Jonathan Bobrow's AutomaTiles design, upon first sight, had me humming the title track from my favorite album by one of my favorite band for obvious reasons. Jonathan's style is lovely, and the concept is very cool. Kind of like my aforementioned favorite band, The Fleshtones.

We owe Jonathan, because his design had us testing our process with some new curveballs thrown at it. His design uses a total of 12 "side-lookers", or sideways facing components - six phototransistors, and six LEDs. The interesting part is that side-lookers don't necessarily have copper pads on the bottom of the component, which makes them an interesting challenge.

So, unlike most of our previous placements, it didn't Just Work. But the good news is that anyone else with side-lookers will inherit the great results that our tweaked software and process produced for this initial test run of boards.

Just to share some helpful tips, you can see in the extreme closeup that Q1, a phototransistor, has a lovely solder joint on it. This is largely due to the manufacturer's suggested land pattern, which allows the proper amount of paste to be applied such that we'll get that lovely solder joint. D1, the LED in the picture, has a pretty nice solder joint, but not perfect.

So, taking another look at things, you may note that the LED pads are a lot smaller than the phototransistor pads. Worse yet, they're situated in such a way that most of the paste on the pads will never touch copper at all. And here's the kicker - Jonathan actually made his pads bigger than the manufacturer's suggested land pattern, which is why he got pretty decent results. Nicely done, Jonathan.

So the lesson? Sometimes the datasheet is not correct for your application, especially for weirdo components. Yeah, I'm looking at you, IR26 LED - you're weird.

We had some other bumps in the road, too. While the backside of these test units looks really nice, sharp-eyed readers will note that the battery holders are, well, rotated 180° from where they should be. And while that may seem like a big goof, consider that every single job that we've run, thus far, has had at least one orientation error in the design files. In fact, this is one of the reasons why getting electronics manufactured is expensive, especially in short runs.

We missed this one. But as our beta testers are going to find out, we have an amazing fix for this. December can't come soon enough.

We also have to thank Jonathan for taking the time to stop by and say hello. We'd say that he's the nicest guy, but so far, everyone we've encountered through early access has been.