I get asked pretty often about how to get into FPGA design or how to become a good or even great FPGA developer. Since I get asked quite often, I decided to put my thoughts down here instead of typing it out again and again forever. I hope what I write here will help you on your journey. I think some of the content might be useful to non-FPGA developers even though I don’t really plan for it to be as such.
This article is meant for readers who have already made it through their first FPGA course, maybe they are in a masters program or they might be in the first few years of their new job as an FPGA developer. It is not really meant for beginners but might be useful for them none the less.
As a gift to my sister and her husband for their wedding I developed the electronics and firmware for a table centerpiece. The product was developed using tools and materials already familiar to me to tighten the development cycle so some component choices were not ideal but were chosen because I already had programmers on hand, code already written, or schematic and footprint libraries already created for past projects. This significantly de-risked manufacturing as many components of the product were already verified to be working giving me confidence to order boards and parts for twenty of these lamps all at once. Developed in about two weeks and all twenty assembled in a weekend this project was completed quickly as the big day was rapidly approaching when I returned to Canada after my internship in California summer of 2016.
Previously, I wrote about the Cypress PSoC5LP microcontroller that I have been playing with. The CY8C5888LTI-LP097 on the CY8CKIT-059 dev-kit can be used to make a very crude radio transmitter. Today I will be explaining how to make some simple transmissions from a PSoC to a computer equipped with an RTL-SDR and SDR# acting as our radio receiver. We will be using configurable digital hardware to create the transmitter.
NOTE: If you decide to recreate my experiment, you should take a look at your country’s regulations for radio communicating devices. For example, the FCC in the United States allows hobbyists to create and operate up to 5 low power devices without a license as long as you follow some rules. Still, be responsible and don’t operate this for any longer then you need to know it works.
I recently picked up a Cypress CY8CKIT-059 to play with for about $10 from Mouser. The kit contains a CY8C5888LTI-LP097 chip that features an ARM Cortex M3 that can run up to 80 Mhz, pretty run of the mill. However, the chip also features a small amount of CPLD resources and configurable datapaths that can be used to implement any digital logic that you can fit in. Cypress calls these blocks universal digital blocks. You can implement your own logic blocks in Verilog or use Cypress’s IP cores that are included with PSoC Creator. The idea is to avoid predefining how many UART, I2C, SPI or other interfaces to include which gives you more freedom to choose the combinations of peripherals you need rather than using pin muxes like on Microchip PIC’s and Atmel AVR’s for example. With the PSoC 5LP you can have 5 UARTs if you wanted and you can put those UARTs on any GPIO pin you want.