"Some school bake sales come with chips made of Silicon instead of chocolate."
-- Ken Arnold
A new FPGA board, accompanied by learning resources and a university accredited on-line course, are among the first projects in a new program that gives engineering students paid work experience.
Among other unique features, the board's FPGA configuration memory can be programmed by simply connecting a USB flash drive. This allows much easier configuration than the standard on-board JTAG connector, eliminating the need for a PC and cable.
Below we see the Ahtlatl FPGA board on the left and an expansion / break-out card on the right. The expansion card facilitates student experiments by means of 7-segment displays, LEDs, DIP switches, and momentary push switches. The expansion card can be removed allowing the Ahtlatl FPGA board to interface with, and control, more complex systems.
The Ahtlatl FPGA board has been used by faculty and students in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering programs at San Diego State University to promote practical hands-on learning and allow students' creativity to bloom. (The Ahtlatl is an Aztec spear chucker, a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater speed and distance than can be achieved by throwing a spear alone, and the Aztec is SDSU's symbol.)
As SDSU student Aaron Penne enthusiastically says: "The FPGA board enabled me to take the leap from computer science to electrical engineering, starting the moment I saw my first blinking LED on the Ahtlatl FPGA board. Seeing my designs do something in physical space was very exciting. I learned how to program the board using both schematics and HDL, both of which will come in handy when I enter the industry. I learned about state machines, multiplexing, and various components on the board. My next project will be a software defined radio, but that will have to wait until my next DSP class. Before I learned to use FPGAs, I was limited to using a microcontroller. The FPGA board helped my fantasy of electrical engineering become a reality."
The boards have been produced in limited quantity so far, but they are available with learning resources and access to an on-line course through the htevp.com
crowd-funding site and SDSU.edu
. By making these products and courseware available to a larger audience, the increased build quantity will reduce the cost and allow others to benefit and support practical higher education and get something of value in the bargain.
As student Louis Nicdao says: "The projects that stood out for me were the UART, the Digital Alarm Clock, and the music player I designed. All of them required counters, registers, muxes, decoders, and finite state machines that I implemented on the FPGA board. The music player was my favorite project because I love music."
Dr. Amirhossein Alimohammad, Director of the Reconfigurable Computing Lab at San Diego State University said "We are training the next generation of digital chip designers using tools like the Ahtlatl board that was developed here at SDSU by our faculty and students."
As part of the program, the university is also offering access to SDSU's popular introductory online course: "Digital Systems" an introduction to digital design using FPGAs both for SDSU students and the general public through SDSU's Open University program. Those taking the course have the option to earn university credit that can be applied toward an engineering degree and directly transferable to other CSU campuses.
What is the purpose of HiTech EdVentures?
Funding for higher education has been dropping and fees are increasing, even though the economic benefits are well documented: for every $1 California invests in its universities, the state benefits from increased state income taxes, reduced unemployment benefits and other sources by more than $4.50. At the same time, fresh university grads find it difficult to jump the gap between the theory required for an engineering degree and the things they must be able to do in order to hit the ground running in industry as a working engineer. Academic accreditation requirements and funding constrain universities' options, while competitive pressures in industry require that newly hired engineers become productive quickly. HR departments filter out resumes that do not show current paid job experience, and like unemployed workers, so they are never seen by hiring managers. That can leave students in a real bind if they cannot obtain one of the few paid internship positions.HiTechEdVentures.org
was created to fund programs that could not otherwise be funded and to address the related problems by giving students paid work experience solving real-world engineering problems. The program also provides a resource to industry in the form of engineering services for projects and a way to connect with potential future employees. In addition, the entrepreneurial students learn from developing crowd-funded products, such as the Ahtlatl FPGA board for fund-raising to support STEM education programs.About the author
Ken Arnold's current interests include embedded systems, wireless communication for embedded systems, FPGAs, ASICs, and toys.
In addition to his product design business at hte.com
, Ken hass written a couple of books and teaches part-time at San Diego area universities, currently at SDSU.edu (San Diego State University), and formerly UCSD.edu (University of California, San Diego Extended Studies).
One of Ken's particular interested is HiTechEdVentures.org
. You can discover find more about Ken by Clicking Here
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