With an FPGA, you can perform a lot of different operations simultaneously in a massively parallel fashion.
I just saw a really cool FPGA-powered tracked robot project on Kickstarter. I'm sure there are all sorts of FPGA-powered robots roaming around the world. I know that my chum Duane Benson is building a robot avatar that includes a mix of MCUs and FPGAs. It's just that I've never actually seen one in the flesh, as it were.
As you may recall, I'm working on an Arduino-powered robot. One of the issues I face is that the Ardunio's MCU quickly gets overwhelmed with the amount of sensory input I want it to process.
The problem is that -- multi-cores and multi-threads notwithstanding -- MCUs tend to perform tasks sequentially. In fact, the only thing MCUs really have going for them is their versatility due to the ease with which we can modify their programs. When it comes to performing nitty-gritty mathematical operations, MCUs are painfully inefficient. We don't notice how bad they are only because they perform so many such operations each second.
The solution I adopted (with Duane's help) was creating a custom sensor board. This little beauty has its own Arduino-compatible MCU that handles the sensors, freeing up my main processor to concentrate on its high-level decision-making activities.
Of course, there is another alternative, which is to use an FPGA. The thing about an FPGA is that you can perform a lot of different operations simultaneously in a massively parallel fashion. Each sensor can essentially have its own state machine-like controller and/or hardware accelerator. You can even configure portions of the programmable fabric to act like one or more soft-core MCUs. All this leads us to the Kickstarter project I just saw: the Logitraxx Xilinx FPGA-powered tracked robot.
The Logitraxx Xilinx FPGA-powered tracked robot.
I don't know what it is about robots, but they have a certain something that entices me to want to play with them. This is especially true in the case of this FPGA-based beauty. What do you think? Wouldn't you love to lay your hands on one of these little scamps?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting