPICE, a popular desktop simulation package. Testing your circuits as you create them is a huge advantage, and if there’s any other online tool that allows this, we’re unaware of it.
Finally, CircuitLab is completely free for the time being, another differentiator from Upverter. The site points out that it may charge for premium features in the future, but for now, it’s all you can eat.
If someone could integrate PCB layout into one of these sites and construct a full EDA suite in the cloud, they would create serious business value. The fact that Eagle, a 20 year old program that looks every bit its age, still dominates the hobbyist and small business market means that this niche is ripe for disruption. Entrants like CircuitLab are a step in the right direction, and it will be interesting to watch how they evolve in the coming months.
If you’ve used CircuitLab before, let us know in the comments, and if not, check them out and tell us what you think.