Wanted: CLI EDA

That’s command-line interface electronic design automation.

I’m surprised that hardware engineers design schematics and circuit boards graphically. By that I mean that they drag shapes around in a GUI editor. Behind the scenes all the polygons and line segments are being represented much more simply as Component A, Pin 1 being connected to Component B, Pin 2, or Component C at position (X, Y) on the surface of the board. Nobody in software design seriously uses graphical editors to make software, and if they do, it still gets checked into source control as plain-text, diff-able files.

As you can probably tell, I’ve gotten sick of EAGLE, and my evening investigating KiCad did not go well, partly because I tried it on OS X. I’m intrigued by gEDA, because the project origins suggest it has been designed by people who appreciate the modularity of Unix tools. The gEDA-generated, human-readable design files of the Diavolino suggest that it’s close to what I have in mind.

I don’t know the first thing about autorouting algorithms, but I wonder whether schematic and PCB layout could be looked at as a constraint-solving problem. Component A scores higher when it’s placed toward the middle of the board, Capacitor B’s traces can’t be longer than N millimeters from Component C’s Vcc/GND pins, etc. A friend suggested I look at Minion, which seems to be in the right ballpark. I think it’d be cool to edit a bunch of text source-code files (just like VHDL!), compile them, see a PNG of the schematic and/or PCB, and then spit out Gerbers when satisfied. I could fit circuit design more closely into the software-design workflow I’ve gotten accustomed to.