Framing It: 12.3.2019

A new computer form factor that’s old as dirt! World’s smartest man doomed to failure! Embedded Go! Never trust the AI autorouter!

Brian Benchoff
Dec 3, 2019 · 3 min read

Machine learning and PCB design

  • You knew it would come to this. Someone added AI to autorouters. DeepPCB is a new company that will take your unrouted (KiCad) board and add traces. It’s an AI autorouter.
  • DeepPCB takes a file generated by KiCad — just the board and nets, without any traces. Feed that into a GPU, and you get a finished board. It’s all sponsored by Nvidia. Does it work? We don’t know yet, because there are no examples of AI-routed boards.
A Raspberry Pi-based cyberdeck, built into a Pelican case.

Cyberdecks are dope

The latest trend in portable computation isn’t a phone, a tablet, or a microcontroller embedded in a pair of glasses. It’s a Cyberdeck! What’s a Cyberdeck? It’s taken directly from Neuromancer. It’s a computer that looks like it’s from the 80s and plugs into a TV, only it has more cyber. Cyber, by the way, means hidden, and it has meant hidden since before written language.

  • There are a few standouts in the field of Cyberdecks; built a portable ‘lunchbox computer’ that’s meant to be a crash box for a network. Companies like Dolch were making similar computers back in the 90s for the same purpose.
  • Not everything is a lunchbox crash cart or a Pi shoved into a Timex Sinclair. A few people are planning to manufacture a palmtop or Ultra-mobile PC. The best looking one out there is the Pocket from Popcorn Computer. It’s a 5" display, keyboard, a few USB-C ports, and that’s about it. It also runs on the successor to the Next Thing Co. C.H.I.P., a SoC that’s effectively a Pi clone-on-a-chip.

Artificial General Intelligence

  • Now Carmack is on a new mission. He’s going to be working on artificial general intelligence. The goal of this field is to build Hal 9000 — a computer that’s just as smart as a human. It’ll pass a Turing test.
  • No one knows how to do this. No one knows how to define intelligence, and I’ve met real, actual people that can’t pass a Turing test. How’s this going to go? Well, we’re wishing Carmack the best.

Go for embedded programming

  • Microcontrollers are programmed in C, if you’re lucky. Yes, you can do Python or something sane if you want, but the vast majority of all embedded programming is in C.
  • Now there’s Go for embedded microcontrollers. Michał Derkacz built a Go compiler for (relatively) high-power STM32 microcontrollers. Why? For memory safety, probably. Maybe he wants a job at Google? Either way, all the libraries are here.


Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

Brian Benchoff

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Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

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