How PCBs Have Changed The World

A pcb (printed circuit board) is a mechanical support for electronic components. It uses conductive tracks or pads that are etched from copper, zirconia, or silicon, that are then laminated with a non-conducive substrate. The resistors or capacitors are then soldered on with a resinous adhesive substance like amber or rosin. With today’s advanced pcb technology and circuit design software it’s possible to layer up to 12 printed circuit boards on top of each other for the kind of advanced capability needed for spacecraft and supercomputers. The simpler kinds of pcbs are called breakout boards.

If we didn’t have pcbs the modern world would hardly be able to function. Aircraft would not be able to take off or land in foggy weather. Algorithms, which control so many different functions in all areas of our lives, would be much slower and inaccurate. It would be impossible to carry your laptop around, because it would weigh about thirty-five pounds and be the size of an ice cooler. The Cloud would just be a madman’s dream. And programs like Google Documents, on which this piece is being written, would not exist. The mining of metadata would be next to impossible for marketers and researchers. And firewalls would be much less effective protection against hackers. Paying for purchases with your phone would be impossible.

Here’s a sample of some of the things we take for granted that have been improved dramatically by pcb technology:

Digital cameras

Your tablet and your cell phone camera have a pcb in them. That’s why they can be so small, yet take HD images and excellent video that competes with anything a professional photographer/videographer can do. And how did we ever survive before we possessed the ability to take, and share, selfies?

The latest model smartphones have not just one, but TWO cameras embedded in it. One for portrait/closeup work, and the other for panoramic views. This is only possible because pcbs have gotten smaller and more powerful. Experts predict that the separate SLR digital camera may become completely obsolete within in the next few years.

One of the greatest benefits of the nearly microscopic pcb digital camera is their use in medicine. These tiny cameras can be used to explore inside the human body for cancers, ruptures, lesions, blocked arties, and a host of other internal maladies without the need for invasive, painful, expensive, and dangerous surgery.

The 3D printer

The 3D printer, often called “The First Miracle of the Twenty-First Century,” would not be possible without the express help of the smallest and strongest possible pcbs to run it’s intricate circuitry and express dozens of complex algorithms that each line of material laid down requires. From a simple two dimensional blueprint a three dimensional item can be manufactured without the use of human labor.

The automated house

The list just goes on and on of how pcbs are enabling a paradigm shift that may have repercussions for generations to come. New homes now feature built-in thermostats that work on voice command. Solar panels on the roof will rotate automatically to catch the most sun, and either store the energy or use it up immediately — all without human intervention. Ultraviolet security lights will sweep the grounds to guard against intruders; the lawn will be watered automatically, and stop automatically during rainfall. You won’t be using a conventional key to let yourself in. Voice-activated or fingerprint identifying locks will give you the kind of home security only dreamed about just a few years before.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.