Good grief... I have no idea where the time goes... I'm now so far behind I can see myself in the distance...
With regard to the Design Competition being run by Altium and Programmable Logic DesignLine... as per my initial announcement (see article #211300328), the idea was for as many folks as possible to submit ideas for cool projects that could be realized using an Innovation Station.
Out of these entries, we have selected three finalists (see below), each of whom will be presented with an Innovation Station (an Altium desktop NanoBoard, and a one-year time-based license of Altium Designer). This will allow our champions to create, test, debug and finalize their designs.
As part of this competition, the three finalists will each write a 2000+ word "How To" design article explaining how they went about creating and realizing their design using the Innovation Station. All three of these articles will be published on Programmable Logic DesignLine towards the end of March 2009.
Following this, we will decide on the "Grand Prize Winner," who will keep his/her Innovation Station, complete with the one-year time-based license which will be converted at renewal into a perpetual license – the value of this prize is approximately US$4,300 for the hardware + $5,000 for the core perpetual license (sadly, the two runners-up will have to return their Innovation Stations at the end of the competition).
Well, I have to tell you that picking the three finalists was a LOT HARDER than I ever expected. There were many really great project suggestions, but in the end I went with the three that excited, interested, or otherwise "tickled-my-fancy" the most; these are presented in no particular order as follows:
Jim Ford's Music Synthesizer
This project is a synthesizer (the musical instrument, not a piece of test equipment) with sounds that appear to come from real instruments that never existed. That is, with realistic, believable, organic sounds but unlike any existing instrument.
Jim hesitates to give away his "secret sauce" at this stage, but he assures me that it's really clever. In addition to being a techno-geek of the first order, Jim is a bass player who also plays keyboards and guitar. Now he's into the surreal instrument sounds.
Max Notes: I love synthesized effects, so I can't wait to see what this comes out like...
Jim Brakefield's CAN bus-like Interface
This project involves developing a CAN bus-like interface between multiple soft processor cores on a single FPGA or spread across multiple FPGAs.
Some CAN advocates insist that this is the best way to interconnect microprocessors; this is due to several CAN unique features as follows:
- Message priority is resolved immediately, matching the philosophy of interrupt priority response of RTOS's
- Strong CRC based message integrity
- Immediate message acknowledgement
- Low complexity multi-master bus control (there is no bus master)
Jim notes that CAN bus speed is inversely proportional to bus length, and that a one foot or less bus is capable of 100 Mbps or faster. For the purpose of this project, Jim says that it can be assumed that all chips use the same clock, thereby removing the need for GHz over-sampling of the bus. He also notes that several other simplifications occur and three experimentation directions emerge as follows:
- Board level chip-to-chip; maximum one foot PCB trace length
- Multiple processors on same FPGA chip
- Multiple bits per clock (e.g. hybrid parallel/serial bus)
Max Notes: In addition to the fact that I'm inherently interested in multi-processor systems, one of the reasons I selected this project is that I actually know almost nothing about the CAN bus, so I'm hoping that (via this project) I will learn a lot more...
Doug Gibbs' Futuristic In-Car Stereo MP3 Player
Max Notes: Actually, the best way to describe this project is in Doug's own words as follows:
I and some engineer friends have been kicking this idea around for a couple of years. We all know that the future of music is digital. The CD is a dead technology. I am one of those people who only listen to music in the car. It is the only place I have time. My friend is a big sports talk fan. Unfortunately he misses his favorite sports talk shows during the day (meeting and work are distractions).
The idea is to build an in car stereo MP3 player. Why is this any better than car stereos with iPod connectors? Carry something and plug it in? How millennial! In fact I am talking about a networked future.
What a car really needs is wireless Ethernet. An 802.11 connection to the home PC. When you drive into the garage in the evening, your in-car player will automatically sync to your PC. If you download some music at home in the evening, it will be automatically available on your in-car stereo the next morning.
Also the system would be able to time shift radio programs. If you like Rush Limbaugh, you can listen on the way home to today's rant.
If you like to listen to audio books, I have a very cool software feature for you... bookmarking. You can listen in the car to and from the office. Later, in the evening, after the kids go to bed, if you want to continue the story, you'll find that the system has transferred bookmark information to the home PC. You are able to continue where you left off, and then continue again the next morning in the car.
Having 802.11 in the car is nice. If your kids like to watch videos, you could install a separate DVD system. Did you know that the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS have 802.11 and can stream video? Why not keep your kids favorites on the stereo hard drive. The kids can watch individual shows on their portable game systems. No need for a separate DVD system in the car.
Now, what parts of the NanoBoard would get used? Almost all of them!
The CAN controller on the board is very interesting. All of the information and codes from the engine are readable and get displayed, in plain English on the touch screen display. Yes, a touch screen is the way to go. Most car stereos have a button problem. The problem is too many buttons. Apple got this one right; a clean simple touch screen interface is the way to go. The QVGA display can do a very nice interface. It can even play fancy animations to go along with the music.
Ethernet and RS232 are handy for debugging. I said it would have 802.11 as the main network interface. There are a number of ways to implement this. Role your own solution at the chip level is the wrong way. Either the SD or the USB interface can plug into an 802.11 card.
A DE disk controller is ideal to connect to a solid state disk. These keep getting cheaper and bigger. The time has come to put one in a commercial product. The I2S audio system will be used for the obvious audio output. And finally IrDA is perfect for the back seat remote control.
Max Notes: You have to admit, it's difficult to not get carried away by Doug's enthusiasm. In my case, I listen to a lot of audio books, so I love the idea of being able to listen to the same book in the car or at home, with everything being automatically bookmarked and synchronized without my having to physically carry an MP3 player around...
OK, so the easy part (talking about stuff) is over ... now our finalists have to actually realize their dreams ... watch this space!
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me – Clive "Max" Maxfield – at firstname.lastname@example.org). And, of course, if you haven't already done so, don't forget to Sign Up for our weekly Programmable Logic DesignLine Newsletter.