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.


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.

FPGA driven reflow oven

Almost every electronics now have SMD parts on it. Hobbyist sector is no exception. Sometimes parts only come in SMT packages and there is no way to avoid. If you need to solder few of them, maybe you can get away with soldering iron and a bit patience. But for larger batches maybe it is better to use reflow soldering technique. This is nothing more than baking circuits in oven. One thing is important here – temperature and timing. Instead of doing this manually, better leave this process to control circuit.


Hamster though it would be fun project to make an oven controlled by FPGA. He programmed temperature stages as finite state machine. Temperature is monitored by using thermocouple. Heater element is switched on/off with solid state relay. The other part of electronics is less critical like LED display, RS232 logging. As initial tests showed, good oven isn’t enough. Proper paste dispenser is also critical for smooth solder joints. But with some practice or by simply using stencils results sould be much better.