These days, if you want to start learning about FPGAs, it can be a daunting experience. There’s a huge variety of different platforms and devboards and it can be difficult to know where to start. [RoGeorge] decided to take a different tack. Like a 16-year-old drag racer, he decided to run what he brung – a printer control panel cum FPGA development board (Romanian, get your Google Translate on).
[RoGeorge] was lucky enough to score a couple of seemingly defective control panels from HP Laserjets discarded by his workplace. Seeing potentially good parts going to waste, like keypads and LCDs, he decided to investigate them further – finding a 50,000 gate Xilinx Spartan IIE running the show. Never one to say no to opportunity, [RoGeorge] dived in to learning how to work with FPGAs.
The forum posts are a great crash course in working with this sort of embedded FPGA platform. [RoGeorge] covers initial mapping of the peripherals on the board & finding a JTAG connector and programming solution, before moving on to basic FPGA programming and even covers the differences between sequential programming on microcontrollers and the parallel operation of FPGAs. Even if you don’t intend to get down and dirty with the technology, spend half an hour reading these posts and you’ll be far more knowledgeable about how they work!
The PCB design itself is great. It’s got a gigantic LED array, cutout for a wrist strap, and an onboard USB plug so you can program it just by sticking it in your computer; it shows up as a USB mass storage device when you plug it in. The files that show up on the “drive” are Micropython code that you can edit, save, and then run directly on the device. You can hardly beat that for convenience.
And there’s a full complement of sensors: not one but two temperature and humidity sensors, including our recent favorite BME280, which also reads barometric pressure. (We suspect that makes it a tri-corder.) There’s a real-time clock, a buzzer, and some buttons. Want to add more sensors? I2C ports are broken out for your convenience.
Besides having Star Trek flair, this board would give the various educational platforms a run for their money: Micro:bit, we’re looking at you. Very cool indeed!
[Johan]’s setup pairs an ESP8266-12 module with an Arducam, which looks like essentially an SPI breakout board for the ubiquitous small CMOS image sensors. The board naturally has a power supply and headers for programming the ESP module as well as connectors galore. Flash in some camera code, and you’ve got a custom WiFi webcam. Pretty slick.
But since [Johan] designed the ESP-8266 board with standard female headers connecting to the ESP, it could also be used as a general-purpose ESP dev board. [Johan] built a few daughterboards to go along with it, including a bed-of-nails ESP8266 tester (since you can never tell when you’re going to get a dud ESP unit) and WiFi-to-RFM69 radio bridge. That’s two awesome applications for a tidy little system, and a reminder to design for extensibility when you’re laying out your own projects.
We’ve previously covered [Johan]’s Skygrazer project, which tracks planes as they fly overhead and displays them on a gutted old Mac. Is it any surprise, then, that he’s also created an ADS-B-controlled moodlight? This guy is on fire!
[Vsergeev] tipped us about a neat Cortex-M0 based development board with a total BoM cost under $15. It’s called the ARM Bare Metal Widget (ARM-BMW), focuses on battery power, non-volatile storage and debuggability.
The chosen micro-controller is the 50MHz NXP LPC1114DH28 which provides the user with 32kB of Flash, 8kB of SRAM, a 6 channel ADC and I2C/SPI/UART interfaces among others. The ARM-BMW contains a 2Mbyte SPI flash, an I2C I/O expander, several headers for expansion/debug purposes, 4 LEDs, 2 buttons, 2 DIP switches and finally a JTAG/SWD header for flashing and debugging. As you can see in the picture above you may either populate your own HC49UP crystal or use the internal 12MHz RC oscillator.
The platform can be powered using either a USB cable or a LiPo battery. As you can guess it also includes a much-needed battery charger (the MCP73831T) and a switched capacitor DC/DC converter to supply 3.3V. You may find all the files on the hardware or software repositories.
There is a wide assortment of cheap development (dev) boards for Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLD), the smaller cousin of the Field Programmable Logic Array (FPLA)
Using an inexpensive board and the development software that’s free to download from the major programmable companies such as Xilinx and Altera, the only additional thing needed is a programmer module. Cheap ones are available on Ebay but I am hoping that someone takes the time to teach an ARM/Arduino to step in as a programmer.
I have a small collection of dev boards including some Ebay specials and also designs I did a few years ago to choose from. For today I am grabbing a newer board that has not been fully checked out yet; an Altera Max V device. I have stuffed the CPLD, the clock oscillator, some LED’s and part of the onboard power supply along with the JTAG header needed to program the CPLD and that’s about it.
[Valentin] recently tipped us about an FPGA development board he just finished. It is called the FleaFPGA and is aimed to get people interested in the world of Field Programmable Gate Arrays. One of the other reasons that also got [Valentin] to design his own board was that he was frustrated with the existing solutions, them being either too pricey or fairly spare in terms of connectivity.
The main components that you can see in the platform shown above are: a lattice MachX02-7000HE FPGA (6864LUTs), 256Mbits of SDRAM, a USB2.0 host port, a 4096-color VGA connector, a 3.5mm stereo connector, an SD/MMC card slot, a PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port, a few push buttons and LEDs. An expansion header is also present in order to connect the FleaFPGA to future shields that will be developed. Unfortunately only the board schematics have been released and [Valentin] is currently aiming for a price of $60 per board for <100 quantities. You’ll be able to see a video of the board in action after the break, in which the FPGA has been loaded with a 68000 software core running a variation of the Amiga Juggler Demo.
Some hackers have managed to convert an STM32 development into a Sega Master System emulator. This means Sonic the Hedgehog running on an ARM Cortex-M4.
This hack has a number of parts. First, [Alessandro Rocchegiani] showed off a video of his Sega Master System emulator running on the STM32F429 Discovery development board. This first version used the on board 2.4″ TFT LCD screen.
[Fabrice] was working with this STM32 Discovery board already. He had developed an expansion board that added a number of features to the development kit, including an R-2R DAC for video output. When [Fabrice] found out about the Sega Master System emulator, he worked with [Alessandro] and his son [Fabrizio] to get VGA output working. They also added support for the Wii controller using [Fabrice]’s Wii library. The result is a Sega Master System emulator with VGA output at 640 x 480, with 16 bit color and Wii controller support.
You can watch a video of both the LCD and VGA versions of the hack after the break.