Cheaper FPGA boards are getting closer

Michael Dunn have done a research on FPGA boards available for less than $100. We all know that hobby market is always looking for low price hardware to do amazing projects. We already have almost free microcontroller boards including 8-bit and 32-bit ARM. FPGA always were was behind barrier. Not things seems to changing.

AltDE0

Today you can get quit several FPGA boards for your projects that are under $100 limit. You can find boards from Altera, Cypress, Lattice, Microsemi, Xilink and even more that aren’t listed. The lowest price you can find is like $4 for PSoC 4 FPGA board (at least more or less). In that price range you can get up to 22 kLE (logic elements). This is more than enough to run soft processor, build calculus intense projects like signal generators, scopes, signal processing modules and other projects where microcontrollers wouldn’t have enough juice. It takes some learning to get used to them, but there is quite enough tutorials to get started.

Bus Pirate ported to FPGA

Original Bus Pirate is a great tool for hacking, testing and programming things. It’s an universal serial interface board developed by Dangerous Prototypes. It is based on PIC24 microcontroller, FT232RL for USB interface and other parts to make it flexible. Eventually there has been a port of Bus Pirate to FPGA made by enthusiast from ultra-embedded.

fpga_bus_pirate

Core functionality is running on soft AltOR32 OpenRISC CPU inside Xilinx XC6SLX9 running at 48MHz. It has 1.1 USB, SPI and basic GPIO functions available. Since most of work is done inside FPGA there are even fewer components on board. The board was designed to fit in to original Bus Pirate enclosure. Using FPGA in such project has some benefits like USB. It can be implemented to support different USB devices like audio, mass storage.

Tetris in Real Life

All of you must have played a very famous game know as Tetris. This review is about ‘myTetris’ which is a giant (~6ft tall) physical version of Tetris developed by National Instruments. It features a grid of 10×20 RGb leds along with myRio. For those who don’t know myRio is an embedded hardware device designed specifically to help students design real, complex engineering systems more quickly and affordably than ever before. It has a dual-core ARM® Cortex™-A9 real-time processing and Xilinx FPGA customizable I/O all in a single board.

The game can be played using any browser including those of mobile and tablets. The user taps the buttons on the web-page or use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move the tetrominoes.  The web-page on your bowser also update your current score in real time. Also at the end of the game, it shows some statistics about the game performance and your final score. The LEDs are driven by a WS2801 chip using SPI which clocks in 24-bits on the data line (8 for each of red, green & blue) and then passes any subsequent bits to the next WS2801 chip in the strand. A really nice piece of Game from people at National Instruments.

Small autonomous quad drone does some powerful processing

Quad copters are available everywhere. You can get any entry level drone for cheap but still they are fun to play. Once you’re done with simple flying and observing you start to want more. This is where real fun begins. Some focus on adding more sensors and programming complex flight plans, other try to make a collaborative swarm of drones and even more. But most crazy ideas are born at universities. Check out an interesting project developed by Aeronoutics and Astronautics department student from Tokyo.

Drone is equipped with all standard quad rotor equipment like 3 axis accelerometer, gyros, compass. This is what allows to keep quad stable. ARM cortex-M4 keeps track of the systems. But most processing is done by Spartan-6 FPGA board which takes images with small camera and localizes itself by doing image processing. It gives great performance considering small drone size.