EMD2021: Smart-Float

European Maritime Day in Cyprus 2021

In Larnaca, 17-21 June 2021, there was this great event, where we had the opportunity to show our latest developments for the MARI-Sense project in collaboration with CMMI.

On Sunday 21 of June, at Europe Square CMMI and MARI-Sense exhibited various vehicles for maritime applications.

The underwater remote controlled robotic vehicle (ROV) has the capability to provide underwater images or use manipulators to perform delicate actions as required for research or other applications.

EMD2021: CMMI ROV Exhibit
Front view of the CMMI’s Robotic Underwater Vehicle

A smart-boat is also developed named “Kerkouros” from the ancient Cyprus ship with oars. “Kerkouros” is under development with the ultimate goal to be an autonomous surface vehicle; a challenging task for the development team.

EMD2021: Smart-Boat "Kerkouros" Exhibit
Prototype of Autonomous Smart Boat Developed at CMMI

For helping development efforts for the MARI-Sense project another platform was exhibited, the Smart-Float. The Smart Float will be used as a technology evaluation platform, where different sensors will be mounted and tested along with radio links, like WiFi, LoRa, thrusters, maneuverability, or other technologies and embedded systems. This platform will help improve the know-how of the team and will lead to new improved models. The main advantage of this platform is its low-cost and large transport capacity (more than 20Kgr net for payload). The team is already thinking of other potential applications where this platform can be used effectively. AI Zerocaliber Ltd is involved with this platform from the concept phases till now, helping with the hull and system design, and specific embedded components.

EMD2021: Smart-Float
Smart-Float Platform Shown During EMD-2021 Event

For more information on the MARI-Sense project you may check the project’s website.

MARI-Sens Logo

MARISENSE Experiment #1

Last May we conducted the first experiment of the program. Purpose was to create a dataset of underwater sounds and respective surface images, that would be used to develop and test our algorithms. Various kinds of equipment were used, from RIBs, Sailboats up to underwater ROVs and gliders. You can take a taste of the process on how the experiment was conducted and at the same time hear the respective underwater sounds.

Embedded Hour, Episode 02

In May 2020, we presented a compact heterogeneous computing embedded platform.

The platform is based on a coldfire Microcontroller and a Spartan6 LX9 device all put on a two layer board. Simple and effective. We also demonstrated two of the prototype systems live showing the configuration of the FPGA from the microcontroller and then the seamless register mapping into the microcontroller memory space.

Perseus CLE goes DVI

Some time ago I wanted to test the capabilities of the PerseusCLE board. I created an expansion card which supported motor drivers for DC Brushed or Stepper motors, Analog front ends etc.

I always wanted to try and output a DVI/HDMI signal using TMDS and I knew that my spartan 6 device was capable of doing this. However when I initially designed PerseusCLE, I did not think at all trying this, I just wanted a strip-down version of my bulky PerseusCFE to a more cost effective solution.

What are these CLE/CFE stand for anyway? Well I started with CFE: Coldfire Full Edition.

Perseus Coldfire Full Edition
Perseus CFE Board

This board had all the bells and whistles I wanted at the time. Dual switching power supplies (logic and motor power), second crystal for the FPGA clock, SDRAM on FPGA, Ethernet connectivity, USB connectivity, SD Card, CANBus, model servo PWM outputs and lot’s of Olimex UEXT connectors for UEXT modules. All in just 2 layers PCB.

The board is large and I wanted something smaller and cheaper. Hence I decided to strip down many of the features of the Full Edition, creating the CLE: Coldfire Light Edition.

Perseus CLE Board
Perseus CLE Board

Features reduced to a minimum, like SDCard, native USB only, no separate FPGA clock (used same clock as MCU), still many connectors and a single switching power supply.

So designing the expansion board, I thought to give it a try and add an HDMI connector with a crystal oscillator to provide the missing external clock to my FPGA. I tried to match signal length for the TMDS signals from the FPGA to the expansion board as initially did not plan to have equal signal lengths up to the PerseusCLE connectors. It wasn’t my intention to drive so high speed signals back then. I needed to use Excel and measuring the length on the main board and calculating what was the actual signal length for each signal and add the corresponding missing length in the I/O board. Pretty challenging.

You can find how DVI/HDMI works as a concept and a Verilog implementation at FPGA4FUN. However I am using VHDL and searching the net I found various implementations some from Xilinx some from derivative works of Mike Field. I used a mix of the available sources. I liked this repo from drxzc. I also created and tested with GHDL Xilinx IP, like PLL and SERDES modules.

I was so anxious that I procrastinated to check the actual hardware. After creating the interconnections and verified that the setup was probably good, I decided to give it a try.

PerseusCLE with DVI
Perseus CLE and DVI Expansion

Although I expected to fail, I hoped for the best. Everything was wrong. The TMDS signals had to pass a simple flat cable to interconnect the boards. My reference 25MHz clock had to go with wires back to the main board. In order to reduce the effects of the signal integrity, I used a low resolution of 640×480. For simplicity I added a simple pattern generation. The idea if this worked was to replace it with video memory that the microcontroller would write. The bit rate in the data lanes would be 10 times my 25MHz clock giving 250Mbps per lane. This is where the TV shows says: “Don’t do this at home, experiment executed by Experts”. Well I would stick on the first part: “Don’t do this at home”; I see no expert around….

I put my FPGA configuration to my SDCard and modified COFILOS code to load this DVI configuration. I checked that my reference clock was running. My poor 100MHz DPO had not a good chance to capture the high speed data lanes of the serializers outputs.

DVI Test Setup

When my full setup was up an running I connected the HDMI cable… Silence. Excitement. Fear. Waiting to see the result. Nope, needed to select the correct HDMI input at the television. Ok. Let’s see. Oh!

Test monitor with noisy pattern displayed
My test monitor with the noisy test pattern on it

It worked! Well not as it should, but given the circumstances and the implementation I had to follow I am more than happy. The next boards would be tailored to provide proper signal integrity and produce a clean signal.

I did a small redesign in my VHDL to make sure that the issue I was looking, was not related to internal FPGA timings, instead of driving with my test pattern generator I tried driving a constant RGB value. Retrying this on another monitor I had very similar results. I need more specialized hardware to drive it with proper signal integrity and clock signals. No surprise.

At a later time, I also tried to use the internal PLL to generate my clock frequencies. I was not happy with my external 25MHz clock running around. I also did some modifications on my VHDL code as follows .

First I created generics input for the various VESA timings. Now the design is parametric. I also changed the color values to be zero during sync. To reduce timing issues on place and route I also used registered outputs from the Test Pattern Generator.

I started the experiments again with either clock coming from my MCU and create the clock frequencies using the PLL, but still got same results.

Perseus CLE board driving the DVI signals
DVI Setup, 2nd try

As this setup had the same behavior as the original configuration, I reverted to the external 25MHz clock. It seems that this worked after the last changes! I had my DVI output on my monitor. Sometimes tweaking with the HDMI cable could lose the stability of my signal, or maybe the stability of my clock signal going around with cables was not good enough to have a good output, but nevertheless, the proof of concept was completed.

Working DVI
Working DVI pattern

It was really fun to work with SERDES and proprietary vendor IPs and see how they actually work. Really getting into these details provide a good background for other applications.

7th ict Handshake event

Last Friday (2020-05-15) in the 7th ICT handshake organized by University Of Nicosia we presented technologies that will be used for the Mari-Sense project. In this presentation we explained the function and design process of embedded systems and how these will be used to enhance processing at the edge (in Greek).