Our company is a proud partner of the MARI-Sense project.
The project is co-financed with 1 Million Euro by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Research and Innovation Foundation with grant number INTEGRATED/0918/0032
Our company will be involved in this project for edge processing devices and autonomous vehicles.
Hardware and Firmware development is essential for the age of Internet of Things or for the more traditional term embedded systems. Recently more and more processing is required to be performed closer at the physical locations where the sensory or IoT devices exist, called edge processing. The traditional way of developing such systems is using application processor systems running on Linux.
Development of such products is fast due to the ecosystem using commercially available platforms and proof of concept projects are easy to achieve; However when someone tries to make the necessary modifications to create a custom product, comply with certifications and perform changes required to make it a viable product, soon he/she may fail short, as:
There is not much control for customizing the core boards; Design from scratch is the only option if a single board is needed
The base hardware is complicated for the majority of applications
Highly skilled hardware engineers and sophisticated tools are needed
Cost for production of a custom featured PCB usually is much higher for individual production
Critical parts are hard to source in small quantities
Designs may not be efficient from power or performance perspective
So many times we are obliged to
select and change parts because of the limitations of our mainstream
microcontrollers to a higher end one or we need to add external logic and
circuits to accommodate richer input-output architecture.
Wouldn’t be great to have a uniform
polymorphism platform that can scale easily to work with for the majority of
Another aspect that is considered is
design verification. Embedded systems usually need to have real-time
performance, thus classic debugging (step-through) under real-time conditions
is not always possible or is an additional challenge. Stack checking on RTOS or
timings are not easily observed with accuracy without an impact on performance.
Wouldn’t be great to have a much easier time to debug embedded systems?
Microcontrollers offer a small footprint system with high level of integration (memories, peripherals etc), but sometimes the internal peripherals or the processing capacity are not adequate to tackle with more demanding applications. FPGA on the other side are more flexible and capable but usually they are not the best for control flows and require more knowledge for development. Edge processing sometimes require a higher processing capacity at a lower power rate.
We created an embedded platform with its firmware ecosystem, that allows fast application development, without compromising the later steps for final production. In order to combine the benefits of both microcontrollers and FPGAs the PerseusCLE was built.
This platform provides the following key features:
Simple 2 or 4 layer PCB, which is within a medium skilled engineer to modify
Programmable Hardware to create custom peripherals and interfaces
A firmware framework that allows fast development in C language
A compact and extensible platform
Support of External Hardware parts for specific interfaces (motors, servos etc)
Wide range DC 9-36V ac/dc supply voltage
MCF52258 Coldfire @48MHz, 512KB Flash, 64KB RAM
Spartan XC6S-9LT FPGA @48MHz
24MB/sec Link between MCU-FPGA, memory mapped
RTOS based design framework
Developed with and supporting TDD or Unit Testing
Olimex UEXT Connectors for external modules
The platform allows for companies or individuals to develop prototypes fast, but at the same time provide easier migration to a final product, with parts and designs that can be manipulated by a medium skilled engineer.
The programmable hardware can provide one more level of expansion thus providing a more reach peripheral set than the ones included in of the shelf microcontrollers.
This is a simple universal design that integrates a microcontroller
and an FPGA in order to perform hardware acceleration, functional and I/O
expansion, or design verification of an embedded system, using a minimum amount
The two major parts are interlinked with a high speed connection to enable FPGA mapping inside the microcontroller’s memory space, giving programming simplicity for the firmware, while achieving high speed transfers, and allows use of the internal MCU DMA. Eventually this provides a two chip solution and simple two layers PCB which allows low cost on low production quantities.
To support the potential uses of the hardware a firmware stack is also provided, that enables programming the FPGA configuration from the SD card, and provides the access methods to the FPGA side along with drivers for Serial, USB, SD, FATFS etc. The stack is based on a modified version of FunkOS RTOS, and the extensions provided are developed using TDD to ensure high quality and reliability of the system.
Using FPGAs moves the programmable barrier lower to the
layer stacking of a product.
On the left side we see the traditional CPU stack. If we upgrade the CPU we need to change the Driver/OS layer to fit the new CPU/Hardware
On the right side the FPGA device is replaced. We need to “recompile” the FPGA-Logic (Program) to the new device. Driver/OS do not need to change!
The FPGA VHDL code flow for simulation uses UVVM and OSVVM to support a solid verification strategy. Along with the hardware, we provide source code with examples for the microcontroller, and example VHDL interface.
This platform can be used very effectively for the following
As the hardware is flexible, controlling multiple motors and
acquiring sensor data from multiple sensors, make this platform ideal. The MCU
can be off-loaded from low-level motor driving, while concentrating on the main
control system. The FPGA can handle the low level functions along with the
sensor fusion for multiple sources (ie. camera).
Having a platform that can handle more motors can create a more
capable 3D printer or even a 3D printer in combination with a lathe. Again the
high level functions can run on the controller while the FPGA keeps track of
the precision in time.
The video signals stopped to be analog and transformed to high-speed
interfaces. The Spartan 6 series can handle these and create video input or
output generators (or a combination there-off) while the microcontroller can
handle the content (ie. transfer it through the USB). No more complex CPU high
frequency arrangements are required.
As the FPGA can offer a high degree of parallelization, applications that require a high number of parallel units or hardware acceleration are good candidates for this platform. For example this platform is going to be used in the MARI-Sens project for signal classification at the edge.
Controlling a divert number of actuators and sensors hasn’t be
easier. Controlling Stepper motors, LED arrays, BLDC or gathering sensor data
from different sources can be done easily. The FPGA can include the low level
logic of control and pre-processing while the MCU handles the control and
connectivity side of the application.
Embedded Design Verification For many applications the FPGA is overkill device to have. However you may be able to test the real-time embedded firmware, without any performance impact if you use the FPGA for capturing processor data. For example stack checking in hardware is very efficient and accurate. So you can use the combined system to trace events, check stacks, and any other aspects of your embedded system before you deploy it and gain more confidence of the quality of your product.
Well, why should I use this platform
while I can get similar setups from the FPGA vendors? I can get single or dual
ARM cores along with a larger set of available logic.
This is true, however, these solution are micro-processor based and not micro-controller based. The devices are huge BGA, and they still need a lot of peripherals to make it work (SDRAM, Flash etc). Our solution offers a two-chip solution (MCU and FPGA) which is more compact and less power hungry and within design reach of a small or medium sized company.
What is the advantage over
microcontroller based solution that contains logic?
Using an external FPGA device your solution is not bonded to a specific microcontroller or FPGA device. The split architecture allows more flexibility. You can scale up capacity for example using the same footprint (just replace the FPGA with a higher capacity logic one), or you may decide you need another processor (ie. Coldfire or Kinetis) that support the same inter-chip interface.
If you are interested to learn more send us a message.