Software Engineer Recreates Singapore MRT on a Circuit Board
PCBs are used for any electronic gadget, from your smartphone to industrial equipment such as electric drills. They can also be used by hobbyists who want to build their own electronics projects such as in the case of Arduino.
Singaporean software engineer Chai Jia Xun has recently used a PCB in an interesting manner. He created a palm-sized trinket prototype of the Singapore MRT, including the new Thomson-East Coast MRT line.
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Chai has been an employee at Silicon Valley for at least three years. As a graduate of the NUS School of Computing, he says that his education wasn’t at all related to PCBs. However, his interest in train system maps and PCBs led him to create the prototype. He also revealed that he made the MRT prototype for the sole reason that it looks cool. Chai learned mostly from YouTube and used free software to start making his PCB projects.
He worked on the prototype on and off for five months. Chai looked at his project as more of art rather than simply electronics and circuitry. In fact, he only built the front part, which details the MRT with LED lights. However, everyone he showed it to asked him if it also lights up, which led to him designing the backlighting panel as well.
Chai relayed how the back was harder to work on, and he had to do more research to figure out how circuits worked. For the palm-sized board, PCB design synchronization was particularly important since it allowed Chai to streamline all the different parts of the board to create a more fluid design flow. When a PCB's component parameters are taken into consideration, electronic parts can be efficiently categorized and assigned to suit the designer's needs. As Chai would come to find out, optimized components make for a better overall design.
More importantly, this enabled his creation to light up. The lighting panel also contains an onboard microcontroller, which helps control the lighting of individual MRT lines.
He posted photos of his creation on Reddit on July 5, and it garnered a lot of attention within 24 hours. People were highly receptive, giving it hundreds of upvotes and even asking if he would sell it. Chai expressed that he doesn’t plan on making a business out of it, since he wants to move on to new projects as well. However, he is thinking of selling a few prototypes after he improves the original version.
One of the things he wants to initially do is use LED lights to color code respective lines. Unfortunately, the PCB doesn’t have enough space for him to work with RGB LEDs. Since small RGB LEDs are a relatively new innovation, Chai has taken to putting colored paper in between the boards. He has also been asked if it’s possible to use the prototype as a guide, connecting to the actual MRT to tell commuters which station they’re in. But the LEDs are not individually addressable, and any attempt to do so will need a bigger and more expensive PCB.
Currently, Chai has also already started working on trinket PCBs of the San Francisco Bay area and Tokyo metro system maps.
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