Re-visioning the Electrical Board

Electrical System, General, uncategorized / Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

As we wait for a sunny weekend to test SOCKEYE, we are simultaneously implementing a new printed circuit board to replace the interconnecting board shown below. Our interconnecting board houses microcontrollers, current sensors, and power distribution modules for all low-voltage components of the car. 

The back of our old interconnecting board

For the first board, we started with a perfboard, which is a prototyping tool for solder-on components. Then, we soldered components onto the front of the board and wired them together on the back. This approach has been used by the team since we first started due to its ease-of-use and adaptability. While this is helpful, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint errors or find a broken connection in a spaghetti of cabling. To minimize errors and make necessary repairs more identifiable, we have long considered designing a fully custom printed circuit board. Now, it is finally time to do so. 

A CAD model of the PCB design

With this new design, our electronic system will be easier to manage, and easier to change and improve in the future. Additionally, PCBs are a lot more durable than the soldered perfboards, where a single loose wire could cause hours of troubleshooting. 

Though the change is a net positive, there are also things we are giving up when switching to a PCB. For one thing, it is much more difficult, timely, and costly to make small changes to the design. The first step to combatting this is minimizing errors in the design through careful checks before ordering the final part. But, in the event something needs to be changed, we’ve included a small section of perf-board for on-the-fly additions and changes. 

As for the design and organization of the board itself, we used the schematic from the old board as a starting point.. After verifying the accuracy of it and correcting any errors, we started to make component footprints and build the general layout layout. We made the board bigger in order to better fit the components in a way that is easy to solder. Also keeping in mind how difficult it would be to make changes, we worked with the software team to highlight potential changes and built in fail safes for vital communication channels between our microcontrollers.

Finalized PCB
The new interconnecting board PCB installed in the car

As we look to start testing as soon as the weather allows, we hope that the revisions we make now will make the car more reliable, minimizing issues for the 2024 Solar Car Challenge.

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