JITX (YC S18) – Automating Circuit Board Design

Hi HN,

We're Duncan, Austin, Jonathan, and Patrick, the founders of JITX (https://www.jitx.com). Today, every circuit board is manually designed by skilled engineers. JITX is automating circuit board design with AI that designs optimized boards in hours instead of weeks.

This all started for us while we were still at UC Berkeley. Duncan and Austin were PhD students and constantly designing robots to test new ideas. We realized we had to start from scratch every time we started work on a new robot. All that work had to be thrown away, because you can’t reuse hardware designs like software. We wanted a way to design robots faster; we wanted a way to design better robots!

At the same time Patrick and Jonathan were building Chisel, an automated tool for digital logic design. The roboticists saw Chisel and got inspired. Patrick and Jonathan saw how people design circuit boards and were horrified. We hit it off and decided to solve the problem — we would make circuit board design more like software development: agile, flexible, reusable, fast.

Our core technology is inspired by the technology used for designing computer chips. The introduction of Hardware Description Languages (HDLs, e.g. Verilog) in the 80s, revolutionized chip design. Instead of manually drawing the shapes that make up the circuit, engineers would instead express the intended behaviour of their circuit using code, and then have algorithms automatically translate that code into the necessary copper shapes. This workflow is what makes possible the billion-transistor chips we see today. We bring the same workflow to PCB design.

Circuit board design is a multidisciplinary challenge, and we have to factor in electrical engineering (circuit design, RF design, signal and power integrity), mechanical engineering (thermal, vibration), and manufacturing (cost optimization, DFM/DFA/DFT). Unsurprisingly, almost every subproblem is computationally intractable, so we use clever representations and heuristics to arrive at good solutions. There are a million details to keep track of across all of those disciplines, and it’s high time we get computers to do the bookkeeping.

To give you an idea of our workflow, here’s a link to the first demo we ever recorded: https://youtu.be/ra0SWTrLzhs. It’s rough and out of date (new demo here: https://youtu.be/lYrY7iskgng), but it helped us get into YC and shows the key ideas. Cliff notes: we describe circuit boards with a domain specific programming language, and then compile that language into hardware designs (and simulations, and schematics, and documentation, and manufacturing outputs). You describe what you care about at a high level, and then the system solves for everything you don’t specify.

For example, we request a board with BLE and a microphone, and the system selects matching key components from the library, solves for power supplies and component values, sources all the parts (thanks Octopart!), assigns pins, plans out placements, routes traces, and then exports a KiCAD project (board + schematic), and manufacturing outputs (BoM, Gerbers, etc.). If you care about the shape of the board, add it as a constraint; if you care about the position of a component, add it as a constraint; if you know which BLE chip you want, add it as a constraint. Design tools should be smart enough to solve for the million details you don’t care about, and optimize your design for what you do care about.

We started JITX to give everyone ready access to professional-quality boards, and today JITX runs as an electronics design contractor. You tell us what a circuit board needs to do, we use our tools to design the board, fab it, and get it back to you. We already do this faster than humans can, and our speed depends on the design. For product and proof-of-concept boards, JITX is on average 3x faster and also cheaper than human contractors. Test fixtures and connector-based boards are almost fully automated, and we have already hit 24-hour turnaround times on designs.

We’re not the first ones to think about better tools for circuit board design, but we are the first to use this approach. We know from experience that this is the way to go, and honestly we can't imagine a future where this tech doesn’t exist. We’re just racing to be the first ones to build it!

- Duncan, Austin, Jonathan, Patrick

PS: If you want to see the last robot we built before starting JITX, you can check out Salto here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dJmArHRn0U.

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andrey azimov by Andrey Azimov