A team of Canadian students has scooped this year’s James Dyson Award for its design of a small portable machine, which prints circuit boards.
Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are ubiquitous in electronics and used in everything from smart phones to medical equipment.
To research and develop electronics PCBs need to be prototyped quickly and cheaply, but the process can be time consuming and expensive. Often circuit designs have to be sent overseas for printing and the process has to be repeated when a minor change is made to the design.
Four engineers from the University of Waterloo, Canada, saw this as a barrier for engineers, inventors and students.
Turns design files into circuits
Their solution, the Voltera V-One, is a laptop-sized PCB printer that can turn design files into prototype circuit-boards in minutes.
The product – which has similar benefits to 3D-printers – works by creating a conventional two-layer circuit board, featuring conductive and insulating inks.
It can also dispense solder paste, meaning extra components can be added to the board.
They said it couldn’t be done
Co-founder Alroy Almeida says: “When we first started the company we spoke to many experts who told us we were too ambitious and that it was impossible to create a tool that could effectively prototype circuits. We took that as a challenge.”
The team will be given £30,000 to develop the product further and co-founder Jesús Zozaya says: “We’re at a critical point with Voltera. Our parts are now being manufactured and we are about to begin a new wave of testing in our lab. The £30,000 we’ve been awarded will allow us to ramp up production and enhance testing.”
James Dyson says: “The Voltera V-One team is made up of four impressive young graduates. Their solution makes prototyping electronics easier and more accessible – particularly to students and small businesses. But it also has the potential to inspire many more budding engineers. Something I am very passionate about.”
A Taiwanese entry, Green Fairy, is one of two runners up and has been awarded £5000 for its solution to excess algae overwhelming rivers.
Green Fairy’s system of biodegradable beads containing microorganisms, consume nutrients in the water that cause the algal bloom.
The activity of the beads is self-limiting and can be controlled by the ratio of carbon and nitrogen inside. When the ratio exceeds a certain level there is no longer an excess of nutrients in the water so the microorganisms in the beads die.
The other runner up, Express Drive, came from Ireland and is a light, portable alternative to traditional scuba equipment.
A connected breathing mask and air tank means that many parts have been done away with.
When the diver is running out of air they can resurface and press a button to refill their one litre tank.