I’ve always been amazed at the power and most importantly the flexibility of an FPGA (Field-Programmable gate array). I first learned about the FPGA after spending uncountable hours connecting jumper wires between several 74xx series IC’s in my undergrad digital logic course.
One giant pile of reconfigurable logic. Brilliant! Goodbye hours of tedious, mind-numbing wire jumpers and handfuls of discrete IC’s. Hello satisfyingly fast, rapid development!
My first thought was how do I get my hands on one of these FPGA widgets? It turns out that the easiest way is to shell out anywhere from $100 to $10,000 (I kid you not) for an evaluation/development board.
These development kits are great for getting you up and running: Plug in the power, the USB programming cable and type out some Verilog code and you have a sweet blinky light! However, the main problem with the development board is that it encapsulates all the details of the FPGA behind the curtain. These dev boards leave a large gap between learning the basics, and actually developing a standalone project.
Enter the Saturn Project.
A few months back I came across an excellent breakout board for the Altera Cyclone II FPGA over at SparkFun. Coming in at just $79.95, this will be a great starting point to prototype standalone FPGA projects. Down the line when you want to buy the FPGA by itself, it will cost you about $20 and comes in a QFP package, which means it’s hand solderable!
The goal of the Saturn Project is to create a core FPGA architecture that will allow me to quickly develop derivative projects. The focus of the Project is to get an FPGA workhorse, with all the proper voltage regulators, clocks and a USB interface to my PC, with fast data transfer rates. Some additional possibilities include on-board FPGA configuration, wireless connectivity and ARM/PIC interoperability. (Don’t want to have a separate ARM/PIC IC? You can drop a RISC soft-processor into the FPGA!)
Once this main project is completed, I can move onto some of my more ambitions ideas.
It has taken me awhile to get all this going, but now the Adventure begins…
- Real Time Video and Image capture and processing.
- Playing around with Analog-to-Digital Converters… hopefully culminating in a waveform capture tool (Read: cheap mixed signal oscilloscope).
- LED/LCD Drivers.
- Wireless Mote Data Logging