Xilinx’s Zynq SoC is the best selling FPGA of all time. Zynq has brought together, at first an uncomfortable but necessary mix of software and hardware engineers. Two very different but special kind of people. Me, I’m of the hardware persuasion. Zynq is the start of the much needed open FPGA community. This will drive down the price of boards, increase quality and create vast amounts of free open resource, design, code and apps.
Last week a Red Pitaya board came in the mail for me. I was under the weather and had a long week of calls etc… so I get on our bed (sleep number bed, Hi I’m Luke and my sleep number setting is a 45. By the way, we engineers can make that thing so much better. I almost hacked it already but the wife gave me the ‘Look’), and started hooking up the Red Pitaya board. The Wife looks at me like ‘that is really romantic’. Now do not harp on me, I know all about romance for goodness sake, I have 7 kids, Cary Grant move over.
As I unpacked the Red Pitaya box, my wife curiously looked on, just waiting for some blinding LED to come on… Or even some smoke. 6 Years ago I burnt up our bed sheets with two 1940’s phones, 12V battery, wire and some R and C’s. They were my wife’s favorite sheets and my sons laughing on was no help. Dear reader, I feel like you are family so please keep these stories just between us.
The out of the box experience for Red Pitaya was off to a shaky start. It did not come with a power supply so I just grabbed my phone charger. Threw in the SD card, and crickets. No done lite. I downloaded the latest build and put on the SD card, and crickets. Lesson Alert here reader, not all USB phone chargers work, and I should have READ the instructions! 5V , 2A supply needed. I swapped it out for another and the brilliant blue done lite of success came on! I hooked up my USB COM port to my laptop, and a typical data stream.
The TeraTerm Screen was displaying all the usual CPU board goodies, more status you could shake a stick at. It even told me I was running a 20 out of 100 on the romantic scale, which is a new feature in Xilinx FPGAs called RomanticMon. You will not find that in Altera I assure you. Lesson Alert 2, my direct connection to my laptop Ethernet was no worky. I tried and read everything. Even though some users were able to do a direct connect to the PC, the documentation says you need to use a router. I did not care as I wanted to use Red Pitaya only for Wi-Fi connectivity anyways.
This is what I want from every FPGA board, I simply plugged in a USB Wi-Fi Dongle, changed a configuration file and my Droid was talking with the board, it was that easy! I can use my Droid over the 4g to control and status the board! This is the greatest feature of Red Pitaya and so far the best out of the box experience I had with any FPGA board. I’m using my Red Pitaya to start living the Internet of Things. I ran the spectrum analyzer on my phone and grabbed a RC remote from my kids. Hit the button and sure enough a nice 27 MHz signal with a small second harmonic 54 MHz showed up (See above).
Now is the board worth $299 of lab equipment? You can buy a better Scope for $299 but that will not get you the flexibility that the Red Pitaya gives you, not even close. You cannot do the list below with a Scope… Here a few ideas of what you can do with Red Pitaya:
- Audio solutions, adaptive noise cancelers
- Gun Shot detectors, Washington DC uses these already…
- Mini EW RADAR + PRI Tracker + Digital RF Memory + Technique generator
- 2 Channel Narrow Band RADAR
- Low Frequency/Narrow Band Software defined radio
- Medical networks, all patients in the hospital can be viewed by the doctor on the smart phone
If you want to keep the whole design in C/C++ I highly recommend Xilinx’s Vivado HLS. I really love the Red Pitaya! Great start for the Red Pitaya team and I look forward to growth, new apps, and versions of the board. Keep up the great work and for goodness sake put a reset button on this thing… It may add 1 cent to the budget but I think it is really worth it. Some business would spend $100k on a trade study for that…