The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Sergiy Nesterenko: Automating Circuit Board Design

Sergiy Nesterenko: Automating Circuit Board Design

On automating PCB design with reinforcement learning, difficulties in PCB design automation, and dealing with skepticism.

Episode 128

I spoke with Sergiy Nesterenko about:

  • Developing an automated system for designing PCBs

  • Difficulties in human and automated PCB design

  • Building a startup at the intersection of different areas of expertise

By the way — I hit 40 ratings on Apple Podcasts (and am at 66 on Spotify). It’d mean a lot (really, a lot) if you’d consider leaving a rating or a review. I read everything, and it’s very heartening and helpful to hear what you think.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Sergiy is founder and CEO of Quilter. Sergiy spent 5 years at SpaceX developing radiation-hardened avionics for SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy's second stage rockets, before discovering a big problem: designing printed circuit boards for all the electronics in these rockets was tedious, manual and error prone. So in 2019, he founded Quilter to build the next generation of AI-powered tooling for electrical engineers.

I spend a lot of time on this podcast—if you like my work, you can support me on Patreon :)

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  • (00:00) Intro

  • (00:45) Quilter origins and difficulties in designing PCBs

  • (04:12) PCBs and schematic implementations

  • (06:40) Iteration cycles and simulations

  • (08:35) Octilinear traces and first-principles design for PCBs

  • (12:38) The design space of PCBs

  • (15:27) Benchmarks for PCB design

  • (20:05) RL and PCB design

  • (22:48) PCB details, track widths

  • (25:09) Board functionality and aesthetics

  • (27:53) PCB designers and automation

  • (30:24) Quilter as a compiler

  • (33:56) Gluing social worlds and bringing together expertise

  • (36:00) Process knowledge vs. first-principles thinking

  • (42:05) Example boards

  • (44:45) Auto-routers for PCBs

  • (48:43) Difficulties for scaling to larger boards

  • (50:42) Customers and skepticism

  • (53:42) On experiencing negative feedback

  • (56:42) Maintaining stamina while building Quilter

  • (1:00:00) Endgame for Quilter and future directions

  • (1:03:24) Outro


The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Deeply researched, technical interviews with experts thinking about AI and technology. Hosted, recorded, researched, and produced by Daniel Bashir.