VirtualWire: Supporting Rapid Prototyping with Instant Reconfigurations of Wires in Breadboarded Circuits

Woojin Lee
Ramkrishna Prasad
Seungwoo Je
Yoonji Kim
Ian Oakley
Daniel Ashbrook
Andrea Bianchi
TEI 2021.
Best Paper Award
Physical Computing

Assembling circuits is a challenging and time consuming activity for novice makers, frequently resulting in incorrect placements of wires and components into breadboards. This results in errors that are difficult to identify and debug, and delays that hinder creating, exploring or reconfiguring circuit layouts. This paper presents VirtualWire, a tool that allows users to rapidly design and modify circuits in software and have these changes instantiated in real-time as electrical connections on a physical breadboard. To achieve this, VirtualWire dynamically translates circuit design files into physical connections inside a hardware switching matrix, which handles wiring across breadboard rows and to/from an embedded Arduino. The user can interactively test, tune, and share different circuit layouts for an Arduino shield, and once satisfied, can fabricate the circuit on a permanent substrate. Quantitative and qualitative user studies demonstrate that VirtualWire significantly reduces the time taken for (by 37%), and the number of errors made during (by 53%) circuit assembly, while also supporting users in creating readable, space-efficient and flexible layouts.