Colleges that are interested in accessing this impressive tool can contact the closest college and sign an expression of interest. There are no monetary requirements, and the only facilities needed are to have 25 computers with the Internet facility and decent bandwidth. The existing team will train the faculty and conduct demonstrations. The Centre for System Design is a centre of excellence (CoE) at NITK, Surathkal, which hosts SOLVE Virtual Lab (solve.nitk.ac.in). The national portal for virtual lab is www.vlab.co.in, where about 100 virtual labs are ready to use.

Virtual electronics design through apps
Autodesk has also brought out their own free tool in the form of Autodesk 123D Circuits. Allowing users to design, compile and simulate electronics projects for free without burning your Arduino, it is a great way to get started with electronics design.

An interesting feature of this tool is that it allows users to choose from breadboard, schematic or PCB editor views while working on the design.

In addition to that, the editor allows multiple users to work together as a team, thus making it more fun. You can access this tool at 123dapp.com, where you can also find similar tools for creating 3D models and mashups.

Indian tools are equally amazing in this area. For instance, DoCircuits is an amazing tool built by Bengaluru based Sparsha Learning Technologies Pvt Ltd. It allows you to build circuits, and then test and measure these through lab equipment in a safe simulated environment. Their website docircuits.com allows you to build your first circuit immediately without having to register or go through any of those hassles related with online tools.

If you search deep enough, you can also find browser based design tools that have component supplier integration built into these. For instance, PartSim.com allows you to use its SPICE simulator, AC/DC/transient simulations and waveform viewers to design schematics, which would later be converted into a bill of materials (BOM) by integration with electronic components distributor, Digi-Key.

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One particular tool that has received a lot of media attention is CircuitLab, which has been complimented for its user interface and other features like smarter connection lines to connect components, higher-definition schematics and symbol creation, apart from its simulation, plotting and support for behavioural sources and expressions through programmable algebraic sources, which means that you get to play around with programmable voltage and current sources.

If you are looking for branded ones, NI has an electronics workbench that comes with schematic capture and circuit simulation software.

If you are the kind of person who prefers mobile devices like a smartphone or tablet rather than a PC, there are many apps available for simulating circuits too. Ones like iCircuit will cost you Rs. 600 in Apple App Store, but it comes with a ton of features including always-on simulation and over 30 elements that can be used to build your circuit.

In addition to these components, the app also features virtual equipment like multimeters and oscilloscopes to read values or track signals. This app is also available on Windows Store, Google Play and as a Windows Phone app.

What next
With most software development companies going agile, virtual labs and simulation are certainly the most preferred way industries are aligning their software development, debugging, testing, verification and validation. “Simulation results are assisting hardware teams in identifying design issues, thereby reducing iterations. Virtual hardware are also helping support legacy systems, thereby extending the life cycle of products,” adds Kumar.

Next-generation system-level EDA tools will incorporate more in-depth knowledge based design know-how to help engineers at all levels of design expertise to design a switched mode power supply like a power pro. The design tool will complete a design from specifications to schematics and BOM. It should significantly cut design time from a few days/weeks to a few minutes. “This will eventually help achieve ‘first time right’ design through precise modelling and predicting electronic hardware behaviour to further save or eliminate design iteration efforts, especially on the costly hardware-implementation side,” adds Guo.

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