Startup customizes PCB assemblies the smart way

November 20, 2018 // By Julien Happich
Startup customizes PCB assemblies the smart way
Seattle-based startup Hexabitz got its inspiration from both nature and mathematical tessellation solutions to come up with a novel type of modular electronics, cable-free.

Consisting of hexagon- and pentagon-shaped modules, each module comes with a different functionality, whether it be a sensor, an actuator, a DC converter, a battery holder, a buzzer or a LED to name a few.

Showcasing various modules and PCB constructions at the electronica Fast Forward Start-up booth, Hexabitz founder and CEO Dr. Asaad Kaadan explained eeNews Europe how he had been trying to mimic custom made PCB Assemblies (PCBAs) while keeping them completely re-configurable and re-usable, without hectic wiring.

"The mathematical solutions to modularity are found in nature, where hexagons and pentagons designed at specific ratio can create contiguous surfaces, flat, curved or spherical", Kaadan notes, "such geometries are extensively used in nature, look at beehives, cells or even certain molecules", the CEO adds.

Key to making this re-configurability work without cables is Hexabitz' distributed and decentralized wired-mesh network, which combined with a unique array exploration algorithm, lets connected modules automatically discover their neighbours and configure the topology and routing table of their network.

This way, engineers can just add or remove any module to or from a whole assembly, at any location, and yet all the components on-board remain connected. The simple mix-and-match approach to complex three-dimensional electronic assemblies proposed by Hexabitz is only possible because each single module has its own MCU (notably to run the wired-mesh network) and can be used without an external controller.

Hence, departing from the traditional and archaic modular approach that consists in having a single controller board connected to multiple dumb peripheral boards (often stacked vertically), Hexabitz leverages today's inexpensive MCUs to embed computing resources in each PCB. Indeed, apart from simple power sources, all Hexabitz modules feature a small, low-power ARM Cortex-M0 MCUs for customization and connectivity.

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