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Laptop Computer Electric Circuit Simulator

I've been thinking about a gadget that could be plugged into a laptop computer, such as the one I'm using to type out this page on, that could make the conceptualisation (or, in Bill-speak, make it easier to knock up a prototype & test it) of many different circuit boards, but without actually having any of the electrical components at all, or, in fact a circuit board.
** I'm not sure if a gadget like this exists already, and if it does I'm terribly sorry for repeating something that's been done before.

Anyway, my idea is simple in application, slightly complex in implementation ...
There's two main parts to the Simulator -
- The software, mentioned in a little detail below.
- The hardware. A box (size undetermined, but I'd guess about 2/3's the size of a conventional laptop computer) that contains a number of transistors & opamps, etc. It'd have a number of 'input' lines and a number of 'output' lines. The inputs would sense the volts, amps, resistance, frequency, etc, and the software would interpret those inputs to determine what the output lines would put out.

The software would be a Windows based (unfortunately, though no doubt Linux would be better!) for the mass market and it would be mainly a graphically run program. So, for example, to generate a simple circuit such as a timer that uses the ubiquitous 555 IC chip, all you'd have to do is to start with a blank screen (blank, as in the same fashion as a 'new page' with a word processor, etc) and add the 555 chip, resistors, capacitors, etc, as you want on a virtual circuit board on the screen. Draw in the circuit tracks as you need. The right hand side of the screen would have a 'menu bar', where you could pick the parts you want, such as the 555 chip. The software would know what each of the chips & it's pins do, so it could re-create the chip in software, then reproduce the chip's output by means of the hardware box attached to the laptop.

So, the Simulator could be used for (at least) two purposes -
- The simulation of an intended circuit, without having to build it. Once 'built', the circuit could then be very quickly altered as desired. Since the software could simulate the outputs, given known (simulated, if necessary) inputs, a complete circuit board could be made and tested without having having to build a real one first. (and then make changes if it's wrong)
- It could be used to replace failed circuits in service, if needed. This is the main reason for making it a laptop, as they are relatively small and so can be used in odd places.

So, as usual, it's probably just a crazy idea, but I think that it would be a pretty handy one for the serviceman and teacher, etc.

*****  P.S - I've been talking to a friend of mine in the electronics business, and he says that there is already gadgets like this around, and has been since the mid eighties or so ...
Oh, well, at least I thought of it without any external help!
On to the -
- Geothermal power plant
- Anti-aircraft missile system
- Horizontally opposed diesel aircraft engine
- Different electric car
- Listening spy device
- Super cooler device
- Radar Jammer
- Land speed record car contender
- Water speed record contender

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